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. Mo says...

    When I got mono and barely left my house for weeks, all the not-so-strangers that I saw everyday when I commuted must have wondered what happened – when I returned after my convalescence they all smiled at me so broadly, and one even said “We thought you were dead!”

    We never spoke again. But as a single gal living alone in the city it felt nice to know people cared.

  2. Reg says...

    I had a lot of not-so-strangers when I lived in NYC, but there’s one who sticks out most. I took my dog to a dog park at odd times throughout the day and there was always one 40-something gentlemen there with his black lab named Roxie. He LOVED Roxie and always spoke about her with such enthusiasm and nothing else. He showered her with so much affection and attention, it was a joy to watch. I would also spot him around the neighborhood with his dear Roxie. He’d always be narrating their day out loud to her. One day, he was at the dog park alone sobbing/wailing uncontrollably and crying out Roxie’s name while hunched over the fence. I didn’t see him for a long time after that. I always wondered what happened to him. One day, about a year later, I spotted him walking alone, hunched over and muttering to himself. It was really heart breaking to see. I wish there was a happy ending.

  3. Ah, yes. There was White Wine Woman, who lived on the corner of our block when my then-boyfriend and I were first living together in the 1990s. She’d perch on the steps of her lovely townhouse, her long white hair in an elegant up-do, wearing some pale, expensive-looking outfit, holding her glass pensively, always alone. She was fixture on warm evenings.

    There was also Handsome Guy. HG was tall, broad-shouldered, lean, and perfect. We’d spot him walking around our neighborhood. His thick, dark hair grew straight back from his forehead to the back of his neck. He had dark eyes and strong, moody, perfect features, like an angel in a very good Victorian stained-glass window. He dressed quietly but well, and had an ambling, model’s walk. He always carried a thin leather envelope bag very casually, by one corner.

    We’d see him in passing and he’d see us, but we never said a word. I saw him coming out of the bank once; he held the door for me, and my heart sang. He saw us giving out Halloween candy on our porch and gave us a smile as he passed. Then I saw him leaving our dentist’s office. I asked the hygienist who he was. His name was John, she said, and he was an architect in the firm near our apartment. She said he was engaged, or maybe not..

    I told my now-husband all this, and we both wondered who’d be perfect enough to marry HG. That Christmas, we went to a concert at a nearby church. From the balcony, we saw HG in a small group of men taking their seats in a pew below. We stared. We both saw HG being very cozy with one of his friends. We saw no hint of a fiancée. So maybe not. And now, as I reflect, everything makes sense.

    We moved down the street and the architecture firm moved across town and we never saw him again. But neither of us will forget him.

    • K says...

      I might switch dentists! That’s a violation of HIPAA and who knows what the hygienist is telling people about you! 😬

    • Elle says...

      This was in the ’90s, long before HIPAA. And that dentist retired long ago. Three other dentists have come and gone since!

  4. LISA MCGARRY says...

    I have so many of these in my life. And I also am often thrown when I see them out of their normal context…or there are the times when I think I see one, and I almost start to give the nod, then realize they are a celebrity (hello, Jake Gyllenhaal). But my best one, was the man I used to see every day while I walked the 12 min route from home to the subway, as he walked from the subway to his work (?) which must have been by my apt. For 7 years we would go through stretches where we passed each other every day. We would nod and smile. My walk was fairly long, but we would usually pass each other as I approached the train, but if we passed when we were closer to my house, then we both knew I was running late for work…and that would always make us laugh. I could tell he didn’t speak English but it was clear what we were laughing at. Well eventually I was moving out the apt and I wondered if I should tell him, or if I should fade away like some NYC mystery. Since I figured he didn’t speak English, I decide mystery was better. Well fast forward a year or so after moving, I was out running with a friend in a completely different part of the city…a completely different borough, when who do I see? My not-so-stanger, but this time I was by his house. We both were so excited. I started saying “I moved, I moved!” and he kept pointing at a building, and in broken English saying, “My house, my house”. We hugged and laughed and took a selfie…and then I continued running back to the land of mystery.

    • Jen says...

      This is so beautiful… ❤️❤️❤️

    • Lmn says...

      That’s so sweet!

      And I do that to celebs too. That split second of I know you, before you realize you know of them but not know them. Liev Schreiber got an embarrassingly big smile from me. Oops!

    • Lisa M says...

      LMN:…Hah…I did that with Liev Schreiber too! But then realized Naomi Watts was next to him giving me a not-so-big-smile
      <3 Thanks

  5. Megan says...

    “Do they have an orange cat named Julius?” Hahahahahaha. I love you Caroline. 💫

    • JB says...

      I have an orange cat named Julius! I guess it’s not terribly original.

  6. margie says...

    Our not-so-stranger is a neighbor that lives enough houses away that I don’t know what house he lives in, or what his name is, or anything about him. What I do know is, that like clockwork, he takes a super early morning walk, and a walk right around 5 pm. He always wears a shirt that says COMPUTER SCIENCE, with nothing else on the shirt. Once my mom commented on an odd person walking by, and I said, “Computer Science?” We crack up that all we know about Computer Science is that he loves him some walking.

  7. Years ago, my father-in-law would walk three miles a day along the semirural streets around my in-law’s neighborhood. He lost lots of weight and gained so much fitness—a necessity for a man in his 60s with a heart condition. One afternoon as he walked along the shoulder of the road, a car stopped and shouted to him that they enjoyed seeing him every day and his persistence and consistency were inspiring.

    Since then my mother in law passed away after a years-long decline from recurrent breast cancer. In his years of caring for her and his grief following her death, that practice has long since fallen away. Under sad circumstances unrelated to that, my father-in-law has also moved.

    I like to think that those people have this fantastic image of my father-in-law, with their own stories about him and his life, that are maybe happier than reality. That doesn’t take away from the value of his lived experience; it just proves that our lives are a collection of so many lived experiences, and we can be a point of light for someone else regardless of our circumstances.

  8. SW says...

    Reading these comments are so fun! It’s like watching Rear Window! Thanks for sparking such a colorful conversation.
    I live in a medium sized town. The same people cross paths a lot, and if you work a retail or food service job, you are especially recognized. I had one for years and even 4 years later people say they know me from somewhere. Now I’m known for having a kid or two in tow, and it’s also surprising to me to have people comment if I don’t have them. I guess we’re really all paying attention to each other, just a little shy to say something for no real reason. Kind of a shame, but kind of fun too- we don’t need to know everything about everyone!

  9. Tori says...

    I read this post then went to run errands and a woman came up to me and said hello and that she saw me and my kids around, then listed all our usual spots. I had never seen her before! And I consider myself very observant! It was trippy. Guess we really are all someone’s not-so-stranger.

  10. Chelsea says...

    When I was working for a newspaper, I would regularly drive to work around 1 p.m. Several days a week, I would pass a pick-up truck with the biggest, fluffiest black dog in the back. Where were they going every day? It was such a happy sight. I loved existing in their world for a short time.

  11. Ang says...

    Once upon a time, I had a Car Buddy. Technically, my car had a Car Buddy, I guess. Every day my car would park directly in front of this other car, or the other car would park directly in front of my car. Us early birds had claimed our non-assigned parking places, and we didn’t let anyone else park in those prime spots. This went on for about three years. I had never seen the owner of said Car Buddy, and I doubt he/she had seen me. Then one Monday, when I was especially groggy and the sun hadn’t fully risen, I pulled into my spot, started to say “Hi Car Buddy!” under my breath as I did every morning, and low and behold…the actual Car Buddy was there! We were both getting out of our cars at the same time, and without thinking I said “Hey, it’s my Car Buddy!” to him, not able to contain my excitement. He just stopped and looked at me weird. I kept babbling, as one does, and stuck my foot farther in my mouth before I walked into the building and upstairs to my office, happy to finally escape the utter embarrassment. Three hours later, I had to go to the first floor for something, and I hear, “Hi Car Buddy!” I jerk my head around to see him…my Car Buddy, the one I had never seen in the building prior to today, (and I see him twice?!) waving and smiling like a fool, giving me kind of a creepy look. I half smile, wave, then get the heck outta there. When I leave for the day, I notice something I had never noticed before: his license plate. LVS2SPK No friends, I am not joking. What else could that plate mean?! He was a balding gray-haired man in his early 60’s, and he loves to spank. I managed to avoid him for the remainder of my tenure working in that building, but one day my co-worker told me this guy was hitting on her on the freeway, making eyes at her, following her, really creeping her out. He finally drove away, and she noticed his license plate…LVS2SPK.

