Lines in Lyft Lines

All throughout my life I was a pretty quiet and shy person. I was fairly chatty around my friends and family of course but I always struggled around new people. What do I say? What do I do? Where do I put my hands? (why have we as a society not figured out what to do with our hands?) Conversations with new people inevitably ended as quickly as they began.

As an English major/avid reader/writer, I felt like conversations had to follow a similar outline to my college essays. You start with the basic introduction/small talk, coming to a connection/thesis that would lead us to the body of the essay and a more fluid, in depth, meaningful conversation. The conclusion would be the exchange of information or pleasant good-byes.

Except what I learned was conversations don’t really flow like essays. Exchanging 4–5 lines with someone doesn’t automatically unlock a connection nor does it lead to a more interesting conversation. To get interesting conversations you had to be interesting yourself. (Shocking, I know. I’m suddenly thankful for all of my friends.)

My move to a city coincided with the rise of the ridesharing industry. I only had to deal with annoying and inappropriate cab drivers that never took credit card for a few months. It was great. And then more recently, the major ridesharing companies created carpool like services, such as Lyft Line or Uber Pool. Each ride is around $5 and you get paired up with people that are going in a similar direction to you.

Maybe it was the fact that I would never see these people again, or maybe it was because I rode in Lyft Lines when I was headed out with friends to a bar or dinner and so I was in a good mood or maybe it was the drink I consumed with my roommate while getting ready that made me me stray from the conversation topics I am used to.

After telling a fellow passenger I was meeting someone for Mediterranean food she told me about the Jewish birthright trip her friend went on recently. I lamented on the fact that India has nothing like that and then we got into a conversation about the traditions and little games that happen in an Indian wedding (she was a photographer who was going to shoot an Indian wedding the following weekend).

There was the driver who asked if I was Indian, and then he told me how his parents and him moved to Fremont from India to work at Tesla. Such a small world to meet someone that has my two homes.

There was the guy who made me watch a YouTube video called Meat Glue, connected to his car speakers and everything, after I told him I was vegetarian (I do not recommend watching this).

There was the passenger with whom I discussed sports and how being a sports fan must be so stressful and exhausting.

There was the driver who heard me watching a video of my nephew so then we started talking about his kids and my nephew.

There was the Lyft line that I got into after a date where the driver and passengers wanted to know all the details. I shared how it was a perfectly fine date and maybe perfectly fine is all I can expect or hope for to which I got back a unanimous “nope”. The driver, an older man in his 50s, and I had a good conversation about life, love, and expectations. It’s one thing to hear reassuring comments from your friends but another when you hear the same words from someone who has only known you for 20 minutes. This man didn’t have to tell me not to settle. He could have just said “Girl, you need to lock someone down ASAP” and I would have said “Yes, OK fair point”. His job was to get me home safely; he didn’t owe me kindness and compassion but he so generously offered it.

There was the Lyft driver who asked if I was going to dinner and said I smelled good. Actually that conversation ended there, so maybe it is not the best example.

Many of these conversations were interesting because they skipped small talk. Something about being in a confined, dark vestibule going 60+ miles an hour inspired openness, honesty, and at times, vulnerability. Sometimes it was easy, like talking about Indian traditions. Other times I shared something maybe a bit more personal and close to my heart — like stories about my nephew or dating.

It is not easy to be open and vulnerable. Some people may not react well to what you have to say. It’s scary and hard to take that risk. But I’ve found when it is accepted and reciprocated, it leads to some great conversations and relationships.

Most of the time I don’t even know the name, age, or occupation of the people I was chatting with in the car. That’s kind of crazy to realize because that’s usually one of the first few things you know about someone. But it is ultimately not surprising since I learned those things have little to no bearing on what creates a connection.

What I thought was just me getting from place A to place B actually was a lesson in what it means to form genuine connections with people, fleeting or otherwise. It helped me be more comfortable around new people. I didn’t feel like I had to ask certain questions or follow a certain conversational path. I could just talk about what interested me while the other person did the same and in some crazy cool way we found a commonality.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with my hands though.

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I have Indian Friends

As a thirty year old I can finally admit this without feeling embarrassed: I have mostly Indian friends. Phew. That felt good to get off my chest.

So why do I have mainly Indian friends? I grew up in Fremont, California which is not nicknamed Little India for nothing. I had essentially what are “Indian” interests, so I attended Kathak classes and participated in Bollywood dance groups, garba teams, and culture shows in college. I was also pretty seriously part of an Indian community group for the first 20 years of my life. So yeah, a combination of all that and you can see how a majority of my closest friends are Indian like me.

(I feel like I need to add a disclaimer that yes, I do have (token) non-Indian friends!)

When I give a brief synopsis of my upbringing to those that I have just met, I can see them picturing me as “that stereotypical Indian girl”. You know who I mean: the girl who choreographs all the dances for her college’s Indian club, a bit of a drama queen, and very insular/cliquey.

Honestly, I don’t think that was ever me (aside from the loving to choreograph part) and I most certainly don’t think that is me now. I also don’t think I ever knew anyone like that in college either. And if they were dramatic or insular, I don’t think it had to do with their ethnicity or gender. Like, most people of other ethnic groups probably thought the same of their ethnic group.

