Relationships

Do You Have a Not-So-Stranger?

Not-So-Strangers

Last Sunday, I was walking down the street just going about my business, when I saw them…

There is a couple, a man and a woman, that lives in my neighborhood. I’d guess they are in their eighties, and they’ll sometimes hold hands as they walk down the street. I don’t know their backstories or even their names. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I love them.

You know those people you see all the time — during your commute, or at the coffee shop, or even just in passing — and though you don’t know anything about them, they become fixtures in your life?

Perhaps you make up stories about them, or maybe you simply wonder: Where do they live? What’s their favorite book? Do they have an orange cat named Julius? Is someone, somewhere, thinking of them right now?

They’re mysterious, yet familiar, like human signposts or landmarks or even lucky charms.

My life is full of these not-so-strangers.

In my mid-twenties, I lived across the street from a gritty dive bar — the kind of storied NYC institution that truly deserves to be labeled a “watering hole.” Every morning, as I’d wake up early to get ready for my office job, I’d look out the window to see the same grizzled, bearded man sitting at the bar, his Australian Shepherd by his feet. We never spoke — we never so much as made eye contact — but he was a part of my daily routine. In my brain, he was a sailor, bursting with tales from the open seas.

It can provide a sense of comfort to see the same people, time and again. Like: yes, we’re all still existing on this big turning rock. If a not-so-stranger fails to show up in their designated spot — like the yoga mat all the way in the front right corner — you may wonder what happened. Are they okay?

In other cases, you might be annoyed when they keep showing up.

A friend commutes into Grand Central Station, and every morning for almost two decades, she has seen the same irritating man. “There’s this guy who thinks the train is his personal bathroom,” she says. “It drives me bananas. He combs his hair and clips his nails and lets them fly all over the place. I just saw him do it yesterday and was like, ‘UGH, you are still in my life!'”

It can also be jarring to see a not-so-stranger out of context. When I spot fellow gym-goers out in the world, dressed for the office or out at dinner, I can barely process that they’re not wearing spandex. It challenges the stories I’ve made up about them. (Red Shorts simply cannot work at J.P. Morgan!)

The not-so-stranger phenomenon exists in the virtual world, as well, where the same faces frequently cycle past on dating apps. “The last year of dating has been rough,” lamented one friend, holding up her phone to display a photo of a not-so-stranger with the enormous fish he caught. “But it’s comforting to see that Roy also remains single.”

One day recently, a guy approached me at a coffee shop. “Hey, I know you!” he said. I did not know him. “We used to work in the same office building,” he continued, correctly supplying the address of my former employer. “And I’d see you every day in the elevator!” I was quite certain I had never seen this person in my life. Yet he had seen me.

This brings me to the most mind-bending question of all — what if YOU’RE someone’s not-so-stranger? Meta.

Do you have a not-so-stranger? I’d love to hear about them…

P.S. Stories about strangers and what happens when an introvert talks to strangers.

(Photo by Janet Delaney.)

  1. Haley says...

    I love this! I have had so many not-so-strangers throughout the last decade. After a recent move, sometimes I wonder about my not-so-strangers from our old house like Old Cat Man or Morning Commute Runner Guy. When we moved, some of our neighbors (that we never really talked to much) said bye and mentioned how they loved watching our daughter grow up through the years… so kind of make me glad we all had the same weird affection for each other.

    My daugthers and I walk a lot in our new town and we have met a lot of people that mention they always see us out walking… so I’d like to think we’re not-so-strangers to a lot of people.

  2. KAH says...

    I love all these stories! I’m late to this story telling party, but I found out recently that my boyfriend and I are someone’s not-so-stranger. There’s a Rubios taco shop a couple blocks from our house that we frequent on weekends and one day after not having lunch there in awhile when we entered the shop the cashier smiled and burst out something like, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re back! It always brightens my day when you two come in.” We had no idea, but now we’re always disappointed if we go out for tacos and she isn’t there to exchange smiles and friendly greetings with.

    Somewhat related, when taking pictures while traveling, oftentimes there are random strangers in the background, especially in busy places. I sometimes wonder what their lives are like and wonder if I’m a background person in someone else’s travel photos. Do they wonder about me too, or are they just annoyed that I walked through their picture?