    Moral of the story: You may have a Car Buddy, a Bathroom Buddy, a Not-So-Stranger, but it’s never, ever a good idea to actually engage them. Keep the made up story in your head, it’s way more entertaining.

    • Ann-Marie says...

      I’m dying! Oh man. I’m sorry your Car Buddy didn’t turn out to be cool.

      Maybe he loves to speak?

    • lauren says...

      Ha! I would’ve assumed “speak,” but I think it’s hilarious that you went right for “spank.”

  12. Kate says...

    I moved to a new city about six months ago, and earlier this week I realized I have my first not-so-stranger here! It’s a funny thing to make me feel like, “wow, I live here now!” but a lovely little moment of human quirk and connection.

  13. Amy says...

    I’ve worked in the same giant office building in NYC for 15 years, so there are so many ‘not so strangers’ and when I run into them in other contexts (the guy from the other elevator bank who suddenly shows-up at a bar I’m at, or the lady from my Metro North train who I see in the grocery store on the weekend), I have the hardest time placing them. We say ‘hi’ and smile and then it’s always a good hour later that I think ‘oh right, that’s the guy from the 14th floor elevator bank.’ It’s kind of comforting to see the same faces every day, like the might be inclined to help you out if you were ever in a bind.

  14. Julie says...

    I’m sure I’ve had my fair share of not-so strangers in my life, but one in particular comes to mind. I lived in a three story walk-up in Chicago. It was on one of the few streets without an alley behind it. I had a lovely back deck that faced the back of another house where a man lived with his wife and teenage son. I’d sit on my deck and the man would sit on his deck every summer day for years. We never spoke a word to each other or waved. We just co-existed out there. After a few years, I became pregnant with my first child. One warm Spring afternoon I couldn’t get into my front door, so I trekked up the stairs to the deck with my new baby. He was outside and yelled “What’d ya have?” I told him a boy and that was it. Those were the first and last words we spoke to each other. I’ve since moved to another city, but this post made me think about him and whether he’s still there.

  15. Ashley says...

    Oh, what a timely post. I have recently had a wonderful experience with a group of not so strangers. For about 12 years I have arrived at the same coffee shop at 5:20 am every work morning on the way between my parking spot and the hospital in Berkeley where I work as a nurse. Every morning the same kind cafe worker unlocks the door for me and 12 others waiting outside. The group of 13 is ALWAYS the same. It includes me, a few retirement age early riser gentlemen with their newspapers, a group of paramedics, a group of construction workers, a few of the operating room techs from the hospital, etc. other than a “good morning “ none of us had spoken to each other. Everything changed last December when one person said to me “how was your thanksgiving?”. Well, that’s all it took for us all to begin talking to each other about all kinds of tidbits about our lives! Now, we all arrive even earlier so that we can have a little more time together in the early morning before we start working. We all sit together for a bit and enjoy each other’s company. This long time group of not so strangers became my early morning friends, and it only took one simple question.

    • Faye says...

      LOVE THIS. The American dream in action.

    • Meghan says...

      How wonderful! Such a nice way to start your day.

  16. Wyndele says...

    Oh, Starbucks is so good for this sort of thing! I used to work there (one of the most enjoyable jobs ever, because it was like working in a living room) and you sort of knew the customers and they sort of knew you, but there was always this line. I loved knowing them, while standing just behind that line. It’s the whole concept of a “third place” I suppose.

    I’m not sure if it’s the same in New York, because I can’t imagine Starbucks being high on the list with so many local shops, but in the Midwest it is like this…

  17. Mary says...

    I haven’t seen my not-so-stranger in years, but I still remember his kindness. He sold newspapers at the top of our subway station entrance.
    Everyday my boyfriend and I would buy the Post (me) and the Times (him). Our not-so-stranger spoke very little english, but always greeted us with a smile and often showed us pictures of his wife and kids that lived in the Middle East. He sent every penny he could home to support his family, but when my boyfriend lost his job (but still walked me to the subway each morning), our not-so-stranger still gave him the Times and refused to accept payment. Suck a kind man who we enjoyed seeing every day.

  18. Genevieve says...

    Yes! So many!
    I think that it takes seeing someone you recognise in a SECOND context that makes people strike up actual conversation. Like the lift guy! He never would have spoken to you in the lift.
    Must be the basic premise of community. I love my little pocket of Bristol as I do see the same people around and about and feel like I have a community even living as young professional in the city.

  19. Sharon says...

    long shot… was the bar milano’s?

  20. Klix says...

    Every spring, a solidly-built elderly man rides his bike through the fields near wear I live dressed in hot-pink overalls. I have always wondered at his colour choice, and why, in winter, he wears only somber colours. Were the hot-pink overalls a gift? Does he wear them because he loves the colour? Or are they the last clean thing in his wardrobe? These questions may never be answered, mainly because I would never ask them, but I find myself thinking of him as the seasons change, and look forward as much to the snow-drops making their debut as I do to the pink overall man.

  21. elly says...

    Yep! I realized I was someone’s not-so-stranger when a coworker I’d never spoken to charged up one morning yelling that it was my fault he was late to work! Turns out he eats his breakfast every morning at a cafe on my bike route, and he knew it was time to leave for work when he saw me bike by…and I had taken the bus that day. I think he realized how silly it was to be mad at me as he was saying it. I strangely never saw him after that – maybe he got fired for being late.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That is so so funny!

    • Karen says...

      OK – this sounds like a movie-like scenario!!

  22. Dawn says...

    This reminds me of my favorite podcast episode of all-time from Love + Radio:
    https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/living-room

    It’s about the “not-so-stranger” relationship between a woman and her neighbors.

  23. Hannah says...

    I’ve been taking the same commuter train back and forth to work for 16 years now. About 10 years ago, we watched two clearly married-to-other-people co-workers (both in their 50s) start to sit together, chat, laugh, then canoodle, then kiss, and clearly have an affair over the course of a few months. It was so obvious that everyone on the train was giving them the side eye!

    Then, one day, the lady was on the train with her college-aged daughter. They sat in front of the guy, and she turned to her daughter and said “honey, you know Mr. So and so, my wo-worker.” Literally introducing her daughter to the man she was having an affair with! The entire train gasped and there were a few people going “Oh no you didn’t!”

    • elly says...

      omg DRAMA!!!

    • janee says...

      “the entire train gasped” hahahahhaha!

      THIS is NY to me. Cannot imagine this happening anywhere else in the world!

    • angela thompson says...

      So many good stories in these comments!

    • Hope says...

      I am LOLing!! This is so good.

    • nmr says...

      DYING!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I’ve read EVERY comment and so far this one is my favorite!!

    • Alexa says...

      bahahahahahaha this is too good!

