Archive for the ‘Strangers’ Category

Service of Attacking the Blues by Chatting with Strangers

Thursday, July 4th, 2024

The day I shot this was the delivery man’s birthday.

I’ve made a conscious effort of saying nice things to select strangers on the street and other places to counteract the blues fomented by current political turmoil and strife. I’ve always remarked on adorable dogs—all of them are, even the ugly ones. Sometimes dog owners thank or smile and other times they walk on without comment. Maybe they didn’t hear me or were in a rush or they don’t speak English or are a dog walker and not invested in the pooch at the end of the leash.

I’ve discovered that speaking up cheers me. I try to make the gloomiest looking cashiers smile—if not laugh. It often works.

Warning in NYC: You must be prepared for no response or reaction.

Yesterday I said, “beautiful day,” to a young man who was unloading a bunch of packages from his truck to fill a giant container on wheels slated for delivery to apartment buildings. He replied with a brilliant smile saying, “It is! And it’s my birthday!” so I was able to wish him a happy one and we both parted delighted.

I took a photo of the two men at the bottom of the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

People holding the SLOW or STOP signs at construction sites often appreciate a smile or a “hi.” There’s a ton of building going on in these parts.

The city is crawling with tourists, many non-English speaking. Should you want to make most of them happy, if you see one of them taking a photo of the other in front of the clock at Grand Central or at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, for example, they’ll jump at the chance to have you snap a shot of both of them. The only time I was curtly refused was by an American. I didn’t think I looked intimidating.

I used to let it pass but I’ve become bolder when I see someone approach and I wait–and hold open the door and they neither nod nor thank. I speak up if they are teenagers or older. And if they don’t look scary, I say, “you’re welcome.” Then, under my breath, I wish them a crummy day.

Do you speak with strangers? Does a happy reaction cheer you up?

One of the many construction sites within easy walking distance of my apartment.

Service of Crazy Memories and What Triggers Them

Monday, January 1st, 2024

A fellow customer at the post office asked if I spoke Spanish because she wanted to warn a mother of two little children about kidnappers. She said she’d once stopped the kidnapping of a child in a public place. Her target this day was a young mother who was allowing her little ones to run around the large Grand Central Post Office far from her and often out of sight.

I don’t speak Spanish and one of the Postal workers told the customer that nobody at work that Saturday did either.

Do mothers like to be given advice by strangers?

I’ve written before about this incident that the potential kidnapping reminded me of. I was at O’Hare in Chicago on my way to NYC. My trip started on a puddle jumper from mid Illinois. A mother handed me her infant and said, “could you please hold her while I go to the ladies room?” and she was off before I could blink. I wondered if I’d ever see her again. When she returned, I asked her why she dared do this, and she said she knew I was safe because she had seen my husband at the originating airport. He was in an Air Force uniform, so she felt I was a good bet. Such faith in strangers was nuts at any time.

You can hardly pass another New Years without memories, sane or crazy, happy or sad.

What triggers your memories?

Service of Other People’s Stories

Monday, July 10th, 2023

What is he thinking? Wouldn’t it be fun to know?

I love hearing people’s stories. I may have inherited this from my mother. Just one example: In her 80s, Mom would take her book to the lobby or sunroom of a resort and find a comfortable chair. At dinner she would share highlights of some of the other guests’ lives. She’d have chatted only briefly with them that afternoon and often learned curious tidbits.

After a party I’m curious about how guests I don’t know fit a friend’s life. During various rides I learned about one Uber driver’s girlfriend and another’s baby. A Trader Joe’s cashier has relatives in Canada and we spoke about how the fires have impacted his cousins. He was brought up in Columbia, he said, and has lived in NYC since last August. Another young cashier and I discussed what has happened to civility.

In a bus I learned about another passenger’s new squeeze. During the pandemic a passenger asked a woman who was coughing and not wearing a mask to put one on. She told me she was on her way to the hospital for a course of chemo and she didn’t want to catch anything. When she saw my TJ Maxx tote with “BEE KIND” in bold letters another bus passenger told me her grandchildren’s middle name is Bee.