  3. Emily says...

    For the past few years my husband and I have passed by a guy pushing a stroller every morning on our walk to the train. At first he had one child, and then a new baby appeared one day. Flash forward a few years and we were touring a daycare while I was pregnant and who showed up to drop his kids off? STROLLER GUY!! He said, “Hey! It’s you guys!!” And I said, “Hey! It’s stroller guy!” We had a good laugh and as we left, I told my husband that I was oddly comforted that stroller guys kids went there, haha! We ended up choosing that daycare for a number of reasons, but deep down, our not-so-stranger’s endorsement really meant a lot to me!

  4. Karen says...

    In my early 20’s, I lived in LA and worked at a dance studio located above a gym. Multiple times a week going into or out of the studio I would pass My Not So Stranger on his way out of the gym. We would smile, sometimes exchange a quick “Hi” and I always wondered if he told his friends about it since I always did because it was Fabio! Like romance novel, cover boy Fabio. It always makes me giggle, but was also always so comforting to see a familiar face in such a big city.

  5. Nicole K says...

    The people at the dog park I frequent are my not-so-strangers. We never share our own names, and we never learn each others’ names — only the dogs’ names! So I know Alta and tall-guy-who-wears-the-same-vest-and-seems-to-have-multiple-girlfriends, Lulu and woman-with-an-accent-I-think-is-French, Haven and man-with-kind-eyes-and-crinkly-smile-who-always-asks-about-my-family, etc. I would never recognize any of them “in the wild” without their dogs! It felt like receiving clandestine information when I learned that Tucker’s human, “friendly-pretty-girl-with-the-great-laugh,” is my friend’s coworker named Laura!

    • Ha! ‘Lulu and woman-with-an-accent-I-think-is-French’ sounds like Garance Doré! Do you live in LA? Look her up!

    • Nicole K says...

      No, I live in Boston! Love that there might be two Lulus in the world who each go with a woman-with-an-accent-I-think-is-French!

  6. Rachel says...

    A couple of years ago, I went to San Francisco to visit a friend. I took an early morning Lyft back to the airport and the driver kept checking me out in the rearview mirror. At first, I felt a little uneasy, but he was looking at me with such genuine curiosity that I was more puzzled than afraid. Finally, he said, “I feel like I know you from somewhere.” I told him this was unlikely since I’m not from San Francisco, but rather on a visit from New York. Well, as it turns out, my San Franciscan Lyft driver used to work at the Fairway I frequented in the UES and he remembered me straight down to my coffee preferences.

  7. Yenni says...

    For about a year in 2011, I usually took a train to get to a city where I took German lesson. In that train, I often see some commuters commuted between two cities. At that time, I wondered about what their job was. In 2014 I started working in a new office, and guess what, now I work with one of those commuters I often saw in that train. I am still amazed when I remember those days I saw them on train.

  8. What fun it is to read all of these!

    I have a story about being a not-so-stranger — many people’s not-so-stranger. I worked for a few years in a little specialty boutique selling wine, chocolate, cheese, and coffee in a town in Denmark. It was a small shop, and I quickly became the main employee, so all the regulars who had been coming for years (after their initial skepticism of a newbie) got used to me being “the cheese girl.” I know about this nickname because of something that happened toward the end of my time there:

    I was walking to my car after closing up, and noticed a couple — regulars at the store — coming toward me down the street. As they came closer, I heard the wife saying to her husband, “That’s the cheese girl — the shop must be closed! Never mind, we can go on Monday.”

    They knew I heard them, and we all sort of chuckled and exchanged smiles and kept going. But I couldn’t help thinking: if my appearance out of doors registers as an indication of whether or not the shop’s open, maybe it’s time to do something else with my life!

  9. Bre says...

    My stranger is another mom at preschool. No matter if I’m running early or late our schedules are synced; I always meet her with her two kids at the entrance as I’m going in and she is going out. Her children have the same spacing as mine, but they are a few years younger. It’s strange, but I’ve enjoyed watching her children grow and their little personalities blossom.

