Monday, October 8, 2012

Drinks & Strangers

As a child, I was taught never to talk to strangers... never take candy from strangers and never, ever, get in a car with a stranger, especially with people offering puppies. The words played over and over again like a broken record. Occasionally, the warnings would cease as life got less perilous... the Russians hadn't arrived, just yet, bombs weren't dropping, this minute, and strangers weren't lurking to snatch up all the town's small children, ... until an unknown vehicle would be seen driving slowly through the neighborhood, and once again the messages would flare... Never Talk To Strangers... Never Take Candy From Strangers... and... Never Ever Get in a Car With a Stranger.

So it's ironic, as an adult, I've now chosen to read the book titled, 'Talk To Strangers: How Everyday Random Encounters Can Expand Your Business, Career, Income and Life', by David Topus.

While I'm not looking to expand my business or career, except maybe to increase readership on my blog, promote a book or my artwork, the sound of expanding my life seems intriguing.

When Michael and I first met, I was more outgoing, though not much. Michael was extremely shy. Over time our personalities melded and shifted... I became more reserved and Michael acquired 'the gift of gab'. I dubbed him 'Mr. Mayor' for his smooth congenial ability to schmooze... to talk to anyone and everyone about anything! Just ask Pat, the postman, Ed, the landscape designer, Robin, the mechanic, Barry, the architect, Steve, the policeman, or Angelo, the Italian retiree, or any number of people who have come to know Michael and who, on their own, are quite capable of standing around 'shooting the breeze' for hours on end.

So now after all the years of being  'Mr. Mayor's' sidekick, The Silent Smiler', I'm ready to change what has been ingrained in my cell structure since birth, of never talking to strangers, to now initiating conversations with people I've never met. Yes! Total strangers.

I began with a simple hello to passerbys on the street. When I got good at that, I moved on to asking questions, and then commenting on things to others. Before long, I was exchanging words with lots of people. The interactions were positive. I'm not sure why, but from my experience, people were not only willing, but often eager, to share something of themselves with me... a complete stranger.

With new encounters, came interesting tales.

There was this one conversation I had with a local librarian, who I've never seen talk to anyone, librarians or patrons. As she digitally checked out my book, 'People's Pops: 55 Recipes For Ice Pops From Brooklyn's Pop Shop', by Nathalie Jordi, I commented on how, as kids, our family version of an ice pop was to pour orange juice into an ice cube tray and freeze it. "I love orange creamsicles", she said. She actually said something! I responded with recollections of often chasing a 'Good Humor' truck down the block for an ice cream bar or orange creamsicle on a stick.

As she held my book and drifted off into silence, I could tell memories of orange creamsicles still danced in her head... only they weren't thoughts of the frozen kind but liquid... an alcoholic drink she used to order whenever she visited a certain local restaurant, now gone. I had no idea such a drink existed, but now know that it consists of ice, vodka, and orange juice or a frothier version of ice, Pinnacle whipped cream vodka, Sunkist orange soda, and Reddi-Wip cream.

I don't know much about alcohol, but Michael knows plenty... he's a beer connoisseur.

One evening while we were dining at Iron Hill Brewery in Chestnut Hill for dinner and enjoying a few beverages, I noticed a man standing in the bar area, taking a picture with his cell phone of a chalkboard illustration of the comic book character, Lex Luthor, also the name of the latest beer on tap.

"Nice Artwork", I asserted, as the man neared our table.

Somewhat surprised, he stopped and mentioned... that he had the exact Lex Luthor comic book at home, and that he just finished drinking a pint of beer with the same name, which contained 11.5% alcohol, a pretty hefty alcoholic content for a beer. Wow! A response I wasn't quite anticipating or capable of continuing as my knowledge of beer is limited. I'm an iced tea drinker, but Michael is more than capable of holding his own... beer and conversation.

The two of them talked for quite some time about, Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA and other beer styles. They were of like minds... comrades of ale. I listened, smiled, and sipped my tea through a straw.

Occasionally, I'll take a sip of Michael's beer when it's freshly poured, but prefer my drinks sweet, not hoppy.

It was Tuesday, while looking over the lunch menu at 333 Belrose Bar and Grill in Radnor, PA, when I looked up at our waitress and ordered my usual... an iced tea.

There was something in her mannerisms and youthful spirit that made me think we had a connection. While I'm iffy with names, I do remember faces. Halfway through the meal, as our waitress refilled my glass with tea, I decided to mention that she looked familiar.

We talked a bit, while she remained puzzled. I pursued with a line of questions until we discovered that I had been her elementary art teacher for one year before her family moved from Cheltenham to Radnor Township when she was just ten, fifteen years ago. She was shocked that I was capable of remembering her and thrilled with our chance meeting and very generous tip.

