I was having lunch at the Star Restaurant on Tuesday and, as usual, listening to a program on my phone.
Really, I just wanted to sit down, order the special, eat, leave and be back at my desk in 30 minutes. That’s when the man in the Hawaiian shirt sitting next to me started talking about how he’d seen me at the diner before, recalling my last order. It was clear he was in a talkative mood, so I ultimately decided to take out my earbuds and talk to the man. Our server, Susan, recalled everyone’s orders to everyone at the counter to make sure she didn’t get any wrong.
“You have the special, you have the special and you have the special,” she said, sounding like Oprah Winfrey giving out cars, before being interrupted by the “order up” bell.
All the while, I was occupied in my conversation. Turns out his name was Robert. We talked about work, Hanford and our meals, when the discussion shifted over to baseball — about how the Padres are looking like the team to beat this year, how Shane Bieber was the pitcher to watch out for, the Dodgers/Giants rivalry, etc.
The conversation was — of little consequence. No business was conducted, no new leads for a story emerged, no groundbreaking revelations were made and my schedule for the week is unchanged. It was pointless, unimportant and it probably contributed to me being late to get back to my office.
And I loved every bit of it.
It’s the kind of talk I would’ve hated just 10 years ago, when I was working for my dad and he’d chat with every client who walked into the room. It was irritating and pointless to me back then. Nothing seemed to come from it and I gave him a hard time for participating in what I saw as a waste of time. I just wanted to finish the job and go home. But now in my 30s, I’m seeing the positives of these talks and enjoy having them myself.
Bertrand Russel once said the “time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time,” which sums up my chat with Robert. And as we enter the post-pandemic era, I’m hoping pointless discussions like these are rediscovered. It’s becoming a lost art — especially among my phone-obsessed generation — and it comes as no surprise that a 2019 YouGov poll found 30% of responding millennials experiencing frequent feelings of loneliness, making them the loneliest generation. Meanwhile, the social distancing measures imposed by COVID-19 did us no favors.
But small talk has its benefits and has the ability to improve personal morale, develop social skills and, yes, act as a reprieve from loneliness. Of course, it also may not be as “small” as we think — we may run into these people again and talk a little more. Those idle conversations turn you and the people you’re engaging in talks with into acquaintances and from there, the cure to loneliness — friends.
For my part, I don’t know if I’ll bump into Robert again anytime in the near future, but I look forward to the possibility. I look forward to talking about what happened at work, the Padres, movies we’ve seen, or whatever else might pop up.
And as things open back up and interacting with each other becomes less restricted, I encourage you to talk to the person sitting next to you. You never know what will come of it, even if it’s just enjoying the time you’ve wasted.