    Last weekend I ran into her in an aisle at Target. We had the same reaction: we hugged and greeted each other like old friends. I don’t even know her name! She commented on how big my kids are and how she noticed my oldest lost his first tooth. For the first time I realized that I am her stranger, too. It’s a mutual stranger friendship. Maybe I’ll ask her name and make it official. :)

  10. loving all the stories shared on this comment section!

    There was a 10 minute walk from the train station to my old office. ON whether I was early or late to work would depend at which point along my 10 minute walk I meet my not-so-stranger. We never acknowledge each other but both of us knew we both recognise each other and would check out what we wore daily. For a change, I once decided to wear heels to work and was amused to see his look of surprised when I was much taller that day.

    I was sad that on my last day to work I didnt bump into him and reading these stories makes me wonder if he still walk the same path daily to the train station

  11. I made a short film a few years ago about this very concept! I never had a name for it until now. The film is called “Cleaning Up After People” if anyone is interested.

    https://vimeo.com/153709127

    • Yulia says...

      I enjoyed your short film! A small thing: all of the ordinary, ambient sounds were really nice. Something about them seemed both ordinary and significant.

    • judith says...

      I liked the film as well. It ends with a sense of mystery as to what happened to the man across the street. I was sad that the girl didn’t see him anymore and instead saw a woman who simply closed the blinds.

  12. Agnes says...

    A friend of mine converted a whole group of commuters into her ‘train friends.’ They all rode the same train into London daily – had their ‘assigned’ seats (not really, but woe betide anyone else who sat in them), and would chat all the way. They would meet for dinner and special events like birthdays for many years, and it only ended when she got a job closer to home, but by then the friendships were well-established.

  13. Erin says...

    Thanks to my adorable dog and my friendly Prairie upbringing, I have many of these not-so-strangers in the big busy city of Toronto. One of the most memorable ones was a nice looking fellow in my neighbourhood whom I always smiled at even though he would only sometimes smile back. Eventually I saw him with…his identical less-friendly twin brother.

  14. AD says...

    When I was in college, I introduced myself to a friend of a friend at a party and he said, “Yeah, we had calculus together last semester and you’re in my writing seminar now.” I was so embarrassed that I had never noticed him and that he clearly knew exactly who I was! It was only years later that I thought maybe he was paying attention to me while I was daydreaming about other not-so-strangers. I was a late-bloomer and was never able to pick up clues from people interested in me. I’ve been happily married for 10 years now to another college classmate, but sometimes I think back on him and all of the clues that I missed (not just from that “first” meeting, but also all of the other random interactions over our years there) and wonder if we should have dated and how that could have changed the direction of my life!

    • Cynthia Miller says...

      I was always oblivious to the guys who liked me and I wonder exactly what you wonder!

  15. Hannah C says...

    My not-so-stranger was a man I used to walk by on my way to work when I lived in Boston. We’d always pass by each other and smile but did not say a word to each other for a couple of years. Then one morning he handed me a sunflower and a note that said “hi.” I ended up moving away shortly after that, but I never forgot his kind smile.

  16. vanessa says...

    my almost-stranger is a dog walker in my neighborhood. I see him and his gaggle of pups a few times a week and am always so impressed by the calm way he manages them all. it’s like watching Cesar Milan walking dogs :) and he’s cute!!

  17. Lauriana says...

    I’m the neighbor that either says hello to everyone or makes eye contact, smiles and nods. I usually walk around with coffee and say “mornin'” to almost everyone I pass. It makes NYC feel like a small village in the countryside. There are days that I feel like I might be the neighborhood crazy lady because of my routine. But there is this one older woman (possibly late 70s or early 80s) in the village that wakes up early to see all the elementary school kids walk with their parents at drop off and she just beams. She’s one of my favorites to say “good morning” to. She once gave my son a dollar just for stopping and talking for a few minutes. It was so wonderfully old school. Something that reminded me of what my great aunts/uncles did when we visited on Sundays. I feel bad that my son doesn’t have family nearby for that experience with older relatives. Because of that, I make him talk to every senior citizen in our neighborhood that we see regularly.

  18. Allison says...

    YES!!! What an amazing idea.

