It was my friend Paul who gave me the idea to ask strangers for stories. We’d traveled to my hometown of Mexico City together and had a layover in the Salt Lake City airport on our way back to Vegas. After a probably crappy fast food meal, we were killing time when Paul pulled out his notebook and said he’d be right back.
Five minutes later he returned without his notebook. He’d left it with the girl working at the Sunglass Hut. Paul’s like that, approachable, willing to pursue the strange ideas he gets. It’s why we’re friends. After a while he went back to retrieve his notebook, now with a page-long story, the details of which escape me.
A few weeks after that, I took a road trip from Vegas to Seattle and down the California coastline. Armed with my own notebook and Paul’s fantastic idea, I asked someone in every city to write a story for me. Fiction, non-fiction, short, long, whatever they wanted. I’d leave it with shopkeepers, restaurant hostesses, or friends in town.
I’ll admit that the stories I collected on that trip and on travels since are rarely gems. They are hastily summarized autobiographies, knock knock jokes, a recipe for Beer Can Chicken. A woman in Seattle wrote a story about a girl who just wanted the rain to stop. A man at JFK wrote a story about a home fire that was riddled with grammatical errors, albeit completely haunting for the fact that I have no idea if it’s fact or fiction. One stand out was written by a waitress in St. Paul, Minnesota on the back of my dinner receipt, about a boy born with no arms or legs. From a literary perspective, few are worth repeating.
But that’s not the point is it? Like with traveling, I’m not really doing it for the story. I travel to explore, to connect with something new, to see people that simply exist elsewhere. Collecting stories while on the road just feels like another way to travel. It is a rare glimpse at the minds of those around. No, the stories themselves are not necessarily literary gems. But they are much more worthwhile souvenirs than a T-shirt or a mug with the name of a city on it. They connect me to a place much better than any gift ever could, even if it’s only to one specific person in that place.
Maybe subconsciously the idea helped me come up with Leila from Let’s Get Lost, the way she pries strangers for their stories. She travels like I do, and, obviously, like Paul does: with a strong curiosity not just about the world around her, but the people in it.
ABOUT Adi Alsaid:
Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City. He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While in class, he mostly read fiction and continuously failed to fill out crossword puzzles, so it’s no surprise that after graduating he packed up his car and escaped to the California coastline to become a writer. He’s now back in his hometown, where he writes, coaches high school and elementary basketball, and has perfected the art of making every dish he eats or cooks as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he has lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas and Monterey, California. A tingly feeling in his feet tells him that more places will eventually be added to the list.