  24. Meg says...

    I love this because a not-so-stranger totally changed life. Every morning during my commute from Clinton Hill to Union Square I sat in the same car with a rather pretentious looking not-so-stranger, complete with the wire-rimmed glasses, black turtleneck, and frayed corduroy blazer. We shared a habit of reading philosophy on the train and acknowledged this entirely through eyebrows raises, book tilts and a singular conversation about Michel Foucault in a crowded elevator. Then one day, during the loneliest period of my young life, I was walking down the street in Brooklyn and saw him sitting on a stoop with some friends. As I walked by he called out, “Oh hey it’s you!” To which I stammered the reply, “. . .yeah me. .hi?” (surprised to see him anywhere but the C train.) His friends mistook my awkward greeting as a sign that we were not-at-all-strangers and ushered me into their dinner party before either of us could clarify that we did not, in fact, know each other at all. 5 hours and even more drinks later I stumbled out of that brownstone and began some of the best years of my life. Ten years later that group of strangers are still some of my closest friends in the world.

    • Lauren Stacks says...

      I love this so much that it brought tears to my eyes. <3

    • Genevieve says...

      Amazing!!

    • gabby says...

      I just love this story, meg!

    • Elle says...

      What a great story!

    • Kim says...

      LOVE this.

    • maia says...

      That’s a great story!

    • Cait says...

      I love this story so much!

    • Kay says...

      I love this story, thank you for sharing it.

    • Mass says...

      Wonderful

  25. Andrea says...

    One of my friends in college called her not-so-strangers “people clocks.” Where she passed a familiar person was how she determined if she was going to be late or early for her next class. If she passed, say, purple hair girl by the dining hall instead of by the music building, she knew she was early. She and I were people clocks before we were friends – we always passed each other by the library on our way to one particular class!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha i love that! i know that from the other families at the boys’ schools. if we see so-and-so, we’re late, and if we see this other family, we’re VERY late!

    • KC says...

      I DO THE SAME THING!! haha

  26. Laura says...

    Ugh, Caroline…you’re such a good writer. <3

  27. Kimberly says...

    I’m definitely some different people’s extras in the background. I’m the suburban mom doing errands with her kids, the single lady running in cold weather, the awkward wife flirting with her husband at dinner.

  28. l says...

    example of a bad scenario : I used to always see my not-so-stranger when I took a walk during my lunch break. He talked to me one day and seemed nice enough. However, I started seeing him waiting for me to talk, and kept asking me out for lunch. It was to the point where I tried to avoid him and he’d shout at me across the street (in front of my coworkers!) or be very insisting we go to lunch together. I had to start taking different lunch breaks and avoid certain areas. He later found where I parked my car and would wait for me to leave work or leave a note on my car. One of the days he was waiting, I finally had to confront him about how uncomfortable he was making me, and he denied it (his name was literally on the note he left). After that, he fortunately stopped trying to talk to me and I got reassigned a different parking spot, but I can still feel his eyes when we happen to pass by one another.

    anyway, great post Caroline!

  29. Margaret says...

    When I was in college, I had various not-so-strangers that would change with every new semester. I loved the comfort of passing the same people between certain classes.

  30. becs says...

    My not-so-stranger is, to me, maybe one level up from what you describe. His name is Robert, and he’s my grocery store cashier. He’s known me and my kids since I was pregnant with them, and we nod to each other as I walk the grocery aisles, knowing I’ll always choose his line. I know that he plays in poker tournaments, walks two miles to work every morning, has an 80s rocker look (long hair, skull rings…), and as of last week, has been at this same job for 30 years. And I know that if we ever move, I will miss him and feel the loss of this not-so-stranger relationship.

    • ML says...

      Same for us! One of my 5 year old daughter’s favorite friends is Sharon, our grocery store checker that has known her since she was born. I have never seen her not standing behind the register, yet know all about her 9 year old granddaughter who lives with her, that Sharon’s birthday is on Halloween and she looks fabulous for being 70 – and she knows all sorts of random tidbits about my daughter, that I only buy organic produce when it’s cheap and when my husband comes with us, we buy too much wine! I have a feeling she’ll retire soon-ish and we’ll miss her deeply.

  31. Lisa says...

    I have 2 not-so-strangers that come to mind immediately.

    The older man with long white hair, who sits on the bench outside the Tom’s coffee shop I walk by on my way to the J train every day.

    And then this other guy, also somewhat older, (definitely the oldest in class) who is, without fail, always in my 6:45am yoga class Tuesdays and Thursdays. He looks so healthy and fit and sometimes his wife (also healthy and fit) comes and they are such an inspiration. In my mind this couple lives in a fabulous Soho apartment, never had kids, and travel the world together. Haha.

  32. Eva Lou says...

    My roommates (cousins/best friends) and I live in Noe Valley in San Francisco. Every morning while we make breakfast and coffee we watch a man who we’ve dubbed Jack White get ready in his nice apartment across the street.
    He and his wife bid farewell to their baby when the sitter arrives, he takes an uber to work (must be nice), he wears the same black uniform everyday.

    No idea if he can see a pile of blondes watching him from across the street but regardless, we love spying.

  33. Lee says...

    My husband and I have a “not-so-stranger” that we’ve never seen! We live in a small walk-up apartment building next to a multi-family housing complex. Over the past year we’ve lived there, we occasionally hear someone practicing their trumpet. My husband and I have decided that it is a middle-school boy who only practices when his mother says so. Recently, we heard him playing Happy Birthday to You and we both remarked that his playing had improved! We were so proud of him and we’ve never met the kid! haha.

    • This reminds me of several episodes of Friends…ugly naked guy…the loud upstairs neighbor that Pheebs hooked up with…I’m sure there are more!

  34. Fiona says...

    I was in a library one day and saw a guy I recognized and went up to him to give a hug and say hi, chatted for a little while and I wondered off, not engaging at the time with the puzzled look on his face throughout the interaction. The next day, I saw him on the bus and the blood right away rushed to my head when it dawned on me that’s where I knew him from. He was a not-so-stranger that shared my route and we had never actually met or engaged! He burst out laughing when he spotted me, and I wished the earth would swallow me whole.

    • anderson says...

      hahahah, that is Great…

    • Lisa says...

      This is gold, I am dying hahahaha. Amazing.

    • Karen says...

      this comment has me laughing out loud behind my desk.

    • Ann-Marie says...

      Oh I would be mortified! But good on you. Did you end up chatting more ever?

  35. Amanda says...

    There’s a person (can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman b/c they have a motorcycle helmet on) who will occasionally take their electric unicycle up the hike and bike trail that runs by the college where I work, and I’m always delighted to see them. I see them; I don’t think they ever see me.

    Here’s an electric unicycle, if you need a visual: https://www.myinmotion.com/products/inmotion-v10-electric-unicycle

  36. Shelby says...

    My Not-So-Stranger was a woman that I used to see every day when I was in middle school. She wore long, flowy dresses no matter the weather and rode her bike (with a basket afixed to the handlebars!) all over town. She had long, white hair, the softest looking skin and rosy pink cheeks. She always smiled, even on cold New England days when the rest of us were grumbling. I figured she had to be at least one hundred years old and the most lovely woman to ever exist. I adored her! One afternoon I was playing tennis with a couple of boys in my grade when I saw her peddling towards the tennis courts. She rode right up to me and screached “Don’t bug the boys! Don’t be mediocre!” WHAT?!?!?? This wasn’t how my first interaction with her was supposed to go! What was she even talking about??? I had cherished this woman from afar for so long and was so sad that at a glance she determied me to be mediocre! Well, “Don’t be mediocre” became something of a battlecry for me from that day on. I whispered that to myself in high school and college when I was tired of studying, when deciding what to do after college, when introducing myself to new friends…Don’t be mediocre! Years later, my sister became the director of nursing at a long term care facility in town. Guess who became her patient?!? Yep! After all those years, I was able to properly introduce myself to my Not-So-Stranger and thank her for the (unexpected!) advice she had given me so long ago.

    • janee says...

      These stories are all so amazing I’ve got to stop commenting, lol.

    • Joy says...

      Love this story. Interested to know if she was able to recall her interaction with you and how she responded.

    • Jen says...

      Thank you for this story!!

    • Jody says...

      This story reminds me of The Lupine Lady, Miss Rumphius, a favorite!