  19. Courtney says...

    My mother tells us how she would always see this young man riding his motorcycle in the opporiste direction of her when she would go on long lazy rides of her horse growing up. After a few months, she started to wave at this young man, since they crossed paths every day. Eventually, he started to do small tricks as they passed, and she started to look forward to seeing what trick the young man would pull as they went by each other on the country road.

    She and the young man were married for 45 years before his death last year. My dad never stopped trying to impress the beautiful young woman with the long brown hair, and looked forward to her smile every single day for the rest of his life.

    • Molly says...

      Wow, beautiful Courtney!

  20. Tina says...

    When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I were living on the opposite coast of all of our friends and family. I would take my dogs for a walk everyday until I took the 6 weeks off after my baby. When I got back to it, I passed a house that had been having construction done and all the workers paused their work to congratulate me on my baby! I didn’t even have her with me, they just had seen me getting bigger and bigger as the months went on and then clearly noticed that I was no longer pregnant. I still tear up when I think about it.

  21. Becky says...

    Two days after I read this post I was walking my son to school in my usual rush and I passed one my my almost strangers who I see every morning. She stopped me in the street and said “I see you every day and it just seems ridiculous that I don’t say hello, so hello!”

    The first thing I thought was, I bet she’s a Cup of Jo reader…!

    • Alex says...

      I love this so much!

    • agnes says...

      She most probably is OR one of us readers told her about this article. I have not stopped talking about it for a few days. And keep coming back to see if there are more stories. I love love love these stories.

  22. judith says...

    That might be the sweetest thing I ever heard, MCW.

  23. Caylin says...

    I love this! It’s so affirming and incredible to see one of life’s everyday phenomenon’s written about so beautifully.

  24. Maggie says...

    I’ve had the same walking commute from my apartments to my offices for the last 7 years, and have seen a little boy grow up! His grandfather walks him to school each morning, and depending on where we pass each other, one of us knows we’re late! It’s so endearing to see him on subsequent Halloweens, or picture days, or to see him sprinting down the sidewalk and remember him on his grandfather’s shoulders. We’ve never talked, but I have a little place in my heart for both of them!

    • Liz says...

      I LOVE THIS SO MUCH

  25. I love love this post. Those almost invisible links between people, not visible to anyone but those who know about them. So, so lovely.

    I have a few not so strangers, some are people who regularly walk past our house when they’re walking their dogs. We’ve upgraded from looks to nods and smiles and one guy now always stops and has a little chat if we’re in the garden when he walks past. I don’t know his name or where he lives, we only speak when we meet in that particular setting.

    Another not so stranger is a guy I pass on my way to work. I have noticed him because of the way he dresses. No matter if it’s summer or winter (I live in Norway so winters can be very cold and windy) he wears the same jacket, a short pleather jacket zipped all the way up. It would have no insulating effect what so ever, but even in the thick of winter I have never ever seen him in gloves, a scarf or a hat. It fascinates me as he must surely be so cold. But day after day, same outfit.

    Another one who comes to mind is a girl who rides a bike, one of those old fashioned models where you sit high with an almost straight back. She rides her bike (to work I presume) in her fancy work clothes, and sometimes with a long beautiful coat. Her hair is always neat and she wears a bright lipstick every day.

    This post makes me wonder if I’m someone’s not so stranger.

  26. Norah says...

    I read this post on Thursday and it got me thinking about an older man who I have seen for years walking in my neighborhood. He looks like a real character and a friendly guy. The article made me decide I would stop and chat to him one day. On Sunday I saw on my neighborhood Facebook group that he just passed away. What strange timing, as he had been on my mind all weekend. I regret that I never talked to him because the tributes that people have posted about him online confirm that he was a very interesting man – and quite clearly the “not so stranger” to so many in our neighborhood.

  27. Helen Lyness says...

    We live and raised our family in a very small Iowa town of about 400 people. So many people living out in the countryside around here commute to the nearest big city to work, driving the highway from here to there. Most people traveling at the same time come to recognize the cars and people on the highway.

    One time I was chatting with a group of people at a social event, some of whom I knew and some I didn’t. The subject of driving to the city to work came up, and one woman told us that every day on the four lane highway, there was a black Chevy Monte Carlo that passed her and the other cars like they were standing still. She mentioned the name of the county on the license plate, and said that the girl driving that car was about 20 with long brown hair, and how she would wave as she sped around each car.