Equally fascinating are people who aren’t interested in stranger’s lives. They’ll shut you down if you begin to share highlights of an interesting relationship or event regarding someone they’ve never met. These same people are often intrigued by fictional characters. [No surprise I like to read biographies.]

Which are you? Curious about strangers or only about people you know?

Bee is the middle name of a fellow bus passenger’s grandchildren.

Service of Signs of Recovery: More than the Lifting of Restrictions

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Farmer’s Market Union Square NYC June 2021

During the pandemic New York went silent and not just because the streets and sidewalks were practically bereft of cars and people. Casual conversations among strangers who made it outside stopped. I no longer greeted or complimented dogs I’d pass on the sidewalk. We didn’t walk close enough for conversation.

Buses from 10 routes stop here and no bus in sight.

But this has begun to change. It’s evident illustrated by the energy at favorite gathering places such as the Saturday farmer’s market at Union Square [photo above] and an uptick in the New York tradition of chats or comments between strangers. I first observed the custom during countless bus rides at my mother’s knee. Honed in the art of conversation with strangers she excelled wherever she traveled.

I was waiting too long for a bus at 7:30 a.m. last week and struck up a conversation with a couple who were already there. A first. They liked my idea for helping out the suffering yellow cab business by creating a system in which potential bus passengers would sign in for a voucher for a free taxi ride if they waited more than 15 minutes–especially during off peak. Tweaking existing kiosks at stops would make such an initiative possible. Win win.

On another day I noticed a man of a certain age [do you say that about a man?] sitting across from me on a crosstown bus. He wore an orange shirt and carried a black tote bag. I got off at my stop, walked to Home Depot on 23rd Street and held open the door as I sensed there was a person behind me. I have a thing about letting a door slam on anyone because when it happens to me it puts me in a bad mood. It was the man in the orange shirt who said “thank you.” That happens but not always.

Done shopping I walked to Third from Sixth Avenue to grab an uptown bus. About to cross Third, I again saw that orange shirt and recognized the tote bag held by the man–he was ahead of me. At the uptown stop I staked out a spot and as the local bus slowed along the curb, the man walked over and said “I must be following you,” and I replied “I’m the stalker,” and he said, “I’m not a very good stalker.” That was it. A New York moment and welcome illustration that the city is edging back to some of its endearing customs.

Have you noticed subtle ways in which your town or city is relaxing and easing into the best of its old self?


Grand Central Terminal busy again on a Sunday.

Service of Speaking with Strangers

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

I find it easy to speak with strangers. It may be a New York thing. It came natural to me because when I was small I often saw my mother chat with fellow passengers on public busses or in the grocery store.

In the day, most guests passing one another in a hotel hallway at a resort would say, “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

Some people silently shout out to be spoken to. At an opening at MoMA a friend and I passed a man wearing a tie in primary colors with giant Warhol-style images. I commented on his choice, he beamed, and my friend said, “How can you do that?” I thought, “How could you not?”

I met my first husband in a college library and two of my dearest friends on a train.

On my walk to work last week on a 50 degree day I saw a 30-something man who was well-groomed walking across Second Avenue in the 40’s, towards the UN, wearing jogging pants and no shirt, with a backpack. I half turned to a young man waiting for the light to change on 43rd Street as I was and said, “I wonder if he’s going for a job interview?” When I faced him, the stranger in a sweat shirt with a plumbing company logo was giggling. He replied, “I bet he gets the job!”

Speaking with people you don’t know is a good thing according to Elizabeth Bernstein in her Wall Street Journal article, “The Surprising Boost You Get From Strangers.” The subhead, “Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day, providing comfort or helping to broaden our perspective.”

She wrote: “ ‘People feel more connected when they talk to strangers, like they are part of something bigger,’ says Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, in Colchester, England, who studies interactions between strangers.” The doctor has studies that show people have better days when they’ve spoken with strangers. The same with students who speak with classmates.

“And yet most people resist talking to strangers, she says. They fret about the mechanics of the conversation—how to start, maintain or stop it. They think they will blather on and disclose too much—or not talk enough. They worry they will bore the other person.”

Bernstein continued “And in a study in which she asked participants to talk to at least one stranger a day for five days, 99% said they found at least one of the conversations pleasantly surprising, 82% said they learned something from one of the strangers, 43% exchanged contact information, and 40% had communicated with one of the strangers again, an indication they might be making friends.

