To belatedly celebrate my eldest brother’s September birthday, we traveled to our home town in October, where Cleveland cousins hospitalized, I mean “hospitality-ized” us with an excess of gourmet food, fine wine, and late night conversations. Gratitude, cousins.
That same week, I got to dance with my college forever friend and rock and roll partner, Joanna, in her groovy new bachelorette pad. We hadn’t dance together in years. ‘Twas a highlight for me.
And I met with friend-since-kindergarten, Mark (Steve joined us later.) There’s a magical comfortability that exists between those that spend their formative coming-of-age years together. We have our own language.
As we strolled Cleveland Flats, I addressed a passerby. “What’s happening’?” Mark scolded me, “Why do you say hello to strangers? Quit talking to strangers. When you do then I feel I have to, and I don’t want to.”
“That sounds like a you problem, not a me problem”, I sassed. “To be acknowledged is a basic human need. In every country I’ve ever visited, a hello, nod, or smile is always welcomed.”
Joe Keohane wrote an article for the BBC recently entitled, “Why talking to strangers can make us happier”. Talking to strangers can affect you in deeper ways than you might expect and bring about many health benefits. He writes that as youngsters we’re taught to be afraid of strangers. Yet we miss a lot by being afraid of them. Under the right conditions, it’s good for us, for our neighborhoods, towns, cities, nations, our world. In his book, “The Power of Strangers” he asserts that by talking to strangers, you get a glimpse of the mind-boggling complexity of the human species, and the infinite variety of human experiences. It’s a cliché, but you get to see the world from the eyes of another, without which wisdom is impossible.”
Air is crisp like the crunch of a farmstand apple. Trees leave colors that no photo can capture nor artist can duplicate. After Cleveland, I could behold more wondrous foliage by driving to J’s Oyster Bar in Portland, Maine, a gastrointestinal and cultural delight. I don’t play “favorites”, but of all the restaurants in the world…….. Not only do they serve buckets of dreamy steamer clams, salty characters make J’s their local hangout and striking up conversations with strangers is one of my pleasures.
The drive from Cleveland to Portland is eleven hours – an overnighter for me. On a “historic hotels” search, The Amsterdam Castle in Amsterdam, New York, pops up. Located on a hilltop with views of the Erie Canal and over a century in age, it served as an armory for years and now as a magnificent 22-room hotel owned by a local couple who live on premises. While giving me my suite key ($127/night), Lori at the front desk proudly added, “John F. Kennedy stopped here on his campaign tour.”
Steps away is Lorenzo’s Southside Italian restaurant. The place is full of locals and buzzing like Times Square at midnight. One of the “elders” and owners, Joe, visits my hi-top bar table. His family has been in the restaurant business for over 100 years with recipes the same age. My dinner order covers the entire table. While I’m grazing, Joe returns. “What? You’re gonna eat alla dat?” I tell him it was only my first round. I didn’t tell him that he should know better than to comment on a woman’s eating habits. It’s best to refrain from saying things like, “Whoa, you’ve got a healthy appetite.” ;) Or, “Whaddya, got a hollow leg?” As I finish, another owner, Luigi, comes by for a friendly chat. He extends an invitation to join a group of them for drinks next door but server Patty kindly discourages me, “You’re not from around here. They might give you the eye ’cause they think you’re a copper or somethin’.”
The Promised Land.
Lunch at J’s Oyster Bar, a guy from Bawston (Boston) and his girlfriend from New Hampsha (Hampshire) are seated next to me at the U-shaped bar. He asks, “Do you know the difference between a hod (hard) and soft shelled lobsta?” Then he cups his left hand in the shape of a C. With his right hand, he shapes a napkin to the size of an orange and holds it in the C. “That’s how much good meat is in a hod lobster.” He then crumples the napkin to the size of a lime. “That’s how much meat is in a soft lobster. Gaa-bage. Soft-shelled lobsters are gaa-bage. If you see a lobster tail for $9.99 it’s soft-shelled gawbage.” I told him I was a clam girl and he divulged the locations of prize beaches in Cape Cawd (Cod) to go clamming.
That night (dining at J’s for my third time), the hostess directed me to the last available stool. Seated to my left was a white-haired elderly man with a nice smile. He too, spoke with a pronounced and captivating New England accent. A self-proclaimed pothead for fifty years (he is 77), he owns an art gallery in town with the largest collection of maps in New England. He’s trying to sell and move to Ajijic, Mexico, near Guadalajara. He fell in love with the place years ago when he went there for dental work. He got sixteen crowns for three thousand dollars in only two weeks time. In the US, that would have cost him sixteen thousand dollars and taken three months. “Five years later and I’ve never had any problems.” The next day I stopped by his gallery. Astonishing collection and accompanying stories.
Exchanging with fellow human beings. Consider it a contribution to world peace.
(Hello and) Goodbye (for now )stranger (and family and friends), it’s been (real) nice. – Supertramp
Sincere apologies the timing was…off…to visit with my dear friends in Scarborough.