    • Shelby says...

      Joy – it’s hard to say if she remembered our interaction. She had since developed advanced dementia, but still had the same pretty hair, soft looking skin and sweet smile. Some things never change – how comforting!

      Jody – Oh my word! I had never heard of The Lupine Lady but I just ordered it for my niece from our local bookstore. Miss Rumphius does indeed look like my Not-So-Stranger! Thank you for the wonderful recommendation – I’m sure we’ll both enjoy this book :)

  37. J. says...

    Every evening when I walk home from the tube station I walk past a hospital. Opposite the hospital is a small pizza place. Every weeknight, I see an elderly couple sitting at the same table with two large glasses of red wine. The man doesn’t look very well, so I find myself wondering if he is a patient at the hospital and whispering “I hope he’s there tonight” under my breath.

  38. KC says...

    There’s a man on my floor that I stumbled upon every now and then. I would do the no-teeth smile and stare into space when I passed him |and really any other passing staff; the usual|. Then one day, good Lord in heaven, we were both outside walking in the opposite direction when two squirrels ran past us, climbed the tree in front of us and started ferociously HUMPING. I walked faster mortified of what I had seen and now every time we pass each other in the hallway I can sense an awkward awareness of that bizarre shared experience. Still don’t know his name and occasionally I’ll spot him having a serious conversation with a colleague – little does that colleague know what we both have in common. CRINGE.

    • Dimity says...

      Hahaha. I laughed out loud at this and I never laugh out loud at ANYTHING. Oiya, what does that say about my juvenile sense of humour? Love it.

  39. Holly says...

    When I used to live in another city, I’d pass the same man every day on my walking commute. We never said hi, but there was a kind of nonverbal acknowledgement whenever we saw each other: oh, it’s you again.
    I moved away a few years ago, and every so often I wonder if he noticed I suddenly disappeared from the morning sidewalk crowd.

  40. Karen says...

    When I was in my twenties and lived in San Francisco, I had an apartment with a big bay window across the street from another apartment with a big bay window. One day while waiting in the rain for my bus, a guy in a car stopped by and asked me if I wanted a ride home. It was my neighbor from across the street. I had never seen him on the street, but I had seen him watch tv, meet friends, etc. in his living room for a year. (Not sure why none of us ever closed our curtains.) And I happily took the ride, although now that I’m in my forties, I wonder if that was the smartest thing to do. I guess I knew where he lived!

  41. bethany says...

    One not-so-stranger was a young guy in his 20’s who walked his dog every morning and afternoon past our house in Nashville. Our street isn’t very walkable because it doesn’t have sidewalks, but this guy faithfully took his energetic dog for a walk, rain or shine, morning and night. A few years after we moved into the neighborhood, my husband and his band hosted a house show in our garage, and the dog-walker wandered in with a friend! It was so nice to finally officially meet and chat about his big beautiful pitbull Amelia, and realize we had shared interests in the local music scene. He moved a few months ago, but we still see him around at shows and coffee shops.

  42. Oh I love this! I have three not-so-strangers that immediately came to mind. The first is a night security guard in an office building on my block. When I’m walking my dogs in the evening, we always exchange a wave. He’s always standing at a desk and seems to be watching something on a screen, but always looks up to wave hello.
    The second not-so-strangers are a couple that I’ve dubbed “the lovers.” Every morning at about 7:45 (I know this because dogs expect their walks at the same time each day) they both drive into our neighborhood separately. He always arrives first, then she a few minutes later. They park away from each other, and he always exits his car and gets into hers, where they spend about 30 minutes being very affectionate. At the end of their time together, he exits her car always with a small shopping bag, which I imagine contains a lunch she has made for him. This has gone on for years! I’ve turned their “story” over and over in my head trying to figure it out, but I’ll spare you the rabbit hole of questions and answers that their morning meeting induces!

    • Hannah says...

      Hate to say it, but this sounds like an affair?!

    • Abesha1 says...

      Not to spook you, but what he’s watching on the screen…. is YOU.

    • Hannah …. I concur. It’s been going on for at least 8 years. Hence the rabbit hole of questions and answers!

      Abeshai … OMG I never thought of that! I’ll start waving from halfway up the block where the cameras are from now on! LOL

  43. Anna says...

    In college I used to always cross paths with an older couple who would walk around campus in matching wind suits. They had so many colors. It was the sweetest contrast to my messy, fast-moving 20-something life.

  44. Doreen! For 5-6 years, I would see this slightly unhappy-looking, skinny women, 50-60s-ish, with a mullet walking across the bridge over the Montmartre Cemetery on my way to the metro. I imagined she smoked a lot and worked at a grimy, to-dirty-for-tourist Montmartre cafe. She always had her head down and we never said a word. My husband usually rode his bike to work but one morning we were walking together. He said, oh here comes Doreen. He didn’t know her either but had noticed her too. He had even made-up a name for her. We had the same not-so-stranger stranger! We then started talking about her all the time as if we did know her. “Did you see Doreen this morning?” “Yeah, she got a new coat.” “She looked a little sadder than usual.” “She changed her hair! I really like it.” When we moved away from the neighborhood, it actually felt funny not to tell her we were moving! Uhm, I wonder how Doreen is…

  45. Frances Eleanor says...

    I learned how to smile and say “hi” to my everyday strangers. I feel it brings some sunshine to me and the stranger.

  46. Brittany says...

    Recently, the grocery store I normally shop at temporarily closed down for renovations. While shopping at another store, I came across a woman whom I greeted happily and she I. After going on my down the aisle, I realized, “Wait a second… who is this familiar woman and how do I know her…?” After thinking for a moment, I realized she works at the other grocery store I normally shop at!

  47. EB says...

    I have a commute stranger. Except, it’s two dudes in an old white van. If I drive out of my neighborhood at 7:55am to work, I often end up next to or behind them in traffic. I imagine they are like two funny stoner dudes from a movie, off to do some really odd job in this busted van with old stickers on it. And yet, they are so very punctual for two dudes! I often wonder if they see me, annoying blonde chick in the Mini, trying to pass their slow-a$$ van.

  48. Laura D. says...

    Caroline, I love your writing! “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?”

    I live in a small city, and I have several not-so-strangers whom I frequently see around town. I figured I was the only person who made up little backstories for them, so I’m comforted to see I’m not alone in that!

  49. Carol says...

    My brother in law is distinctive looking (short, beard) and a very fast runner. Each summer he visits my parent’s place at the beach on many weekends, and runs around the trail that encloses the development, quickly and many times. Two years ago he had a new addition – my nephew in a running stroller. A couple stopped him and said “we’ve seen you running here for years, and now we are so happy for you to have a companion, congratulations!” I always thought it was the sweetest story :)

  50. Cara says...

    I LOVE this post. For years, I’d bump into this tall, skinny man in probably his 60s at my little neighborhood grocery store. He drove a Harley and had a fringed vest and tattoos and all that, and every time I saw him, he’d always have a shopping basket full of….

    Little Debbie snack cakes.

    I haven’t seen him in a few years, and I wonder about him sometimes.

  51. Ramona says...

    Everyday when I leave my workplace at noon, I see the same lady walking at a brisk place. Rain or shine, hot summer days/cold winter days. I’m sure she works at one of the buildings in the office park, I thought. One day I stopped and said, “Excuse me…I see you walking everyday…you must get in your 10,000 steps! And she replied, “Well, I sure try to! When you have a desk job, you gotta get in your steps when you can!” I said, “That’s awesome! Good for you!” The next time I see her, I’m going to introduce myself and ask her her name. She seems friendly and I admire her spirit/enthusiasm!

  52. Meghan says...

    Love this post! I always daydreamed what it would be like if I invited all of my not-so-strangers together for a dinner party…how surreal it would be to see the 8am drop-off mom sharing tapas with the grizzled gas attendant.