    She laughed and said she watched for her every morning in her rear view mirror and she always wondered about that girl. Where was she coming from? Where was she going? Why was she in such a hurry? She admitted she liked to make up stories about the girl in the black Monte Carlo.

    As I listened to her story, I just smiled. But I didn’t tell her that the girl driving fast in the black car was my daughter.

    • Heidi says...

      AAgh! Now you have to tell us — where is she going? Where is she coming from? Why is she in such a hurry? And why does she wave?

    • JET says...

      I love this! Did you tell your daughter?

    • Helen says...

      To Heidi – You asked: Where was she going?
      The answer: To work in a dental office
      You asked: Where was she coming from?
      The answer: From home
      You asked: Why was she in a hurry?
      The answer: She wasn’t in a hurry. But she was 20, with a brand new black Monte Carlo and she loved to drive fast!
      You asked: Why does she wave?
      The answer: Because everyone in Iowa waves at everyone they see!

    • Helen says...

      To Jet.
      You asked: Did you tell your daughter?
      The answer: Actually I don’t think I did. But I probably should tell her now. She is 40 now and all grown up, but she still likes to drive fast!

  28. KM says...

    I’m pretty sure my dog is a not-so-stranger to the whole community… there have been many times someone has exclaimed “Oh, this is Lenny?!, I’ve heard about you!” or a complete stranger will tell me “I know Lenny”.
    The neighbor refers to him as Lenny Lord Mayor of North Coogee (our Suburb)

    • Hilde says...

      Love this! Makes me think of when I was a child and could tell you the names of all the cats and dogs on the street, but had no idea which humans lived where, other than my friend.

  29. I loved reading this so much. There are many no-so-strangers in my life, from humans working at our local supermarket to people you pass on your way to work. Just like you, it startles me to see those people out of context and I wonder how often I don’t even realize that I just passed one of them, just in different part of town.

  30. Sonya says...

    Years ago, when I lived in a country town, there were plenty of not-so-strangers in my life. I thought of them as a kind of people’s clock. There was the man who walked his three greyhounds down the street every morning, my next door neighbour who left for work at the same time each day without fail. I could often tell what time it was based on what a handful of people on my street were doing – and when I was running late for work!

  31. Sarah says...

    Yes! I used to pass “Muffin Man” every morning on my way to the subway and he was on his way to work. Every day without fail he was eating something from the coffee cart at the station. One morning I decided to say hello and after that we would always smile and nod good morning. My schedule varies now but its always a treat to see him.

  32. Libby says...

    Years ago, a family bought a house in my community. They’d just won the lottery, and were instantaneous millionaires. The neighbors had a spendthrift lifestyle that was partnered with oblivious disregard for the community’s social norms (their kids rarely wore clothing outdoors; and when the family remodeled their bathroom, a discarded old toilet was reserviced as a flower pot in the front yard). I didn’t know these neighbors by name, so I started thinking of them as the Beverly Hillbillies. I am mortified to admit that I actually took this comparison too far, and one day, while in discussion with the neighbor, I inadvertently called her “Ellie May.” She was not stupid, and understood my reference exactly. This very embarrassing experience has taught me to be very careful about judging others.

  33. Chelsea says...

    I rode my bike everywhere when I lived in Portland Oregon in my 20s, for 2 years on my way to work I rode my bike past a guy riding his bike going the other direction. Every morning he would ring his bell when we passed each other. When my office moved to another part of town I definitely wondered if he noticed my absence, but maybe he rang his bell for all the girls 😉

  34. I love this! I often ride the same train as a tall woman with a bright green mullet and incredible, outrageous style. I love seeing her. My husband and I have also had not-so-stranger dogs. There’s “backpack dog”, whose owners carry him in a backpack on the subway, and “meatball”, a stocky pitbull who is often tied outside the Dunkin by our train station. We’ll text or tell each other whenever we see them.

  35. Nicole says...

    Catching up on Cup of Jo is a favorite part of my week. Not-so-strangers has come as a much needed balm at the end of a tough week. It’s a privilege to be a part of this community.