Small world.

And speaking of small worlds... last night while talking to my mother on the phone, she told me of an unusual experience she had while shopping nearby at Ross Dress For Less in Florida.

A woman holding a red blouse attached to a hanger approached her and asked for her opinion on the item. My mother told her she liked it and mentioned she too was debating on whether or not to buy a jacket she spotted on the rack. "Put it on", the woman said, then added, "It looks stunning and expensive"..."Buy it!". The two started into a real conversation and soon discovered they were both born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and shared a mutual friend who now lives in my mother's complex. Phone numbers were exchanged. All this told to me by the same woman who for so many of my childhood years preached... "NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS".

Approaching people I don't know is a challenge, but the benefits are great, often fun, and well worth the effort. You can almost feel the world getting smaller, in a good way, and a bit better, with each word exchanged.

Here are a few links you might find interesting:

Why Tall People Should Talk to Strangers in Target here.

Susie Rea's In Pictures: Talking to Strangers in London here.

100 Strangers Project here with flickr photo samples here.

David Weinberg: Why I Secretly Recorded My Life here.

Wiki How: How to Talk to Strangers here.

The Doors: 'People Are Strange' video here.

Have you ever had an interesting encounter with a stranger?

If you're an adult and shy away from interacting with people you don't know, why not give it a try. Start with a simple hello then post a comment and let me know what happened.

Oh yeah... drinks... I hesitate to ask, but feel free to leave a comment on this subject too... as long as everything expressed is appropriate and doesn't include moments of someone passed out under a table or dancing scantily dressed, on top of one.

Cheers!... Dyan


  1. Interesting stuff! My mother was always warning us of the dangerous "others" and what they could do to you. Your friends were not above suspicion either. I began to become critical of this well intentioned advice, once she said you shouldn't bring people into your bedroom because they might "look for your bank
    book". I couldn't imagine why someone would want to know how much I was saving in my Christmas Club booklet.
    Later on, I remember reading an article by a sociologist about why immigrants were so worried about people. He pointed to the vunerability they felt in a new land, especially of people who were of other nationalities. Being only one generation from the "old sod", I could understand their odd ideas my parents held about others.. Today I use my intuition as a guide with strangers. My experience in general has been one of surprise, interest, and positive feelings.
    N.B. My love of dancing and ability to "cut a fine rug" has kept me off of table tops ever since I was a teeny bopper.

    1. You tell the best stories and funny ones too. Loved the bit about your mother and the bank book. Cracked me up. Maybe you should start your own blog :)

  2. Dyan,
    Would you like some tips for talking to strangers from R.C.? In museum, while in front of a painting, say to a stranger "Is that a portrait of you?"
    Sitting next to people in a restaurant: "Where are you from?"

    1. Michael says... "Richard talks to strangers because there's no one stranger than Richard."

      I say... "We wouldn't want him any other way."

  3. I was also taught not to talk to strangers and to NEVER get in a car with a stranger. I violated that advise about getting into a car twice....once as a kid when several of us missed the school bus (the man convinced us to get in the car and then drove us home to our mothers)and again when I was in college coming back to Philly late on a Sunday night and was waiting for a city bus which weren't running that late. I got into the car of a young man about my age who told me that the buses weren't running and would be happy to give me a lift to where I lived. I didn't know what else to do so I got in. I did get home safely eventually but not before we stopped at his parent's house to get a soda. (They were in bed, asleep.) When we got back to his car to take me home, his car wouldn't start and he had to use jumper cables to recharge the battery. During that time he tried making some moves on me which I managed to fend off. When I think about that night I shudder to think about what could have happened. I was too trusting and naive for my own good! (And STUPID!)
    I enjoy having little conversations with strangers. I loved the story about your mom's encounter!
    Like you, I don't like beer. It's way too bitter for my taste. I don't like most wines either. The wines I do like are sweet ones. That Creamsicle drink sounds really good! I like iced tea too...especially Long Island Iced Tea!

    1. SCARY!... your car ride with a stranger. You were lucky... very lucky! The stupid things we've done and somehow managed to survive and live another day to tell about them. One day I'll have to share a few of my 'not so bright' moves. We've all got them.

      Thanks for the info on Barbara Walter's book. I just looked up the title... 'How to Talk with Practically Anybody about Practically Anything. I'm going to see if my library has a copy. Thanks!

      And congrats to the new little stranger in your life...Parker Jeffery who you will soon get to know very well. Much happiness!

  4. Another book of interest was written by Barbara Walters many years ago. I think its title was "How to Talk to Almost Anyone".