    • Genevieve says...

      Haha amazing. I would love to read the outcome!!

  53. Elizabeth says...

    When I was in my twenties I seemed to be the “not-so-stranger” to a number of people, usually men. “Are you a newscaster?” “Do you work with Lyle?” “Do you grocery shop at Morgan’s?” I have a good memory and could always assure them they did not know me. And it drove me crazy because I was such a romantic and wanted to fall in love with someone besotted with me and I could never figure out how to turn one of these encounters into The Love of My Life. (Uncalibrated expectations may have been part of the problem).

    I was also very self-conscious and tend to be reserved.

    And then one time in a cafeteria at the university where I worked, an Irish man said, “I keep noticing you, you are so wonderfully tall, are you a runner? Because you would simply look magnificent running.” I was floored — no one had ever given me such an unabashed, admiring compliment in my life.

    We ended up eating together. I’d like to say we got married, had three kids and ended up as the most romantic couple ever but we had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to talk about. I was a lowly secretary; he was getting a doctorate in microbiology. I knew nothing about Ireland. And I hate running. Never have I felt like such a dud.

    And that, dear reader, is how I learned my lesson: sometimes it’s best to let the Not-So-Stranger remain as such.

    • Courtney says...

      Oh, Elizabeth. I think you may have missed the lesson … it’s really don’t be so hard on yourself.

  54. Cristina Mauro says...

    I heard a friend once refer to this as the people in your movie. There is this guy here in Austin – he is fit with curly hair and a tortured artist look on his face. We frequented the same coffee shop in my 20’s, I played against his team in a pick-up soccer game in my 30’s and in my 40’s I saw him around town with kids the same age as my kids. We got grey hair together! We have never spoken but he is definitely in my movie. Some of these characters have disappeared over time. I remember this aspirational kind of edgy older lady in my yoga class…and it blows my mind that I may be her for some younger version of me.

  55. Vera says...

    I love this. In my old neighborhood, I would go on daily afternoon walks to get a coffee at the local cafe. Although I do love people, I was always also fascinated by the “not-so-stranger” animals. I would see the same cats in the same places doing their cat business. There was Mat Cat who always sat in front of I presume his front door watching everything go by. Then there was Roof Cat who was this big black and white queen of a cat you would sunbathe every afternoon on her rooftop perch. Finally there was Stoop Cat who would sit under the stop sign of a particular street waiting for pets from passers by, not flummoxed in the least by all the neighbors walking their dogs. I guess I really need a pet (haha) but with my overwhelming work schedule these neighborhood stranger animals always brought me a great sense of joy, comfort and sense of a constant.

    • KayN says...

      This comment is so delightful!

    • Lee says...

      My husband and I have always named the neighborhood cats–In Michigan, they were Stumpy (grey and a bit battered from cat fights) and Orange Crush (a sweet orange tabby that loved to be petted). In DC, we have Ashtray (a grey cat that always fights with the other alley cat) and Tang (an orange tabby that always pushes Ashtray out of the way). We have an indoor cat and we make jokes that she gets together with them after we leave for work.

      (P.S. This is the most fun CoJ comment thread ever!)

    • Angela Thompson says...

      I love catlife on my morning walks!

  56. AK says...

    When I lived in New York I’d walk through the Eest Village every evening after work, heading to my night classes at the New School. I’d pass by the fire station and there was always a big, burly fireman with a giant mustache and tattoos up and down his arms. We’d smile but never spoke. About a year later, September 11th happened and when life had returned to somewhat normal, I passed by the fire station again. He wasn’t there but there was a memorial poster taped to the station door, with his smiling face looking back at me, and I finally learned his name — Manny Mojica, motorcycle enthusiast, father of two, Squad 18 and first responder.

    • Laura says...

      Oof, that just gave me chills. How beautiful that you remember him all these years later. I’m sure his two children somewhere out there in the world would be happy to know that their dad had a lasting impact on a not-so-stranger’s life.

    • Kate says...

      That is an incredible story. Thank you for sharing, and thank you, Manny.

    • Jennifer L Vercelli says...

      Oh my gosh, this just broke my heart.

    • Jessica says...

      Oh my gosh, that is heartbreaking.

    • Oh my heart.

    • Louisa says...

      This beautiful story gave me a chill, and inspired me to learn more about wonderful Manny. I love this detail from a Facebook obituary: “But even a Harley man with a screeching whistle had a comforting ritual: After a shift, no matter the hour, Manny Mo always had a bedtime snack of milk and cookies.” <3

    • Christy Fiedler says...

      Oh AK, what a touching remembrance. I hope someone from his family somehow finds your post and is comforted by the thought that he is still remembered – by someone he never even met. I looked him up online and found this lovely tribute: http://www.legacy.com/sept11/oaoa/story.aspx?personid=93559

    • maria says...

      aaaaand i’m crying

    • Ashley says...

      I love this article but your comment is most memorable, AK. Yesterday was 9/11 and I came back specifically to find yours today. May we never forget Manny and his sacrifice. Thank you for sharing.

  57. I live in Chicago, and my not-so-stranger is a drunk guy on a scooter. Once when I was out and about extra early I saw him sleeping in a chair outside next to Old Town Ale House. When I watched the Parts Unknown episode that filmed at Old Town Ale House, the not-so-stranger made an appearance and it was mentioned that he was on the infamous “no shot” list.

  58. Caroline, Your have the BEST pieces! This is moving up there to my top 10 for sure. Because YES! I have walking man. He walks bigger loops than just my neighborhood everyday-all day. I think I have his walk route down after nearly a decade. If I didn’t see him- I would become very concerned. Thank you so much for sharing your gift.

    • MJ says...

      I second this! I started reading and thought “Caroline wrote this” sure enough you did. I love what you bring here to this space. And the no-so stranger, so many. My husband laughs at how much I seem to know about strangers because I notice their habits for years around our neighborhood. I feel like I know them…but I don’t

  59. Stephanie says...

    I live in San Francisco and my commute includes a half mile walk between my last bus stop and my office. I used to walk the same way to work everyday, but one day decided to switch things up and take a different route a couple blocks over zigzagging my way to the office. This led me to walk past a restaurant which has a kitchen with a large window facing the sidewalk. As I walked past that first time there was a middle aged man with a mustache who was wearing squared glasses and his white chef’s coat working at the counter facing the sidewalk. He looked up as I walked past, we made eye contact, and I didn’t know what else to do other than smile and wave. And to my surprise, he shared a friendly smile and waved back! I have now been walking that “different route” to work for the past 4 years and wave to my not-so-stranger nearly everyday. He works almost exclusively on pasta. I’ve taken an interest in the shapes – sometimes he’s cutting strips for long noodles like pappardelle and other times he’s meticulously shaping small pieces by hand for other pasta shapes. There are days when it feels like he’s waiting for me to pass, ready with a smile and wave, and other days when he’s so tuned into his work that I stop at the window to watch what he’s doing until he looks up and we share our daily hello through the glass. The thought has passed through my mind that, if I ever get a new job, I won’t be able to tell him I’m leaving and that I won’t be able to wave to him everyday. But, for now, our daily waving and smiling is a bright spot in my morning routine. (P.S. I’ve lovingly nicknamed him “Pasta Papi” in my head!)

    • abi says...

      When you change jobs go in and buy him a drink! The bartender can hold it for him for after shift and leave a note letting him know you’ve enjoyed your connection and maybe a link to this post! and signed, the morning waver woman, lol

    • Heather says...

      Wow, this sounds so lovely, and it makes me frustrated that I’m a self-conscious introvert who could never just let myself have the pleasure of this interaction. Instead, each day’s walk would be infused with anxiety: Will he be there? Should I wave again? If I don’t, will he think I’m unfriendly? Will he think I’m a creep for standing here? What if *he’s* a creep and I’m drawing his attention? The burden of analysis would probably lead me to seek out a new walking route. (Sigh.)