  36. Tesily says...

    My friend and I used to eat lunch in the pantry of our building everyday, and she pointed out her no-so-stranger to me and then I started noticing around too! He was tall and lanky with glasses and always in a suit. My friend passed away about 2 years ago. The first time I saw her no-so-stranger in our pantry after her service I felt so happy and sad at the same time.

  37. inkipinki says...

    Caroline!! You should talk to them! This would make their day so much brighter and better! Imagine their reaction when you just tell them that they are a little Part of your life and that you see them. Everyone wants to be seen, isn‘t it? Sorry for my bad english out of Berlin:-)
    I had a woman not so stranger in my neighbourhood, and one day I saw her in the city… then the next day she was sitting around in the summer heat in front of her Apartment. And I‘m so happy that I talked to her and asked her name and next week, we will go for a drink in the new bar around the corner. I know that not everyone is looking for new friends (I didn’t:-)) and I don‘t think that you should ask them too much… just tell them, that you are someone seeing them. Liebe Grüße!

  38. Valerie says...

    For so many years, when my kids, first Max and then Martha, walked to playgroup or school, we’d pass this lady walking to work. Max was the first to acknowledge the pattern. First with a smile, then a wave, and eventually a full-on run to meet her. They would hug, a kiss on the cheek, and the lady would ask about his day. Then it was Martha, the same.

    Then one day, we stopped seeing her. We looked and looked every day. Maybe her shift had changed. Maybe she was just ill that week. But we haven’t seen her for at least a year now. I think of her often and grieve the loss of her. That sweet moment each morning. Our stranger friend. Our stranger love.

  39. Jo says...

    Oh, this warms my heart!! I love reading everything here!
    My young adult son is (almost) everyone’s not-so-stranger in our mid-sized city. He has developmental disabilities that are difficult to describe, but in a phrase: he’s the most joyful, thoughtful, friendly “12-yr old” in a 25-year old body! We can be at a mall, or in the hardware store, or way across town somewhere different and somehow, out of nowhere someone waves, smiles, shouts, or nudges him with a surprised look of pleasure at spotting him! Wallace grins big at them and gives them an excited “hey!” right back. When I ask “who was that?”… it’s almost always the same answer: “my friend!”. And, after all these years of chance encounters with his “friends” everywhere we go I know he doesn’t know their name, or how the other person even knows him… but I’ve concluded that absolutely everyone he rubs shoulders with truly is his friend. He’s the kind of not-so-stranger that obviously makes everyone’s day brighter.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, Jo, i LOVE this! your son sounds like such a wonderful person.

    • Maggie says...

      This is so lovely! What a lucky man your son is to have so many friends keeping an eye out for him!

    • Kate says...

      Does your son happen to have William’s Syndrome? My niece does and she’s everyone’s not-so-stranger friend. She’s brought so much joy to our lives and our neighbors ❤️

  40. Andi says...

    I’m quite sure I’ve been that not-so-stranger for multiple people. In college, one of my jobs was on the custodial staff for athletics. At every men’s KSU bb game, I was the girl sweeping the floor during halftime. One night at the bars afterward I had a group of guys walk up- “are you the girl who sweeps the floors?” Why yes, yes I am.

    I now work from home but find myself in a lot of places on a habitual basis- volunteering at the same place week in and week out, a greeter at church, the girl who walks the white spotted one-eared pit bull…. I know when I’m out and about I get a lot of 2nd looks- “Who is that girl? I know her from somewhere….” I like to smile inside and just keep them guessing.

  41. Sara says...

    My husband and I were someone’s not-so stranger. We used to go on long walks in our neighborhood after work when we were dating and then continued after we married. We talked about everything and got some exercise. Fast forward to 6 years later and I was pregnant and we walked and walked and walked as I got bigger. One day we ventured out as a family of three and a man came rushing out of his house to greet us. Said he always saw us walking and couldn’t wait to see the baby.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That is so lovely <3

    • Laurel says...

      This is such a lovely story! Thanks for sharing ❤️

  42. Please turn this post and all of the comments into a book!

    • Allison says...

      YES!!! What an amazing idea.

    • anne says...

      YES!

