Thursday, August 4, 2011

Talking to Strangers

Okay first of all, I want to announce that I will (in the future) have an announcement to make, and it's going to involve giveaways. And I don't mean "sign up for (extensively annoying things) and receive a free (piece of crap)." It's actually personal. :D  So, I'm excited about that, and hopefully you are too. :D

So, do you normally talk to strangers?

Honestly, normally I don't. I don't like to bother people, and I don't really like talking about general BS like the weather. I'm usually kind of creeped out if strangers start talking to me, especially when they won't quit. And I want to be polite to them, so I usually end up smiling and nodding but just GETTING OUT of wherever I am ASAP. Feels bad man.

Today, Nebberz was playing D&D with his friends about 25 miles away from home. Which isn't too far, but it's far enough to be concerned about gas. Nebberz doesn't drive, so I'm the resident chauffeur of our family. Instead of driving out there and then driving home and then driving out there and home again, I often hang out in the general area with the kids for the day, and then pick up Nebberz and go home.

So I took the kids to waste some time at the mall. We go to Marlene's, our favorite health food store, to pick up some lunch, not only for us, but also to bring to Nebberz. It's still too early to bring him the food, so I decide to take what we've got to the park and eat it, then we'll head back and drop food off for him, and go to another nice park that we haven't been to in a while.

I park at the park (heehee), and our 16-month-old is asleep in his carseat. YES. I freaking love naptime!  I let our 7-year-old play where I can see him and I give him the black bean burrito he picked out to nom up.

I turn off the car. The motors in our power windows on both sides are on their last legs, so, being in Northwest Washington where it is especially rainy, having a window stuck down isn't something to mess with. I open the moon roof, but the parking lot is on a slope, so chilling with the driver's side door open is sort of out of the question. I hang up a blanket by shutting the door on it so that the hot sun doesn't blare down on the baby, although it wasn't too bad since I found some nice trees to park under. Then I move over to the passenger side and let the door swing open.

There's actually a nice little breeze, and it's really keeping the car cooled off pretty well with this method, which was pleasing.

Then some older man pulls up in the spot next to me in an old truck - you know those trucks with the covered bed that's actually connected to the inside of the truck? I don't know what they're called. They were like, pre-SUV or something, I think. Anyway, he's not an elderly man, but probably over 50.

We make eye contact and he says, "I'm just looking for some shade!" in a nice and friendly voice. I say something along the lines of "Yep!" with a big smile and a little laugh while my son's hanging out with me, eating his burrito.

I'm not really paying attention to the man, but at some point he got out of his car to eat a sandwich. He comments on how good the sandwich is that he just got from Winco, my favorite "normal" grocery store.


This is usually the point where I'm too uncomfortable about a stranger talking to me, especially some guy around my kid. But something's different this time. I don't know if it was just my frame of mind, the fact that I didn't want to wake up the baby, the way the strange man wasn't pushy about talking, or what.

Instead, this time, I continue the conversation. 

I talk about how the burrito my son's eating is from Marlene's, and he raves about the store -- "They have the best sea salt!"  Somewhere along the line he mentions that he's "temporarily homeless" and he's just living in his truck at the moment. After being unemployed for over 2 years, he's finally started a part-time job, so that's good. I point out that the speaker at our Self-Reliant Community meeting last night was a woman who's been living in a treehouse on Mt. Rainier for the last 20 years (who actually seemed like a really awesome person), hopefully being positive and letting him know that I totally don't think living outside of a normal house is "gross" or anything. Because I really hate the stigma of homelessness. I actually admire the ability people have to thrive while "homeless."  But, I digress.

The point is: I had conversation!!! And it wasn't awkward!! Wow.

Of course the whole time my 7-year-old is showing off (although not in an interrupting manner - thank goodness he's finally learned that), so the focus isn't entirely on me. The man is really nice though and seems comfortable speaking to kids (but not in a bad way, lol).

Finally the baby wakes up, and I start getting him out of the car so we can go play. Then my 7-year-old, loving all of this attention, invites the man to come with us. At first he sort of refuses, but I know he doesn't have anything to do with his day, so I say it's okay. He makes sure and I say yes.

And this is the best part!

We all walk around the little lake together. He knows the park really well, of course, because he often stays there. He shows us all of the hiding spots where the turtles normally are, he knows the names of all the different types of birds. They're doing construction at the park, and he knows exactly what they are building. What a great teacher for an impromptu unschooling lesson!! (Although that subject never came up!)

He had been in the Air Force for most of his life, and so he knew exactly what kind of planes were flying to the nearby military base, as they often do. He and my older son got to talking about big airplanes and how many tanks could fit into one, and my son brings up how he learned about a special helicopter that can hold a tank. So they talk about it for a while, because he knows all the awesome details.

