People are Strange but We Can Fix That

imageJim 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 Citimagey. 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 eatingimage 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.”

Au contraire

Said the man on the other side of me as he joined this imageconversation 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.

42 thoughts on “People are Strange but We Can Fix That

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  1. Pictures – Top to bottom those are Tunxis Grill, The Molly Wee, Jacob Wirth’s and a shot from inside the Molly Wee. When I travel, and even when I don’t, I prefer to eat or wait for my food at the bar.


  2. In many cases you could just take any film. Those that are outstanding can simply be expressive enough through their images, and the dumb ones simply follow a set of scripting rules that make them easy to follow anyway. This would variate depending on which culture the film comes from (an American film is not just the same as a French or a Japanese one). In fact, it can be a sort of game to dub whatever you are seeing on screen with an alternative (or not, who knows) story for a film you never saw. But sure, good conversation is even better. Good post.


    1. We like this one because it’s one block from the train station. Although, my daughter and I did manage to miss a train once. Nice people, good food and the occasional beer on the house. It doesn’t get much better than that. Thanks.


  3. No story because i was always the one with a book if i was eating alone on a new city. But, these days, i end up having lots of interesting conversations with strangers due to having a baby or a dog, or both with me (automatic conversation starters, these small creatures).


  4. Well, apart from my own strange behaviour … there was the time I was walking along Baker Street, London. It was evening, very crowded on that footpath. In the middle distance was a very tall man. I’m particularly short. When he got up close, he put his hand up to my cheek – it wasn’t a slap, more of a tap or a pat – but oh, so slightly unnerving – and he walked on without saying a word! Yep people are strange. Myself, I’m not sure we can always fix that! Perhaps I should’ve said: Here’s looking at you, kid!


    1. OK, you got me, no fixing that. Truly awkward and not helping you to feel better. We’ll put him in the box with ‘ish-man’ and pack that away. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.


      1. Yes, he belongs with ish man – they can keep each other company. However, the young Thai gentleman who helped us in Bangkok belongs in an entirely different category. My husband and I were attempting to cross Rama IV, a multi-lane highway. We waited and waited for a break in the traffic. Now, this seems a futile thing to attempt. But at the time we were simply follow the instructions on our map. The young man approached us, and in English said come with me. And we did, following him down a flight of stairs which led to the MRT – the subway. We wondered whether this was entirely wise, told him we didn’t want to catch the train. He promised he would take care of us and asked where we were from. We told him New Zealand. He told us his mother had lived for a few years in Australia. Almost neighbours he said, which endeared him to us, not many people know where NZ is, or the difference between NZ and Australia. He talked of his dream to visit down-under one day And he escorted us to an underpass which took us up on to the other side of Rama IV. Yep, there are ish people out there, but there are good people too – and he’s one!


  5. Long ago, as a student, a girl I didn’t know very well told me to join her and her friends and family for the Fourth of July. She said it would be relaxing, and that it would make her happy if I came, since she wanted to get to know me better. I packed, drove two hours, and had an absolutely wonderful time. EVERYONE was so warm and friendly, I felt completely at ease. For days and days, as an introvert staying in a strange place, well, to be comfortable felt like a miracle. We are now friends twenty years: been roommates and bridesmaids and showered one another for babies. We only see one another twice a year, since she’s in Chicago now. I still visit her hometown now and again, because I’ve grown quite close to her mother and her baby sisters. Lovely bunch.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Being a foreigner means being a stranger in many places. I like bars but even in 2014 it is not very easy for a woman to go alone in a bar. In NYC and Boston if I am with my husband we will go for a glass of wine before dinner but then the conversation is between us.
    If coffee places work, on the other side…
    Years ago when I was totally fresh out of Paris I lived close enough to a lovely cafe with an outdoor terrace very much like the ones I had in France. We didn’t have much money, as most true immigrants, so I focused on the necessities until the day I bumped into a European young wowan who also spoke French. We had two babies the same age and became friends. She had more money than I did and offered for us to meet at the coffee place almost every day. I always had the small black coffee only because it was the least expensive. After a few weeks the coffee place people knew us and started to offer a cookie to our little girls. One of them, a young girl, was especially friendly and loved to talk with me about traveling and France and Paris, all places where she had never been. In my hesitant English I talked about my life there. And I felt happy to talk with someone who didn’t know me but was so nice to me. Years later, I remember her and know that she was doing her very best for me to feel welcome even if the only thing I ever had at her coffee shop was a small dark coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I am a firm believer in the fact that there are a lot of nice people in the world – stories like this confirm (or at least support) that belief. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story.


