The best tip of your life concerns black convertibles and Karel Appel

This post contains the best tip of your life. I realize that’s quite a bold statement, especially coming from a 22-year old chap. But it’s really important, since it’s the one tip you DON’T want to hear.

It’s just after five ‘o clock in the afternoon when the first kite surfers hit the water. They’ve escaped their cubicles to jump over San Franciscan ferries. I’m on the run as well. After the three-day conference Supernova, I’m about ready to admire a red structure I’ve only seen in the movies so far. I got rid of my infamous white suit, but still wearing the shiny white shoes. This doesn’t go unnoticed by a forty-five year old All-American woman. “Those aren’t your average beach shoes, right buddy?” is her conversation starter. She has lost her job a year ago, spent some time in the Philippines, and just got back in the States. “I’ve gotta go”, she says, “have to go home, just across the bridge”. “I can give you a ride over the Golden Gate if you want? The view is amazing“.

Seven weeks later. My girlfriend and I hop on a late Zürich – Amsterdam flight. We’ve spent two weeks in Chioggia, a small fishermen’s town 35 kilometers under Venice. I decide to check my mail before the captain asks the cabin crew to prepare for take-off. “Quite an airplane toy you’ve got there”, a healthy and bright-looking 60-year old man tells me. We wind up in a duet, a hymn for the iPhone. After a short chat, I grab a book and start reading. I’m tired. The last thing I need is a two-hour talk. My conversation partner gets the hint and starts reading The International Herald Tribune. After a while I feel sorry. My intuition says this man is not just somebody. Shall I try to pick up the conversation again?

A rather old woman offering me a ride? What’s that all about? Thoughts are racing through my brain. I’m tempted to say yes, since my Wallpaper travel guide says everybody should drive over the Golden Gate bridge in a convertible. But what if the woman hands me over to her boyfriend, who will either want my digital SLR camera or my life? I decide to tell her about my travel guide’s convertible. “What a coincidence”, she laughs, “That’s exactly what I was gonna drive you in”. What the hell. I accept her offer. What times do we live in if you can’t even trust a nice lady? She’s happy. “My friends will kill me though, offering a ride to a stranger”.

I don’t have the guts to pick up the conversation. I’ve brushed the man off too harshly. A typical example of a rude boaster of the new generation. Though I’m pretty sure he has interesting things to say, I keep reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Kingdom of Fear. The plane hits the ground and taxies to the D gate. When the seatbelt sign goes off, the man reaches for his hand luggage – which appears to be pretty big. He grabs a huge package and leaves the plane, leaving me wondering.

The ride over the world-famous bridge is great. San Francisco, my third favorite city, smiles at me in the last sunbeams that will make it over the hills that day. My camera is working over time. I also take a pic of the woman who has just removed an item from my bucket list with her black Chrysler convertible. When she drops me off, I thank her a million times. Then I start walking back, enjoying the stunning view – glad that I’ve conquered the ridiculous fear the media have planted in my mind.

The man who stands in front of me at the passport check queue, is my former neighbor from the airplane. I wish him luck with the large package, hoping he will tell me what’s in it. “Thanks”, he says, “I’m just glad it survived the flight”. “Is it a piece of art?”, I ask him. He nods, and remarks, with a unbelievable sense of nonchalance, “a Karel Appel“. The customs officer waves at him and one of my greatest missed opportunities for an interesting friendship walks away.

It’s unnecessary to elaborate on the moral of these two stories. I’m pretty sure you’ve found that out by now. Just try to live by it. How scary it may be. Here are 51 tips to break out of your comfort zone.

Author: Ernst-Jan Pfauth

Ernst-Jan Pfauth is mede-oprichter en uitgever van De Correspondent. Hij is geobsedeerd door innovatie in media en journalistiek. Daar schrijft hij elke zaterdagmorgen een nieuwsbrief over, waar ruim 2.400 vakgenoten op geabonneerd zijn.

0 thoughts on “The best tip of your life concerns black convertibles and Karel Appel”

  1. Great story again :)

    I think we can’t remind ourself enough on how important the ‘other’ people are. And probably how 90% of the other people are also just waiting for a conversation :)

  2. Klinkt goed. Vooral het verhaal van de ‘convertible’. Het verhaal acher de man met de ‘Karel Appel’ blijft natuurlijk een mysterie. Maar dat heeft misschien juist zijn charme. Als je die vent beter had leren kennen was je er misschien wel achter gekomen dat het een onwijs saaie lul was geweest. Nu blijft het mysterieus en een mooi verhaal.

  3. How social are we? Do we reach out or ere we just hiding behind our social (techie) gadgets? This post is so true and so recognizable! I’ve been on that plane of yours, in that very same seat, spending hours with someone that I would not talk to, mostly annoyed or maybe a bit afraid. And certainly I’ve been sitting there beside people which had the very same feelings towards me…

    Luckily, I’ve also been driving on that bridge. I met incredible (and incredibly open) people on my travels (300 000 miles on my frequent flyer account), some of my very best friends were never introduced to me, we never shared the same university or job or whatever, but we were strangers that met in concert halls, on planes or trains, or online (yes!).

    The conclusion is that ‘others’ are like ‘us’, and that we are too often ‘alone together’. As Sjors says, those other people are also just waiting for a conversation. And why? A fear for strangers that’s been induced by the media, an education that warns us not to trust anybody, certainly not to ‘offer a ride to a stranger’, …

    It’s a pity our society has evolved that way, we hardly see anyone hitchhiking these days, but I remember 30 years ago that’s how I would travel!

    So are the social media our new public square or marketplace? Do we connect on twitter or elsewhere with strangers, trust them, only because it doesn’t seem dangerous (there’s the protection of (fire) walls, so it’s not for real, is it?) or really because there’s a feeling that we want to share something, that we want to involve the other in a conversation?

  4. @Christian, that’s a really interesting question you ask in the last paragraph. I think Twitter and other social media outlets are ways to fulfill our need to get in touch with interesting people. The Internet does the same as booze, it takes our social boundaries away.

  5. Wow, great article. Best I’ve ever read of your hand. The airplane story is a familiar one. But speaking to everyone who sits next to you can be kinda tiring. I once spend several hours on my way to New York (to your place, actually) talking to a war veteran which was kind of interesting, but it happens more then often that you just want someone to shut up.

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