I can see her out of the corner of my eye and I know what is going to happen. Her attention is not entirely focused on the task at hand and danger looms. As she plunges the broccoli into the dip her hand goes with it, not noticing until it’s too late. Then things so from bad to worse. She drops the dip covered broccoli after missing her mouth. Ranch covers her shirt and lap.
In this moment I can chose to be a passive observe people watching at arms length. This is what I do on the train, or on an elevator, or at a park. That is what you do in Calgary. You keep to yourself. You don’t talk to strangers. Of course one should go out of their way to avoid talking to strangers who happen to own unmarked vans and offer you sweets. Beyond this we live in a world where we pretend the people around us don’t exist. We get in an elevator and look forward. We do not engage in casual conversation with that person who happens to work two floors down.
Then there is the other option: I have a stack of napkins nicely tucked away in my pocket that I grabbed knowing the potential risks of eating butter chicken (the worst did not occur). I reach into my pocket and hand them to her. She is eternally grateful. After all we are at a music festival with no running water to be found. If not for these napkins she is doomed to be extremely sticky.
The location matters. She is two tarps down from us at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, a place where Calgarians briefly become residents of a small town. Here I talk to strangers, and they become neighbours. She offers us veggies and crackers in exchange for my kindness and we talk. At the end of the night I feel slightly less alone and slightly less isolated. I feel like a member of a vibrant community.
Festivals can make us selfish. The term tarp politics encompasses all of the selfishness and anger that comes with being a tarpie. They can also make us kind and generous. They can bridge the gaps between people. Everyone around you is there for the same reason as you and that’s one thing you have in common. You can talk about what acts you are excited about, what the best food is or you can just talk to kill time or because you are sitting next to one another.
Fringe Fest has done the same thing for me. I have chatted with a volunteer about taking French immersion, I have recommended plays to people and had them recommended to me and I fist pumped a stranger next to me when we miraculously escaped front row audience participation. At a show today I befriended two girls sitting in front of me and ended up getting shown the tattoos one of them just got done and discussing my intense fear of needles. I also ran into somebody I am pretty sure I know but I can’t figure out where.
I love that feeling of discovery and connection. I miss talking to random people and learning about their lives—this was my favourite thing about my neighbourhood in D.C.. We should be more like a small town. We should be less insular and closed off. We should try to keep that festival feel going in our everyday lives.