It is funny: we are 10 years out of college and yet these assumptions are still being made. Many times I can just see it on their faces and a few even vocalize it. A few years ago an Indian guy, after hearing about my upbringing/Indian friend group, asked me if I was “one of those Indian girls”. What does that even mean?  Is this an appropriate time to quote Mindy Kaling and say “there are literally billions of us”? Or does being able to quote The Mindy Project just add to my Indian girl stereotype?

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Identity is such a personal thing and how one relates to their background/ancestry is entirely up to the individual. I do have to wonder why the judgement is okay one way, but not the other.

Most recently someone told me they don’t speak their mother tongue, felt like they were a “bad Indian”, and opened up about their insecurity regarding all of this. I listened and told them that they weren’t a bad Indian because there is no such thing and that there’s no one way to be Indian. A few days later I brought up that I had started a Meetup group based on South Asian literature and the person asked, “Do you mainly hang out with Indian people?”

Oh boy, here we go, I thought.

“Yee-sss?” I replied, unsure about how this conversation was going to go.

“Oh, well, I like to hang out with all different kinds of people,” they said. Well, I thought, that wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for but I guess this is the conversation we are having now. And so with a sigh, I began listing the reasons I shared above.

Later that night, I thought about that judgmental comment. I would never dream of making someone feel like they are a “bad Indian” nor would I make assumptions or call them “white washed”. I would never say “Oh, well, I think it is important to know your mother tongue” or essentially ask them to justify why they have the friends they have.  And yet that person can make assumptions  or comments about me? It’s ironic that someone who is insecure about their own identity felt secure enough to call me out on mine. Who named you the identity police?

Sure I know that statement says a lot about the other person than it does me. I’m no psychologist but they were probably projecting their insecurities onto me. But it still doesn’t make hearing comments like that any easier. It’s frustrating to feel like you’re being pigeon-holed and stereotyped at the age of 30. Haven’t we interacted with enough people at this point to know there is no stereotypical anything? We’re all special snowflakes in our own right.

Yes, my close friends are all Indian but they are also all kind, empathetic, friendly, welcoming, witty, independent, passionate, and extremely giving people. They’ve all done well for themselves in their careers in law, IT, tech, non-profit, and health fields. If someone were to judge me by my friends I would be worried they would assume I am as amazing and accomplished as they all are. They set the bar really high and I can only hope to have half the good qualities they do. This is why I keep them around. They help me learn and grow as a person. This is what good friends do.

In doing this mental check of all my friends, I thought about whether they would call themselves a “good Indian” or not. Actually I just texted a few of them and none said yes outright. Since they are all so brilliant and thoughtful, it led to a few text discussions about what does good mean anyway? Isn’t it all just subjective? Who sets the standard for good or bad? Society? The individual?  I don’t have any answers but it is interesting to think about.

Am I a good Indian? I’d venture to say probably not or that I am decent at best. At this point the most Indian thing about me is my insistence in making sure my one year old nephew can say foi (aka dad’s sister).

All we can do is try to live the life that we want to live. How I identify with my background may be different than how you identify with yours. That is completely okay. Let us put an end to judgments and assumptions of any kind. We’d all be better for it.

Do you feel like you are judged on how you identify with your Indian-ness? How do you react?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from Muni

I’ve been riding Muni (the local San Francisco bus) for over two years now. There’s never a dull moment and you’re always bound to disembark with a story. Here are some lessons I’ve learned while riding the bus:

– Don’t cut your nails on the bus. I assumed this was a unspoken rule, but apparently not. No one needs to hear the sound of nails being clipped or having nails strewn all over the bus. So just don’t do it.

– Respect the personal space. If there are ample seats on the bus, there is no need for you to sit next to me.

– Don’t sit on the outer seat of the bus if the inner seat is available. I will come sit on the inside seat, with my purse and other bags hitting you in the face, while most likely stepping on your foot. It’s so much easier for you and me if you just slide over.

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– Be accommodating. No one dreams of being on a crowded Muni. So try to make things easier for everyone and be accommodating. Move to the back of the bus, slide on over so a fellow passenger can get a better grip of the pole, make yourself as flat as possible when people are trying to exit, etc. These things may be small, but they really help and I’m always appreciative when I am on the receiving end of them.

I spent a long time being annoyed or irritated when I was on Muni. But then I realized I rode it every morning and evening and I had a bitter Muni taste in my mouth long after I got off at my stop and that was no way to start/end my day. I realized that just as I didn’t like Muni, nor does anyone else (I know, duh). Once I had this quite obvious revelation, riding Muni has been more tolerable.

– Lastly, Muni has taught me that there are so many different types of people out there. It is so easy to be in your own little bubble and only associate with people of the same profession, socioeconomic status, age group, race, etc. Living in the city and subsequently riding Muni has opened my eyes to the different ways people live their lives. You see people that are young, old, professionals, retired, happy, sad, and so on. You see them every morning and every evening, wondering where they are going and where they are coming from. What a ride.