I don’t talk to strangers… mostly
Talking to strangers is tricky. It’s one of those things we’ve been taught to avoid: literally.
Most of my memorable conversations with strangers happened when I was traveling. I guess with tourist mode on, I was less task-oriented or destination-driven, and more open to chance encounters. On my last trip to San Francisco, I had a lot of conversations with strangers. Some were more regrettable than others, but one of them was so interesting it was worth all the weird ones.
We were two strangers in a park. In the dog park, if I’m being specific, though neither of us had a dog. He was working on a laptop full of stickers. I was on the phone with a friend, telling her about my experience in San Francisco so far while I watched the dogs play.
At one point, I made one of my ingenious observations and I thought his smile was too well-timed with my punchline to be entirely coincidental. As I continued chatting, I split my attention between my friend and the dogs but spared the occasional casual glance to the stranger on the next bench. It did not take long to convince me that he a) was 100% listening to my conversation b) understood Spanish c) understood my particular brand of humor too.
At some point, he started to put his things away and said something in my direction. I removed one of my earphones and said something to the effect of “what?” to which he smiled and repeated himself, in perfect Argentinian Spanish that matched my own. He shamelessly admitted to eavesdropping and said he’d enjoyed briefly hearing the accent again since he hadn’t been home in ages. “And you’re not wrong about San Francisco,” he added, “but there’s more to it.”
I was hooked. (My friend, forgive me when you read this because, at this point, I was no longer listening to you. You thought we got disconnected and hung up.) I continued to talk to the stranger whose name I can no longer recall but whose descriptions of the underground culture, secret parties, and just random SF events he attended have earned this conversation a top spot in my memory. This encounter happened towards the end of my time there and, by then, I was already quite captivated with the city’s contradictions and each neighborhood’s unique identity. The new information only made me want to learn more. We exchanged our favorite tourist traps. We discussed our impressions of the dress code, the daily microclimates, the lack of children (except in Chinatown and tourist spots), how hard it was to get a decent sweet treat where everything was catered to healthy living.
He told me a bit about himself too, the places he’d lived in in the US, his job, his wife, his family back home. We chatted from bench to bench until the cathedral bells rang with the rhythmic repetition that marks the hour, reminding him that he was late and me that I should call my friend back.
This post was written in response to the #Writehere prompt “Remember a stranger.”