Everyone has an interesting life story to tell. The hard part is finding the time, interest, and opportunity to share it with others. I’ve learned that when it’s awkward to start a conversation, ask about the other person’s life.
I’m mainly an introvert; but if circumstance calls, I can be an extrovert too (though it causes emotional fatigue afterwards). It’s challenging to start talking with people, and then the awkward pauses (so uncomfortable and awkward). This stops me from engaging. But when I do take a step forward, I’m usually glad I did.
On our recent vacation to San Diego, we made an outing to USS Midway. This was my third visit to Midway but first time with the kids. I’ve always been fascinated by this aircraft carrier and the revolving city it created below deck for 4500 naval personnel. In addition to having basic rooms for sleeping (different amenities depending on rank), washing, eating, and various eating halls and kitchens (I was told that anyone could eat whatever, whenever they wanted; only condition is to finish everything on their plate). Other spaces included a laundry room with commercial size machines, pressing machines, a tailor room, a chapel, dentist office, operation room, a communications room, a chaplain’s room, and even a jail (for safety issues).
This place may not be conducive for people with claustrophobia. (I know from personal experience; I had minor heart palpitations climbing the narrow staircase below deck). The low ceilings, narrow hallways, lack of sunlight, fresh air, and tight living quarters triggered those reactions. It’s hard to imagine how thousands of navy sailors and officers lived on this ship for months at a time. Their resilience must have been tested many times.
The above is a description of this amazing place. But I’m getting off point. The self-guided tour made Ellis tired from all the walking up and down the stairs. But she was determined to answer all the multiple choice questions on her Junior Pilot Program sheet to get her badge. This scavenger hunt required exploring various interest points on the ship and listening to the audio set. All this activity tired her out and she insisted on sitting next to the fan, situated next to a volunteer, who helped direct visitors and answer questions.
This volunteer was in his mid to late 60s, had a jolly smile, and had a way of making the visitors feel welcome by asking them if they needed anything once they came down the stairs to start the tour. He told us where to park our stroller and laughed when the kids grabbed their 3 stuffed dinosaurs to accompany them on the self-guided tour.
Sitting one foot away from him, I couldn’t pretend he was not there since we already made small talk. The silence was getting awkward. I said to myself, “oh heck. Just ask him how he likes working here.”
He told me that he served for three years on this ship as an airplane mechanic in the 1970s. This place held a special place in his heart and so any memories, both good and bad. When the ship officially retired in 1992 and docked in San Diego, he came to visit this museum ship with his wife.
His high expectations for the tour did not turn out as planned. The docent leading the tour had the facts correct but lacked enthusiasm and storytelling about the place. When his wife heard him complaining, she suggested he volunteer. He’s been doing it for 13 years, and from his great humor I can tell that he enjoys what he does. His energy and friendliness made this place more interesting, interactive, and memorable for our whole family.
All it took was the willingness to have a conversation with an unfamiliar person. I was surprised to learn of his close ties to this place, and hearing him reminisce was the best part of our experience. You never know what interesting and unusual stories people have to tell.
Side note: He shared some answers to vague multiple choice questions for the Junior Pilot Program. This inside information made Ellis very happy and extra proud to share them with her brother.
If you’re interested, you should check out their photo gallery showing various exhibits on their website. Here is their address: https://www.midway.org/exhibits-activities/exhibits/our-exhibits/