    • Stephanie says...

      Abi, I love that idea! I think I will definitely have to do that when the time comes!

      Heather, don’t be too hard on yourself! In fact, I’m a fairly anxious person too and have had many of those same thoughts. Sometimes he isn’t there, and I’m briefly worried. I’ve considered before that I could be seen as a distraction that could get him in trouble, and I certainly don’t want that to happen. Also, it is totally possible that this daily interaction isn’t that special and he just waves to anyone. Yet, for some reason, I continue to do it. The way I see it all moments pass – good ones and bad ones – so we might as well give things a try and see what happens :)

  60. yvonne says...

    Caroline, I absolutely loved your story, “Do You Have a Not-So-Stranger? It was very reminiscent. Thanks! You absolutely drew me in. I felt like I was walking alongside you. Growing up in a suburb in Los Angeles County, you come across a lot of not-so-strangers that you see on your morning walks or in the local Target.

  61. My kids and I have made up whole stories about our not-so-strangers in our town. Mysterious Lunch Break Man. Pink Car Man. The lady who had a baby and we waved to each other through the stages of her little baby carrier and holding her other child’s hand every morning, to her now passing by running home with a stroller and that sweet baby sitting up and chatting with her.

    For years my kids and I have given them names and we even text each other now when we see one of our not-so-strangers out of context (Mysterious Lunch Break Man was at the movie theater! What on earth!) feeling extra proud that we know a bit more about them now than the rest of us!

    Our made-up stories about these real-life characters that I told my kids to entertain them on the way home from school (is Mysterious Lunch Break Man really a spy? Otherwise, why would he always be walking up that hill right when we are going home?!) have become some of our favorite family memories and inside jokes. (Pink Car Man’s wife must have had a Mary Kay job way back in the 70s! we’ll say, and that’s how he found true love: his car.)

    The most poignant one was a man who lived in a house with souring blue hydrangea bushes and I imagined he must have been in the marines with his pistons for arms and tattoos in faded green. We named him Glenn and we all secretly thought he was amazing. One day I noticed driving home that it looked like he had aged ten years in just a few days. His confident stride had become hunched and he was frail with a hesitant step out on the sidewalk. A few months later his home went up for sale and then I never saw him again. I have to admit I welled up with tears, hoping he was okay and feeling cared for.

    These beautiful people have penetrated my children’s childhood and my heart with their uniqueness. I am so thankful for them and they’ll never know!

  62. Lindsay says...

    There are lots of people in my neighborhood/children’s school I see regularly but have never spoken to or anything. But there is one older couple I really adore. They are from Russia I think and the older gentleman looks just like Einstein. I have such a crush on him! As I sat feeding my 2 year old his costco hot dog yesterday, I looked to my left and there they were….made me smile. Maybe one day I will talk to him. He is so cute when he rides his bike….so carefree and youthful despite his old age!

  63. Kristen Solecki says...

    I love this post so much! For decades my family has sat on the same spot on the same beach each weekend in the summer. After a few years we noticed other families, couples etc also sat in the same spot summer after summer. Eventually, we all started talking and it became a sort of giant summer family. We all looked for each other year after year. One couple became our adopted grandparents in a way. They even visited us once in the winter and it was shocking to see them not in bathing suits and real life clothes:)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “it was shocking to see them not in bathing suits” = that is so sweet, kristen!

  64. carly says...

    My not-so-stranger is a man “named” Dr. Sweat. When i was in middle school a man used to go running near where i lived. he would ALWAYS wear blue running shorts and a white t-shirt. My best friend referred to him as Dr. Sweat, because well, he was always very sweaty. it wasn’t until close to 20 years later that i discovered my friend knew absolutely nothing about this man other than the fact he loved to run. For some reason, i had always believed that he was an actual doctor. Although it’s not as frequent as it once was, i still see him running near the same square mile from all those years ago, still rocking blue shorts and it makes me chuckle to myself every time.

  65. Colleen says...

    When I saw this title I knew it was a Caroline story!! I love that you enjoy the offbeat.

  66. Alexa says...

    My not-so-stranger is an older guy who dance-walks through the neighborhood with headphones and his tiny dog following along off leash. He talks super loud (sounds like yelling) but is very friendly so my children seem in equal part terrified and intrigued by him. He also teaches tennis informally to kids at the court down our street and his reactions to his students that we see in passing are so funny: “No throw that one in the garbage. I need you to serve again.” I’ve often thought if there was a show about our neighborhood, him sitting at the tennis court “yelling” at the kids would be one of the opening scenes.

  67. Gillian says...

    I had a not-so-stranger who I saw daily walking to work on the UES. I was walking uptown and she would be walking downtown. I could judge whether I was on time based on where on Madison I ran into her. I switched jobs and commutes and stopped seeing her. Fast-forward 5 years and I met her at a party. She was my husband’s best friend’s wife’s close friend (did you follow that). Now I see her regularly in my real life.

  68. awads says...

    One of my not-so-strangers introduced himself to me after it started to get awkward. Now he’s my commute buddy (we only walk from the metro station to our nearby office buildings, so maybe 10 minutes of chitchat.). His name is Dan and he has a wife, 3 kids and 2 dogs.

  69. Meg says...

    Fun post.
    This reminds me of the premise of “The Infatuations” by Javier Marias.

  70. A says...

    When I lived in Chicago there was a decent looking, not-so-stranger guy who rode the same train as me every morning for well over a year. We never spoke or even acknowledged each other, but we caught the same train every morning, stood in the same spots on the platform quietly reading our books, and took the same seats in the same train car each day. And then one day….

    …I had a sex dream about him. And everything changed. I mean, not for him. His life went on as usual with me being the not-so-stranger girl on the train platform. But for me? Standing next to him silently on the train platform right after we had hot-dream sex was awkward in that way that sleeping with someone then acting totally normal in public like nothing about your relationship has changed usually is. Every morning until I moved away I worried about whether he would strike up a conversation and I would just blurt out that he had a starring role in one of my dreams…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, in college my roommates and i had people we saw around regularly and were super attracted to — but we had no idea who they were. we called them our “dreamweavers.” <3

  71. Catherine says...

    Two years ago, we moved to a new neighbourhood and had a house-warming party. One of my childhood friend saw one of my husband’s co-worker and they both went “Who are you? I keep seeing you all the time!” Turns put their children go to the same school and they both enjoy working un the same cafés!

  72. Mandy says...

    Oh Caroline your a gift

  73. carolyn says...

    Love this post! My not so stranger was a gentleman about my age (late 50s) who has sat in front of us in church since we joined this one 3 years ago. He had some physical disabilities and as time has gone on had declined, some Sundays bringing along a portable oxygen tank. We always nodded hello, shook hands at the peace offering and at the Christmas Eve service he played guitar beautifully, so we complimented him on his talent. He would rarely miss church, so we were concerned when he didn’t show up a few weeks in a row. Sadly, he passed away from complications of his various illnesses. I was so sad to hear this, he seemed like such a wonderful man. There have been others, but he’s the one that stands out in my mind!

  74. Kate says...

    I have a gazillion of these! I now say good-morning to the lady that I walk past every morning on my way to the train (she is a crossing guard on her way to the school), and the man that I also pass (he is the dry cleaner), and if either of us miss a day there is now a question of “did you take a day off?”.

    A couple of years ago, there was a woman that rode the same train as me every morning for years, in the same car. We never spoke, but kind of acknowledged one another as the only women on a train full of men. After several years, she came over to me and said “I feel like I should tell you that I got a new job and I wont be riding this train anymore” and then complimented my haircut. We never saw each other again, but I think I’d still recognize her if we ran into each other.

  75. Zoe P says...

    There was this couple–a blind girl and her boyfriend–that used to walk holding hands in front of my office building all the time. Sometimes they would even stop and sit on the grass or under a tree and make out! We were all so curious about them. Haven’t seen them in a while–now you’ve got me wondering what happened!

