Today’s column describes an essential part of me, something that comes to the fore when I travel, something I wonder if other people do, too.
Put simply, I look for “my people.”
On my recent 17-day journey from the tip of Argentina to South Georgia Island and Antarctica, I was looking for my people the whole time. I found some, but I also struggled and bumbled.
Who are “my people”? You might expect them to come from similar backgrounds, New Yorkers, for example, half-Jews, or Ph.D. dropouts. Some of my people do come from these demographics, but not necessarily. My people are like me but not too much like me.
At its simplest, my people are the people with whom I connect most effortlessly.
We talk, but we’re also comfortable with silence. When we’re in a new situation, we notice some of the same things, and we process information thoroughly. I find that we often rank activities in the same order, travel over shopping, for example, or sleep over partying.
I notice that many of my people are Asian-American, African-American or foreign. Some are gay. Some are religious. Although I’m a pretty typical white person from Davis, I’m drawn to people who are not.
In Ushuaia, Argentina, while my husband and I waited two days for our Antarctic ship to arrive, we accidentally found four individuals who turned out to be not only my people but his.
We had signed up for a day of sightseeing in a Land Rover and these four women were on the same trip: two were ex-military, all were lesbian, all were going on vacation to Antarctica like us.
Why did we feel immediately connected?
I’m not sure, but it might have been the way they questioned parts of the Land Rover tour, the way we laughed together over lunch, their generosity in snapping pictures of us (which they sent a couple weeks later), or their openness about their lives. I would have happily listened to everything they could tell me about women in the military, writing a first novel, and lesbian parenting on the East Coast.
When Bob and I learned that they weren’t on the same Antarctic ship as we were, we were deeply disappointed.
When I got on board, I started looking for my people again. Surely among 100 adventurous souls, I would find them. We kept moving around, sitting at different tables, visiting different parts of the ship, looking.
But they proved harder to find than whales in the sea.
One evening we sat with a South African couple in their late 30s who shared a fascination with the animals and a gentle, thoughtful speaking style that immediately clicked with me. I wanted to spend more time with them, but I soon noticed that they were pursuing younger people like themselves.
I looked elsewhere.
The ship was full of super-travelers our age, people who had been to many exotic places, especially Africa. They tended to talk (dare I say boast?) about their travels, which was at first very interesting, but after sufficient repetition, not so much.
I also looked among staff and found several inquisitive, vibrant people I would have loved to spend more time with. But they were very busy with their jobs and the other passengers. “Maybe in another life,” I thought to myself.
Each day, we spent some time with the eight other kayakers on the trip. One couple became our frequent companions, and I liked them even though I didn’t think they were my people.
Until suddenly they were.
One evening the husband said that his travel had been severely limited during a period when he was afraid of dining in restaurants. This phobia came out of nowhere and took some serious counseling before it retreated.
For someone to admit to a problem like this is unusual. Another listener might have become uncomfortable, but I felt immediate respect for him. This first revelation led to other unusual topics, and the friendship grew. We keep in touch now; we hope to kayak together again someday.
My last story, however, is a failed one.
In the last days of our voyage, we happened to sit with a couple I had met but dismissed early on. I confess that I dismissed them because they were considerably older than we are, late 70s, traveling with another couple in their 80s.
Over dinner, however, I realized that these were four happy, busy people with intense and varied interests.
They were also polite in a way I value. They gave the floor to whoever was speaking, without interruption, whether or not they’d heard the story before. They listened well to us. They listened to each other. Suddenly, I wanted to spend as many last meals with them as I could.
But the trip ended before our friendship could be cemented. I’ll never see them again. The failure was mine, a prejudice based on age. This is particularly foolish because I will soon be old, too, and I want to keep finding “my people” and for them to keep finding me. If this becomes more difficult, I will be sad.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org