  7. I loved reading this post, Dan. It’s so true: even when you know you’ll most likely never meet someone again, just having the ability to make them feel at home (or of they extend the welcome to you!) is such a pleasant feeling. People’s stories are fascinating.

    Thanks for sharing. :-)


  8. I’m way too shy to have such encounters, I guess, but one I had on the internet has resulted in a 7-year long friendship now. We talk every week. She’s visited me twice, the first time when we didn’t speak each other’s language, and I’m visiting her this year :)


    1. I am actually pretty shy, but I think it’s probably easier for a guy to strike up a conversation in a bar. It’s pretty cool to meet someone in person that you first met online. I just recently met several people I only knew from Twitter at a tech-conference and it was very nice. I would like to meet my blog friends in person someday.


  9. How did I miss this post? It wasn’t in my notifications and it’s almost two weeks! Anyway, in my country it is still easier to strike conversations with people, even strangers. You just have to start with something about politics, because it is the one subject about which every Kenyan definitely has something to say. It affects everything, and badly. The other subject is football. Those two particularly can make you feel at home in any public place in Kenya. I hate politics and football doesn’t appeal much to me. Besides, I prefer to write my thoughts down than speak them. I am poor speaker. I have, however, realized that most of the strangers I meet and voluntarily feel drawn to chat with are carrying books. Something in my mind associates books with well-mannered people. If not ‘that’ well-mannered, then they at least have broad views of things. I met my girlfriend in such a fashion. She was carrying this huge Anatomy book in the bus and Biology has always been a subject of curiosity to me. By the time I was getting down she thought I’d studied Medicine. But we’d only been discussing things I had come across here and there.


    1. Thanks Peter. I’m actually kind of shy, and my sports knowledge runs thin. Frontally, over here, there are so many sports to talk about that you can get by skimming the surface as long as you don’t try to go deeper than your understanding. I would also be drawn to someone carrying books, or a camera for that matter.


  10. I like the way you ramble and make sense to me! I think it is a shame that people have fears of strangers. The weird people have ruined it for us all! The dangerous ones, I can only hope, are hiding or lurking at home, while I am in line for coffee! Smiles, Robin


      1. Dan, so glad I am getting a “double take” of this great post. I feel I am open and yet, sometimes do allow people to think I am quiet. I can only fool people for a short while doing this. I learn so much from others. I like to collect love stories and have a bunch of unique ones which would really sound nice in a collection. My 2 favorites of strangers love stories were the young man met at an Indians game and another, of a coworker who is always brusque and never smiles. I sat with her early on when her lunch overlapped with mine at the warehouse. Hers is like the “Ugly Duckling” snd the “boy’s” was like “opposites attract” with “love conquering all.” When I think of what I know about cranky coworker, I understand her husband and she are happy and she feels this is enough. Work is a separate entity to her. :) I loved the revealing segment of the past that your evening with knowledgable “one decade older stranger.” (Met at Jacob Wirth’s.) Who was it that said, “I never met a stranger?” Going to go and check. . . See you later, Dan. :)

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I was happy to find that I did reply to the original comment. I almost always try to reply to comments. I’m not sure how I missed the follow-up comments.I’ll blame it on my being on vacation, but that’s a poor excuse. I’ve met some very interesting people – strangers, but not for long. I try to be open to people, and I’m usually happy with the outcome. Ish-man was weird, but at least my daughter and I have a funny story to tell. Thanks again for supporting this story telling effort of mine.


  11. interesting post, Dan… toxic and dangerous people have existed since mankind appeared on earth and they’ll always exist, as human nature has remained simply the same one: homo sapiens hasn’t changed much… :)
    * * *
    Jim Morrison has been a living legend in France, I did see his grave in Paris, Père Lachaise cemetery: covered with flowers 24/24… RIP.
    * * *
    Thanx for dropping by my crossroads, my very best and have a positive week! cheers, Mélanie


    1. Thanks Judy. I love conversations. On my way back from Iowa this week, the first leg was a short flight to Minneapolis. I spent the entire time talking to a very nice lady in the seat next to me. Random conversations are sometimes the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You may have read it from me before, but the people of Japan are amazing – at least the ones who speak English, though even some of the ones who don’t.
    Thanks for linking this post, Dan. Quite enjoyable. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reaching back and reading this Linda. This week’s prompt tripped me up but it was a fun fall. I have heard that about the people in Japan from you and others. I’ve never been. Maybe someday :)


    1. Ish-man could have stared in a Seinfeld episode. If he hadn’t gotten off the train, we were going to. There’s always another train. You’re absolutely right about chatting at the bar. I once published rules for being at a bar. One is, if you aren’t willing to talk, you should get a table. Thanks Deb.

      Liked by 1 person

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