  76. I’ve read this blog for 10 years, and maybe have commented on 2 posts. This is my third comment to say, I was completely charmed by this post. So perfectly written and relatable. Caroline, you have a gift.

  77. Leah says...

    Any fellow UESers know the rainbow lady? A thin woman probably in her 40’s who dresses in rainbow bright leg warmers and a tutu. I have seen her on 86th street intermittently ever since I moved to the area 9 years ago. For some reason I was shocked a few years ago when I started seeing her often with (I assume) her daughter. Sometimes she’s out for a run (in her tutu) and sometimes she’s just passing by.

  78. sgwen says...

    I used to see the same woman on the bus during my morning commute. There was something so familiar about her but I was certain we had never met before. Fast forward a year or so when I meet her for real at a friend’s birthday party and we end up having a ton in common! There were plenty of other people I’d see during my daily commute, so I don’t know why she stood out to me then. Maybe she looked like someone I could be friends with, maybe time moves in circles, or maybe I just thought she had cool shoes :) In any case it felt just a little bit magical.

  79. Meg P says...

    So I love that I could tell this must be Caroline’s byline just from the title! It’s fun and impressive that your point of view comes across so clearly. Keep on keeping on :)

  80. Adriane says...

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing. I lived in San Francisco for 7 years and have definitely seen Josh on BART before. An inspiring story indeed.

  81. Sarah says...

    I wrote an essay about this too! I love the idea of the off-the-map, highly personal landmarks (tiny things like the house on the random side street I always find myself on that has stone dogs dressed up in Mardi Gras beads in one season, reindeer antlers in another) that connect us to a place on an intimate level—including people. I was very weirded out when a couple of the human “landmarks” I described in my essay ended up being people friends who read it identified as real-life acquaintances (the 60-something mustachioed vintage-80s-neon-nylon-jacket-wearing man is the neighbor of a friend, and not just part of the backdrop to my life???).

  82. This definitely makes me miss all of my not-so-strangers from city life. But now that I drive to work in the suburbs, I have started to recognize cars. Blue Subaru with ‘VITNESS’ vanity plate, who are you?? Are you really into fitness? Are you A self-proclaimed witness? Is your name Violet or Vinny? WHO ARE YOU??

  83. Maranda Poe says...

    I have an annoying ‘Not so stranger’. There is a guy who goes to my gym who I internally refer to as my mortal enemy. I used to see him every single Sunday. He would hog all the weight lifting equipment, sing loudly to himself, and scream/loudly grunt while he was lifting. I recently switched up my workout routine to prepare for a few long distance summer races and I was overjoyed at the thought of no longer having to deal with him every Sunday. Little did I know, he goes to the gym on Monday mornings at the same time that I now go. And even though it’s 5:30 in the morning, he still pulls the same crap. Ughhhhhh.

    • jan says...

      Oh no. I could not. Just change gyms life is too short

  84. Leslie says...

    Over 30 years ago, when I lived on the Upper East side, I would often see an alarmingly thin young woman “window shopping” at neighborhood bakeries, food shops etc. I always worried that she might be suffering from an eating disorder. Never met or engaged with her in any way but , all these years later, I still think about her and wonder if she is okay. Weird how these things linger in one’s mind.

  85. Francesca says...

    For years I’d walk my dog at the same time almost every morning, and pass a lot of the same people on my route. I’d always worry when I didn’t see one of them for awhile, then wonder where they’d been when they would pop back up. But what really got me, was one morning sitting outside a local bakery with my husband and son, two women came up to me and said “hey, we know you, we always see you walking your dog!” I am their not-so-stranger, and I’d never noticed them before in my life. It is a small, small world!

  86. Ris says...

    My not-so-stranger story: I took the bus to work every day for years, and I would see this sweet young couple ride in together every morning. One day I noticed a new sparkly ring on her finger, and then about a year later a band on his as well. About 18 months after that, her pregnancy started to show, and he was so sweet and gentle with her every morning, helping her carry her stuff and finding a seat for her on the crowded bus. Then I got a new job and stopped riding that line. I saw them in the neighborhood out walking a few months later, pushing a stroller, and before I could help it I cried “You had your baby! Congratulations!” I guess my not-so-stranger cover was blown.

    • Allison says...

      I love this story, they sound like wonderful not-so-strangers.

  87. Liz says...

    I have many of these. Several of whom have shifted into my regular life and I know now! Like one mother I ran into often with her baby daughter now picks her up at the school my son goes to (her daughter is three years older). We talk often now but I haven’t admitted that I have “known” her since she was pregnant 😏.

  88. Katherine says...

    I always know how early or late I’m running based on the Not-So-Strangers I see on my way into work. Running early? I might see Aston Martin man who seems to have my same commute and once refused to let me into a lane when I needed to merge. Running late? I get to see an intrepid father who bikes pushing two kids in a cart and manages one behind on her own tiny bike winding his way to school with them.

  89. Alex says...

    I live in a small town that is the home of the small college where I work, my whole life is composed of not-so-strangers! It becomes a game of “Where do I know you from?” all the time. I was particularly proud of myself for recognizing the girl from the pizza place at her new job as a pharmacy tech at CVS.

  90. Erica says...

    Yes! This is such a lovely piece. XO

  91. Sarah Jane says...

    Yes. Several weeks ago we bought our first house a few blocks away from our former apartment. I’ve been amazed how many of my former not-so-strangers I don’t see anymore and how many new not-so-strangers I have all of a sudden. The most notable is an overweight man who I see running each morning. I root for him every day.

  92. Andrea says...

    Love this. When I moved last year I was sad that I’d never see “my” strangers again. I wonder what they’re doing now? Do they think about me? Did they ever even notice me?

  93. janee says...

    Reading all these comments makes me wonder why we aren’t a tiny bit braver and break through the glass wall a little bit to reach out and “touch”, heh, and by touch I mean offer a hello to some of these people with discernment. No judgements here of course because I know what a challenge it is to navigate introductions among strangers. That said I feel like it would only spread joy if for example, a person I’d seen regularly passed away and I left a simple card and flowers for whomever I happened to know was connected or even just on their former doorstep explaining how nice it was to see them everyday on their walk or wherever even though we never met and to offer polite condolences. That is not creepy imo, it is neighborly.

    This is a little off topic but my mother would make a “welcome” basket for anyone new who moved into the neighborhood. I see now what a great way that is to meet ones neighbors and it also kind of sets a tone. It’s one of the greatest lessons I learned from her I guess. But then I also read the David Lebovitz blog and he says he drops off goodies etc to EVERYONE to establish connections, including his bank lol? but turns out my mother gives a huge elaborate gift basket full of German chocolates etc to HER bank for the tellers! who knew?! (I found out when I came early for Christmas this year) and I guess I find that kind of reaching out charming and I’ve decided I want to do it more often.

    • Stefanie says...

      When we moved into our new home, a neighbor dropped off cupcakes from a local bakery and another neighbor left a notebook with neighborhood babysitter contact, town info and a who’s who of the neighborhood map with contact info. Both were such beautiful and kind gestures that helped make moving into both a new city and state so much easier.
      I have made it a goal of mine to return this gesture when anyone new moves into our neighborhood.

    • Bonnie says...

      I am a big believer in this, Janee. It often does take me a while to initiate conversation or to add much more to one when I’m on the receiving end, but in nearly all instances, it’s a spirit lifter. I’ve dropped off baked goodies with my BMV, local fire and police stations, humane society as well as new neighbors. I especially appreciate the librarians in the branch I visit on my way home from work that’s in a dicey area of town. They often end up babysitting during summer months when too-young children are dropped off, settling arguments, calming teens down, and assisting in more ways than should be part of their job. They are always so kind and welcoming, despite enduring tough cutbacks and every so often I’ll bake a variety of cookies/treats or pick up fresh assortment of donuts and bring in with a card of gratitude.

