Cross Town on character studies


Cross Town with Carl Dow

On character studies and on training travel companions

Carl Dow photo

When I'm out and about and have the opportunity to ask questions of those I meet, I find that I have to train my travel companions.

Until they get the idea, they will jump in with answers even as I ask a stranger a question.

Sometimes I'll say abruptly, perhaps in a way that may be considered rude, I'm not asking you, I'm asking him, or her. If I want you to answer I'll speak directly to you.

I know that this sounds bad-mannered but it is really an honest expression of friendly frustration. What I'll explain when time and space allow, is that my questions are not necessarily related to information I don't already have. I often ask questions the answers to which I already know. The questions are asked as a way of prompting character studies — all grist for a writer's mill.

When I ask a question she or he who answers will reveal a lot about themselves: their mood, where they come from, their sense of humour, their thinking speed, their cultural background including how they were raised, their point of view on life (at the moment at least), and their outlook on life in general. There's a lot more to be had even from such a brief encounter. To me such questioning and answering provide a fertile field in understanding the human condition.

I do this when I'm asking directions. If I really don't know where I'm going I never take the first answer as gospel, walking or driving.

Many sincere, eager to help responders will judge the question by their own experience. One of the more amusing responses to a traffic question is something like: Oh it's three blocks before the bridge.

That's the way she knows it. But she doesn't realize that I also don't know where the bridge is. So by her logic I've got to drive all the way to the bridge and then drive back three blocks and there will be that for which I am looking.

One reason alone that I keep asking directions.

Another is the guy who will email me and say, It's forty-five minutes northeast of Peterborough.

Forty-five minutes: if I walk? run? ride a bicycle? drive a car? or leap off a catapult?

What's wrong with miles? or kilometres? With rough accuracy of the distance and specific knowledge of my method of transportation along with my judgment of traffic conditions I can then draw my own conclusions as to how long it will take me to get there.

But please don't conclude that I'm a grouch. Far from it. I live in awe at how friendly and helpful people are and I love them for it.

Happy Trails