  43. Amanda says...

    My not so strangers were some baristas at our local coffee shop. We had seen them off and on but never really connected until the night I went into labor with my third baby. We stopped to get coffee before going to the hospital, and the baristas had a mild panic because they thought I was going to have the baby in the car (he came about three hours later). Two days later, we came back to get coffee and to show them our newborn. They became our coffee family, and I was so sad that we had to move away from them. all of them were so kind to our family and even recognized my husband’s voice on the speaker at the ordering station. We still remain not so stranger coffee friends on Facebook.

  44. Caley says...

    When I was in my mid twenties I took the bus to work every morning. Every day I’d see the same girl on the bus. We’d smile at each other, to young red headed women on the bus together, but never spoke. She was always on the bus before me & stayed on the bus when I got off, so I never knew where she was coming from or going to. She seemed a few years younger than me & I imagined that she was a college student on her way to class. Eventually, I moved away, but years later I was back in town & stopped by a coffee shop. There she was, working behind the counter. This seems awful, but I was genuinely disappointed. I had imagined she was on her way to a successful career, that by now she would be a doctor or engineer or designer. But she was probably a lot more like me than I realized… Just another working class girl trying to make it in the city.
    The truth was I projected a life I desired onto her & my real disappointment was with myself.

    • judith says...

      What an amazing discovery you just made. Not many people would have been capable of (or interested in) processing the feeling beyond seeing her working in the coffee shop. Good for you!

  45. Meghan says...

    My family and I moved to a new town last April. I have Wednesdays off from work and, coincidentally, that is the day our recycling and trash are collected. My 3 y/o son would run to the porch and wave at the recycling guy each week when he heard the truck and he’d get a big wave in return (the trash collection guy wasn’t as friendly). He was my son’s not so stranger.
    Every week, this kind, 20-something guy waved and smiled at my son. For Christmas, my son asked if we could make cookies and a card for him – so we did. I felt a little self conscious, worried the guy would find it strange or overly friendly. I shouldn’t have worried – as my bundled-up son ran out to him to hand him the cookies and card, the guy said “hold on, buddy, I have something for you”. He walked around to the cab of the truck and pulled out a huge present all wrapped in Christmas paper. You should have seen my son! He ran back to the porch with it and unwrapped it to find it was a toy recycling truck. Oh. It makes me well up with tears thinking about this. (Imagining him caring enough to go out to a store to purchase it, then taking it home and wrapping it and bringing it to work that morning where the other guys probably razzed him a bit). Anyway, this previous not so stranger is named Paul. A few weeks ago he let my son work the levers on the back of the truck which, you can imagine, thrilled him.
    What is bittersweet, is that my son just started preschool last week and isn’t home on Wednesday mornings now. My son said he will leave Paul notes since he won’t get to see him.
    Thanks for this post!

    • Heidi says...

      Aww..this made me cry!

    • Becky in Fairburn Ohio says...

      This is my favorite of the comments….I picture my son and grandsons connecting with people….children do it so easily…..and Paul…..your son won his heart ❤

    • Colleen says...

      My two-year-old son loves the garbage and recycling trucks! And it’s similar to your story in that it’s the recycling truck guys who are so friendly and kind to him. Part of our Friday morning routine is throwing the front door open to watch for them. They wave and beep and it makes my son’s whole day!

      At Christmas we bought
      7-11 gift cards – and bundled up to wait for the truck outside so we could give them to the crew.

      The next collection day after Christmas we were running late and I didn’t have the door open. I heard the truck so opened the door quickly and heard the driver say, “There he is! There’s our buddy!” Warms my heart and makes me smile each time I think of it.

    • Nadia says...

      My 2.5 year old son LOVES both Recycling and Garbage trucks too and this story made me cry because it’s two people who are so simple, so pure, and they’re all heart.

    • MCW says...

      My former coworker’s two year old son loved greeting the garbage truck drivers every week. Her sweet boy tragically passed unexpectedly and at his memorial service, among other grieving family and community members, the Waste Management drivers attended with their trucks to give him a final farewell. Such a kind gesture that I don’t think anyone in attendance could ever forget.

    • agnes says...

      Meghan, your son sounds amazing! He knows how to make true friends, from such a young age! he definitely needs to miss school on wednesdays, sometimes :-)

    • Tricia says...

      This is incredibly sweet!