Service of Anonymity in a City: People are Watching

January 15th, 2018

Categories: Anonymity, Big, City Living, Details, Kismet


Even in a big city strangers may notice you and kismet happens.

Starch in History

I told you about the neighborhood Chinese laundry man who asked me “what happened to lots of starch?” I’d just said “no starch, please” when I’d handed him a pile of men’s shirts and I’d not been in for a year. That was long ago.

Banking Coin

Photo: youtube

There’s a Chase branch near our apartment where I dropped off what seemed like eight pounds of coins we’d collected, wrapped in penny, nickel, dime and quarter rolls. As I entered, a customer service staffer asked how she might help and I handed her the shopping bag as I wasn’t sure what she’d want me to do. I began to search for my Chase customer card as we discussed cash vs. depositing to my account and she waved the card away saying, “We haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” I am embarrassed to say I didn’t recognize her.

Lucky Bus

A most unusual thing happened to me during the early January 2018 storm dubbed bomb cyclone due to the wind exacerbating frigid temperatures.

The storm hit Thursday. Although friends and family suggested I stay home, I wanted to pick stuff up at the office and keep my appointment at Apple repair—which I wrote about in the most recent post. I usually walk but that day was planning to take the subway to Grand Central because stretches of sidewalk weren’t yet maintained turning patches into ice rinks. Plus the wind made the cold cut through my layers.


On my way I saw a bus on Second Avenue and 54th Street. I was on 53rd. I started towards the bus on the slushy, icy street. The bus had already closed its doors and was moving forward. Nevertheless, the driver stopped where I stood and opened the door. I expressed my appreciation—most drivers don’t do that once they’ve cleared a stop. We chatted until I exited at 46th Street.

Two days later, the temperature still in single digits, I headed to Trader Joe’s in the 30s. My cheeks were already wind burned so I’d again planned to take a subway when I saw a bus at 2nd Avenue and 54th Street. I was stuck waiting for the light at 53rd and made a mad dash across and up the street as soon as I could although it was a lost cause as the bus was already moving south. But again, I lucked out. The driver stopped to pick me up.

I was wrapped in the same fur headband and warm scarf—a Christmas gift—and as I scrambled up the steps I heard, “You again?” It was the same driver as on Thursday! He asked: “Where are you going today? You got off at 46th Street last time.” What a memory! What a nice man.

The sad end to the story for 2nd Avenue bus customers is that last Saturday was his last day on that route. The good news for Manhattan 79, 86 and 96 Street crosstown riders is that you might meet him driving east and west.

Sometimes a city doesn’t feel like such a big place and if you are lucky, people get to know you even when you’re not paying attention. Do you have similar city stories to share?


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9 Responses to “Service of Anonymity in a City: People are Watching”

  1. david reich Said:

    As big as this place is, it’s still lots of neighborhoods made up of individuals.

  2. ASK Said:

    It’s not just New York…I ran into a former New York client with his wife in Luxor, Egypt, and a high school classmate running an art gallery on Maui. Then, there was a duo of Schumacher fabric execs from NYC in Bath, England. Always fun and always astonishing…

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Easy to forget, though I think some neighborhoods are closer knit than others.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You sure get around and are observant! There are some people from high school I’d recognize as they look just the same. Others, for better or worse, if I’d not seen them recently in the right context, I wouldn’t know.

  5. Lucan Said:

    Years ago, about the time we moved to our present neighborhood, an old lunching friend and I decided to revisit an old standby of a French restaurant there, which I had first patronized back in the 1960’s. Then, it had a reputation for serving well-prepared, fairly priced traditional French dishes with discreet, graceful formality in a tastefully decorated, cheerfully attractive dining room. In the days before women worked, it was usually full at lunch.

    The French(?) owner greeted me warmly as we entered the sparsely populated, mildly fading dining room, “Mr. Ambassador, welcome! It is good to see you again after so long. How have you been?”
    I didn’t know the man from Adam and have never been an ambassador, but I couldn’t help but feel a little flattered. I wondered on how many others he had tried the stunt?

    Sadly, while the owner was charming and our waiter, a professional by whom my friend had previously been served elsewhere, our meal was at best, only routine, and that lovely, empty space, just a little funereal. It wasn’t cheap either. That “Mr. Ambassador” came at a price.

  6. jmbyington Said:


    What a story! Sorry the lunch wasn’t good.

    Maybe the bank staffer didn’t know me but the other two in my post surely did.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    I love the French restaurant story and love the way you narrate it. Over the years on occasion I have gotten a “T” starter whom I remember and who recognizes me. I do think its is amusing and pleasant when my husband and I shop at the near legendary and enormous Market Basket in Waltham, MA which we visit at intervals of at least several weeks apart and always pleasant help of all ages and nationalities acknowledge us with a friendly greeting of recognition. On occasion I see faces I know from my office building in a different context like a theater, a restaurant or a museum. It is interesting to acknowledge each other familiarly. Bostonians always chat about the weather. People one passes on the street such as doormen, security and support personnel, delivery people as well as coffee shop and restaurant people tend to greet, nod chitchat or remember a preference with a kind of genteel familiarity.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I lived on Park Avenue south of Grand Central for a few years and walked uptown to work, passing doormen of apartment buildings and one in front of a neighborhood hotel. On occasion I’d mumble “hello” or “good morning,” only to hear crickets in return so soon I gave up.

    It changed the week of 9/11. Suddenly the silent folks responded to a greeting. I haven’t lived there in eons so I don’t know if they are back to silence. When I lived on East 51st Street, doormen and building staff were friendlier. These days I don’t pass many buildings with door staff so I can’t compare.

    Delivery people are mostly in a big rush and antsy because of NYC traffic so many aren’t able to act in a genteel way. I don’t blame them for feeling grouchy as they must be stressed as well as exhausted.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Frequent appearances result in recognition, regardless of location. Recently I was touched by a supermarket cashier (on break) who materialized to say I was a customer he would miss. The feeling was mutual — he was always full of jokes, including a loud announcement of “That’ll be $3,520.22” after ringing up a $30 something charge! He was transferring to another store in the chain, and hopefully towards promotion, since it’s that sort of person who makes the disagreeable chore of shopping into a near pleasant experience!

    Over time I’ve been recognized after years of absence, for my voice, wearing a sweater in July, ability to count accurately & etc. So far, it’s always been a pleasant surprise, making up a carload of cheerful memories.

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