Making an Unexpected Friend

St. Vincent’s Dining Room in downtown Reno.

Expectations ruin everything. Whenever you try something new, there is always a preconceived notion. Sometimes it lives up to the hype, sometimes it does not. Sometimes you go in expecting something to be poor, and you come away feeling guilty that your expectations were so much lower than the reality. If you have ever been to a soup kitchen, you have probably had your expectations challenged.

Wednesday afternoon I went to St. Vincent’s Dining Room, a soup kitchen in downtown Reno. Just behind the building is the left field fence of Greater Nevada Field, home to minor league baseball and soccer. Home to comically overpriced hotdogs and beer.

At the dining room, men women and families come to get free food so they do not starve. Less than 200 yards away I once paid ten dollars for a hot dog and fries. And I used to call myself a “starving college student.”

While I was walking in, a man came up and asked me about the new Spider-Man movie. He saw my Spider-Man shirt and wanted to know what I thought of Tom Holland taking over the role of Peter Parker.

He agreed when I said that Marvel needed a younger actor to play the 16-year-old Parker, and laughed when I said they finally stopped casting 30-year-old men to play a kid. After that, it was not a journalist interviewing a subject, it was a conversation.

He asked about my major and when I said journalism his face grew concerned. “Study hard,” he said, “we need some good journalists after this election.” He said the election was a mess, comparing it to the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. “Florida, man,” he joked.

He asked how old I was, if I voted, and wanted me to guess how old he was. After guessing between 30 and 40, he said 54. He showed me his license to prove it. He said he looks young because he never smoked, drank, or did drugs. He asked if I smoked, drank, or did drugs. I said no and he smiled, “good, they’ll ruin your life” he said.

Eventually we both had to go, and when he left he reminded me to stay out of trouble but have fun. I said he better stay out of trouble too. We both laughed.

Did I expect such a conversation? Not at all. What I failed to mention was that my new friend George had three teeth, a patchy graying beard, matted salt-and-pepper hair, and worn out clothes that did not seem to fit right. It had probably been a while since he showered. It had probably been even longer since he had a conversation with a college student.

Good thing I wore my Spider-Man shirt, it had been a while since I ignored my expectations and just talked to someone. It had been a while since I remembered that we are all humans, we are all looking for friends, and most importantly, we all hated Andrew Garfield’s performance as Spider-Man.

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