“Scientists believe there may be an ancient reason why humans enjoy interacting with strangers. To survive as a species, we need to mate outside our own gene pool, so we may have evolved to have both the social skills and the motivation to interact with people who are not in our tribe.”

Is speaking with strangers a New York City thing because there are so many opportunities to do so? Do you do this? Can you remember a conversation with a stranger? Because so many are wrapped up with their phones, is chatting with strangers a lost art?

Service of a Happy Surprise When a Stranger Takes a Minute to Help

Monday, November 27th, 2017

There’s plenty to gripe about but I want to write about two positive things because you don’t want to hear about my attempt to get to Brooklyn by subway on a recent weekend. Embarrassing how nonexistent were communications that day between the track repair, motorman and station staff for a city the size of NY. We’ve never lived in such a well-connected world and I’ve rarely seen an example of such incompetence as happened that Saturday. Even the relatively new electronic messaging machines were out of order in all stations, bad timing or bad planning? There are NYC neighborhoods, such as Red Hook Brooklyn, where people lose their jobs because city transport consistently prevents them from arriving on time. A disgrace.

This is why I especially appreciated what happened on a Metro-North train recently. The doors had closed at our upstate N.Y. station and the train was about to move south when over the loudspeaker the conductor said loud and clear, “We’ve got a runner!” That could have meant lots of things [had someone robbed a passenger and was the person running away? I watch too many “Blue Bloods” re-runs.] But in this case he’d observed a passenger racing from the parking area towards the steps to the train platform. Had he missed this one, the runner would have had two hours to wait for the next train. I trust everyone else appreciated, as I did, the one minute wait so he could travel with us.

In another instance, I was about to leave for the station to meet my husband when over the office loudspeaker we were told that all elevators were stopped until the fire department checked out a smoke condition on the roof. This meant that I was probably going to be late arriving at the gate for our train at Grand Central Terminal because I couldn’t drag my suitcase down 11 flights of stairs.

“Big deal,” say you, because all the people you know carry a mobile phone. Not my husband. I knew he was at the Oyster Bar and I called there. I described him and his suitcase and the approximate location I knew he’d be seated to the woman who picked up the phone and she found him and gave him the message. Wow.

We’re all in such a rush or so involved in our own world we often don’t stop to do something meaningful for a stranger. Do you have any good examples of strangers helping others?

Service of Conversations with Strangers: Craft Fair Brings Two Together

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

On my walk to work on Tuesday I saw a woman who looked strikingly smart: Fabulous floral patterned coat in muted colors, elegant purse, shoes and leather gloves. I almost snapped a photo of her from behind. She stood about 5-feet tall and had short gray hair—so she probably wasn’t a model–nor did her brisk gait catch my eye.

The look was a welcome break from the thousands of quilted black coats I’ve seen of late, mine included. Moreover, I don’t see that many women on the street looking so put together these days—they must be riding in limos or walking in different neighborhoods.

I passed her, continued on my way, my mind on other matters. I’d long forgotten the pleasing visual image when suddenly I heard someone speaking to me, which is unusual on my daily jaunt, once I pass my block.

The voice came from the woman with the amazing coat. She said, “I have the same coat you’re wearing in several colors. I know how long you’ve had it—I bought mine at a craft fair!” [I’ve had the knit swing coat for at least 15 years and love it still. I also bought mine at a craft fair.]

I admitted how I’d admired her coat and how tremendous she looked in it and that I’d almost snapped a photo. She said the coat was an Etro [not the one at right, above, though that coat is by Etro] and that she’d had it for four years.  Then she enthusiastically pointed out the chartreuse lining and I the remarkable detailing on the cuffs.

I often compliment a person’s dog which is met with mixed reactions for cultural reasons: Most Americans thank me and smile though generally foreigners don’t. [I live near the UN.] That was only one of the many reasons I was reluctant to say anything to this woman and I’m glad she approached me.

Since I routinely walk rather than take public transportation, where chatter happens more easily, and don’t shop as often as before, I don’t have as many such fun encounters with strangers as I used to and miss them. I know marriages that have happened as a result. Have you enjoyed any you can share?

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