Inside the Outside
It hit me. “I've become an eavesdropper, listening to the conversations of strangers.”
It's 5:00AM and I'm sitting at the bar of an all-night café on the wrong side of town eating a three-dollar breakfast, listening to the smelly, funny stories of downtrodden people who know each other well. Their sparkling banter gives me a glimpse into problems I'll never touch, victories I'll never celebrate, a life I'll never have. These are they who will never have internet access, a credit card or cable TV.
But they seem happy.
I've come here to learn what it means to be an outsider in America.
People tell me they want to write. I respond, “You can't find a pencil?” In truth, few want to write. Most want only to have written. People tell me they want to travel, have adventures, meet interesting people and learn about different cultures. They want to expand their world. I'm betting you can guess my answer to that one… “If you will expand your world, you must crawl on your hands and knees, get on your belly and squirm under the fence that surrounds your insulated life.”
For most people, travel means being pampered by accommodating servants in exotic places. But interesting people, strange cultures and high adventure don't await you on the other side of the world. They await you on the other side of town.
Are you willing to get on your belly and crawl under that fence? Will you invest an hour to enlarge your world? If you will actually do it, not just think about it, but really do it, and write to me about it, I will send you a special gift of initiation. These are the rules:
1. You must arrive and be seated in a 24-hour eating establishment between 1:30AM and 5:30AM in a part of town where you rarely go. Or perhaps a truckstop beyond town's edge. The further outside your comfort zone, the better.
2. If a man, you must go alone. If a woman and concerned for your safety, you can take one other person with you. But make sure your friend understands the goal isn't to chat with each other, but to glimpse a whole other world that exists side-by-side with the one you know.
3. While you're eating and listening and absorbing this strange new reality, think of what these people need most and how you might help them get it. While you're at it, you might also think a little about what they have that you don't. There is a rich sense of community among the outcast.
4. Write the details of your excursion within 24 hours of your meal and email them to Corrine@wizardacademy.org Be sure to provide a mailing address where we can send your special Gift of Initiation. I don't yet know what it will be.
Want to hear something that will shock you? I'm fairly confident that fewer than 12 readers from among my 31,000 subscribers will actually do what I've just described, and more than half of these will be Canadian. We Americans are unlikely to discomfort ourselves except for purposes of recreation.
How accurate are my predictions? A few weeks ago when I offered to send readers a free copy of my favorite book, I accurately predicted for the shipping department – within seven – the precise number of people who would respond to that offer. (Yes, that number was deep into the hundreds.)
Will you join this strange new fraternity? Your gift of initiation awaits.
Roy H. Williams
PS – In a nationwide phone survey of 1,279 adults, respondents were much more likely to claim that an experiential purchase made them happier than a material one – 57 percent versus 34 percent – even after accounting for differences in price. (Experiential spending is concert tickets, etc. And in my opinion, early morning meals eaten among interesting strangers…)
PPS – The deadline for submitting the details of your early morning experience is noon (central time) Wednesday, January 18, 2006.
ADDENDUM – Feb 9, 2006: The stories submitted in response to this challenge will be published in a 300-page book by Wizard Academy Press titled People Stories: Inside the Outside. We hope to make the book avaiable by late April, 2006. Here's an example of what it will contain…