Jim Morrison singing: “people are strange when you’re a stranger” always seemed like a “who’s calling who strange?” moment. He was a strange dude but the song is pretty accurate. Nothing is worse than being a stranger. I’ve travelled a bit for business and pleasure over the past 40 years; I’ve been a stranger. I’ve met some strange people but I’ve also met some people who have made me feel at home in a strange place and that’s one of the best feelings ever.
Earlier this year, I was picking up some take-out food at a nearby restaurant. I was waiting at the bar – because you have to wait somewhere – when a stranger came in. I knew he was new because he asked where the men’s room was and you only ever have to do that once. We started talking and when he ordered a second drink, I had the bartender put it on my tab. I wanted him to feel at home. I’ve had people do that for me, and it has distinct welcoming effect.
One of my favorite bars is the Molly Wee Pub in NY City. I wandered in there one day after a long series of technology laden sessions at the Javits Center and I noticed that the bar was owned by the Reilly family. I mentioned to the bartender that the Irish Setter we had at the time was named Mollie and our previous setter had been named Reilly. He set me up with a free beer and welcomed me to the family. I’ve been going back ever since.
Probably the strangest encounter I’ve ever had was with the guy my daughter and I will always know as “ish-man.” We were in New York City, on a subway from downtown back up to midtown, probably heading to the Molly Wee, when this guy started talking to us. That’s strange enough. NYC subways are normally a non-interactive mode of transport. Maybe a grunt here and there, maybe a thanks for smacking the door back open or yielding a seat, but not conversation. This guy starts talking to us as if we were neighbors.
“I decided that I’m going to end lots of words with ‘ish.’ I think it might be annoying-ish but I really wonder-ish how people will react-ish. Do you find this annoying-ish?”
“Yes, yes we do.”
He was, or wanted us to believe that he was in real estate. He talked about opportunities that had gone well-ish and opportunities that had gone bankrupt-ish.
Ish-man was with us for about 2 stops. When the doors opened, he announced that “this is my stop-ish” and we breathed a deep collective sigh of relief.
A few years ago, I was in Boston on business, and I was eating at the bar at Jacob Wirth’s (yes, there’s a theme here). I began a conversation with the man next to me, and by the time dinner was over, I was reminded of how much I admire the real experience some people have. The man is a trial lawyer in Boston, a former Marine (evidenced by his cap and verified through conversation) and had worked on various political campaigns, including the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. Perhaps a decade older than me, he possessed knowledge of an important period in my life that I am only recently trying to figure out – the 60’s.
His life was shaped by events that I read about, saw on television or heard about from others – in other words, my input was filtered. He, on the other hand, had participated directly in those events. He shared some funny stories, some tidbits of political history, and he shared what he saw as an advance man for a presidential campaign, traveling from city to city during a time when cities were burning and people were marching in the streets. He knew what happened in Pittsburgh, where I experienced the 60’s, in Chicago, Boston, and Indianapolis as well as in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My lonely night in Boston had turned into the equivalent of sitting on a neighbor’s front porch.
Back at the Molly Wee, a woman once observed:
“They probably only ever show sports in bars because it’s the only thing you can really watch without sound.”
Said the man on the other side of me as he joined this conversation fragment bringing with him an idea he had obviously been working on for quite some time. Unlike ish-man, his idea had merit. He proposed a bar where the TVs would show classic movies.
“We wouldn’t need the sound to watch those movies because we remember the dialog”
The woman was unimpressed until he and I started sharing lines from movies like The Magnificent Seven, The Blues Brothers, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz as well as the lyrics to some of the songs from Singin’ in the Rain – I mean, who doesn’t know: “Moses supposes his toeses are roses?”
These are the great moments when otherwise intimidating cities like New York and Boston become home. People have the power to turn a crowded anonymous bar into a living room. Maybe not ish-man, but some people. Do you have a story about when you have been made to feel welcome in a strange place? I’d love to hear it.