And just then, that exact helicopter flies over us.

Weird, coincidental, even creepy... I'm used to that feeling now. I don't know if there is such a thing as synchronicity of the collective unconscious, or if things just end up happening together for no good reason -- but whatever it is, it happens to us a lot.

We end up spending MUCH more time at the park than I had originally anticipated, but we learned about birds, planes, helicopters, trees, we damn near pet a friendly little dragonfly, we spotted two turtles out sunning themselves in the middle of the lake... It was totally worth it. He even raced - and beat - my son a couple of times.

What was striking to me was the man's curiosity. He talked to EVERYONE. But it wasn't the annoying small talk like most people, he observed what they were doing and actually said something relevant, and it seemed to be refreshing for them, even though I could still see the look that people get when strange people talk to them in their eyes.

He asked the people fishing if they'd caught anything, and one guy pulled out his phone to show us pictures. He asked some construction workers what they were holding, and they were so friendly and explained what it was and why they used it. I kind of wondered if he was just getting more positive reactions since he was with us, but I hope people normally respond to him that way.

Finally we were done with our walk, and I gave him one of the business cards I had made on a whim a few months ago on vistaprint. They were actually more relevant than they'd ever been before, because I actually have time to do the odd jobs listed on them now. He mentioned he had a laptop (he mentioned he previously worked for Google, as well), so I told him to e-mail me and I'd send him information about the self-reliance and sustainability stuff in our area, hoping to help his situation a little.

So hopefully he e-mails me. He sounds like a great person to add to our suddenly growing circle of friends. :D


  1. Very interesting! I hope he does send you an email! Some experiences I have had dealing with random strangers is negative, some is positive. I would rather talk to a stranger though and have the chance it is a good conversation, than worry about if it is going to be bad, though!

  2. Firstly, giveaway things are usually fun.

    And talking to people is fun as long as it's on subject. I too stray away from boring mindless chitchat, but there's so many interesting people out in the world! Glad you enjoyed it! It sounds like it was very pleasant. :)

  3. Have to say, I really enjoyed reading this story since I've been on both ends of the spectrum.
    When I was younger I didn't talk to anyone (I didn't say a word more than I needed to in the first 4 years of elementary school) but since all of my friends are these lax friendly dudes it rubbed off on me.
    Now I'm the one they send in when they want to pick up girls or talk some guys into playing basketball or soccer with us.
    To me it's funny because I learned all of this from watching them interact with new people.

  4. Thats pretty cool, i ve had my fair share of interesting conversations with strangers some are pretty weird but once in a while you find those really friendly cool people

  5. Most of the time people are too intimidated/afraid to talk to me...but I find that a smile and a well-modulated tone of voice (hey, I AM a lead singer, y'know?) is usually cool enough for even the hottest heads.

    Hell, I've made friends with fellow badasses that way (usually I hear the same thing I just typed, that most people are too afraid or intimidated by them to step up and chat), and you'd be surprised by how many of us are also geeks.

    Sometimes it's just a single line ("Beautiful day today, yah?") or a full out conversation ("The current political scene sucks, I totally agree with you, but the only way revolution will occur is if we as a collective throw off our apathy and the shackles of said apathy, i.e. - internet and television, and rise up and change things forcibly."), but usually I keep to myself and get my work/errands done.

    Now that I think about it, no one ever really comes up to me and just starts a conversation...usually I'm the one to reach out first, y'knowwhatImean?

  6. I don't mind talking to strangers as long as an awkward silence doesn't form. I like listening to people in general, everyone usually has something interesting to say.

  7. Talking to strangers is, easily, my most favorite thing to do whilst drunk. I always meet really interesting people that way. And, if you really hit it off, a boring night out can become a nice little adventure. :)

  8. Now that's a blog post =P , but I kinda gotta disagree with not talking to strangers, so long as they look sane and decent that is. but anyways I'll defiantly check out these posts more

  9. I talk to strangers. I always politely speak with people while in the elevator (if it's just the 2 of us). I'm amazed by is how the some people (mainly young people) stare blankly when someone speaks to them or asks them to hit a button on the elevator. They don't even nod, they just stare. My younger sister is one of those people and I don't understand it.

    Perhaps at some point in society we're just going to communicate via grunts. The art of conversation is truly dying.

  10. @DWei I agree, there's nothing worse starting a conversation with someone you don't or just knows a little and having it die too early.

  11. I don't talk to strangers either, unless they're attractive and I'm feeling desperate.

  12. I don't mind talking to strangers. I don't start a lot of conversation, but have no problem talking to anyone, once I'm approached.

  13. I always talk to strangers. Thats how you make new friends!
    Heck I'm doing it now, hello Tracirz!

  14. I'm very introverted. I usually don't talk to strangers unless I have to or if I'm spoken to.