      My sister teases me and says no one will eat homemade items anymore, but I see people reaching for them before I’m out the door, and it fills my heart. Some days, I think I need that more than they do.

  94. Beth says...

    Imagine you’re reading these and someone suddenly describes you 😏

  95. Hope says...

    Once at Soul Cycle a woman I hadn’t seen before came up to me and said “I know you, you work out at the Equinox on Wall Street.” Clearly she and I are fitness soul mates.

  96. Lauren McCarthy says...

    Caroline, as always, creates beauty out of the mundane. Thank you.

  97. Micaela says...

    For a year, I saw the same guy at a coffee shop almost every time I’d go on my way to work. At the end of November, during a week where I knew it was time to get out of a rather casual, not-too-meaningful relationship, I saw him three times in five days, twice on the tram to and from work, in addition to the coffee shop. I said hi on the third sighting. He said hi back a week later at the coffee shop. We exchanged numbers and those first few days (and soooo many hours) of exchange were amazing. Even though he was francophone and preferred French, he made allowances for me and my English, because he too knew we were meant to have met.

    I’d love to say things picked up from there. The story continued to unfold, with a bit of magic, and a mutual feeling of intuition. We were in touch each day and had a few intense dates before the holidays. But, just as quickly as it all got started, Christmas break came and went, and the communication wavered, until it ended completely.

    It was brief yet somehow felt long because of the year of cat and mouse. And in a small city like mine, it’s not a story that will end completely. I saw him on the tram this morning. We waved. Not-so-stranger indeed.

    • june2 says...

      O my gosh this sounds like a post for, or from, the NYT’s Modern Love podcast!

  98. Allison says...

    My first job out of college required a lengthy cross-town commute to a not-so-great neighborhood on Chicago’s west side. I would take the L train to the center of the city, then another bus straight west, whose route ended in an area nicknamed “Heroin Highway.”

    More often than not, I killed time in a McDonald’s near the train and bus stations – to escape the cold, but also the chaos caused by the bus route’s “regulars” also waiting at the same stop. The group was rough in appearance, rude in attitude, and extremely intimidating, even in those early hours of morning.

    For a year and a half, this was my commute. One day I was waiting in line for coffee at that McDonald’s when one of the most rowdy regulars ran into the restaurant, scanned the line until she saw me, and yelled “Come on, hon, our bus is leaving!” I was so surprised to be Seen, and Seen enough for this woman to worry I might miss our shared bus. It humanized a group I had been quick to judge. I think about her a lot.

    • Kaitlyn S. says...

      This is so wonderful.
      It reminds me of my commute to my first job, as well. I was a teacher, and lived on the UES and worked in the Bronx. I had to take two subways and then a bus, and the second train and bus were filled with other commuters taking the same route as me (many of whom, I learned over the months, were my students and their parents). Those first few months I was so young and intimidated, and so out of my depth (college in posh Connecticut did not prepare me for this). I think about all the other commuters though, who encouraged me on slushy mornings when all I wanted to do was tip-toe through slush piles and try not to get too wet, and yelled for me to catch up or I’d miss the bus. They’d hold the bus door for me, or scoff at me when I was scrambling to find my metro card.

      In the last few months of my time at that job, I stopped taking the train/train/bus commute, and started taking an express bus (I hated the job and needed the quiet of a bus to gather myself before I got there), but I always missed the camaraderie of that mad dash from the train to the bus.

    • Rachel says...

      This is beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us.

    • Lindsay says...

      Oh! This just brought tears to my eyes, Allison! Thank you for sharing this. I’ve read every entry but this one really resonated with me. I love those singular moments that bond us in such surprising ways. Such a beautiful life lesson. xo

  99. Growing up (and still living in) NYC, I have had countless Not-So-Strangers! At this point in my life, my specific NSS people are those my son and I walk by on the way to school. We even say hi to some, but don’t know their names or anything about them. My husband saw one in the supermarket one day and was like, “Is it weird that I said hi to the Cool Dad With Two Kids not while walking in the street??”
    And one day we also realized we were someone else’s NSS! We were out at an event and someone said to us I actually know you, I’ve seen you and your family out in :Long Island town where we have a family home:. We were so puzzled. They followed up with “This is going to sound weird but, I can’t help but recognize you – you guys… stand out. In a good way! It’s so nice to meet! We always pass each other on the boardwalk.” (In some parts a tall bearded guy and brown woman lugging around two kids stand out!)

  100. Maud says...

    Carl (not his name)! My now husband and I used to commute to work together and walk by a retirement home in battery park. There was this old man who would be sitting in a booth in the cafeteria every morning having breakfast and I nicknamed him Carl (because he looked like the character in Up). After a while I actually started to wave to him as I walked by (to his confusion I’m sure). When we moved away I really missed seeing Carl every morning… I wonder if he missed my daily wave?

  101. Courtney says...

    I married one of my not-so-strangers! When I was living in Washington DC I would casually notice the guy who worked at the coffee shop where I studied for the GRE every weekend. One weekend he showed up at at a party with of my roommates (apparently they were not strangers at all). Fast forward 10 years, we’re married with a 2 year old! And we have lots of shared not-so-strangers in our new city.

  102. M says...

    What’s really shocking is when these not-so strangers appear in the news after passing away and thousands of people comment or talk about how meaningful they were in their lives, just watching them on the street. I can think of two famous L.A. strangers off the top of my head: the woman colloquially known as “lava lady” who used to hang out near Melrose and the guy known as “rollerblading Robertson man” who dressed in head to toe black and danced on rollerblades. Fixtures of my childhood!

  103. MG says...

    My husband and I just had a reunion with a not so stranger. For several years, we had this favorite dive bar/restaurant we went to on Friday nights…the tables were sticky and we joked about the grime on the salt and pepper shakers…but their perch dinner was incredible. We would always see this same couple who was a bit older than us who would have plates upon plates upon plates of the all you can eat perch. We were amazed at how much they could eat!
    Sadly, the place was sold and the new owners remodeled and changed the fish recipe…we were so disappointed and missed our little dive bar adventures! We had not been for about a year when last week a friend suggested we give it another try. To our delight, the restaurant had been sold AGAIN and the new owner revived the old menu (clean and non-sticky tables, etc due to the remodel was an added bonus). It was like old home week, as we got a wave from our favorite perch-eating couple, who seemed just as happy to be back as we were :)

  104. Rachael says...

    Yes. There is an old man that walks by my office window every day. I think he goes to the library. Right now it’s really snowy on the sidewalks so I worry about him a little. There’s also an older lady I see less frequently, but when I do, she’s doing tai chi at the stoplight and it just makes my whole day.

  105. A says...

    This is so great! My husband and I have a few not-so-strangers and we always let each other know when we see them, such a fun, little occurance that threads throughout our life. I never really thought about other people having these not-so-strangers in their lives too, so silly but now I love this, I’m going to look at everyone now wondering who thier not-so-stranger is.

  106. Elizabeth says...

    This article makes my day! There is a woman who has sat and slept in the same spot outside of my office building for the last five years while I have worked there. I’ve never talked to her, but while I was in grad school taking classes during the evenings, it gave me comfort to see she was always still there on my walk to the train station late at night after I got out of class. I have always wondered about the details of her life. And since she was already there when I started my job five years ago, I’ve wondered how long that’s been her spot before I came into the picture. I know I will feel very out of sorts and concerned on the eventual day she is not there!

  107. Loren says...

    Gonna be that loser and say… it’s actually Grand Central TERMINAL (no station). (Crawls back under rock…)

  108. mimi says...

    My street-level office window faces a sidewalk, so I see a collection of not-so-stranger pedestrians – the guy who is probably a waiter (always a black shirt, always carrying a backpack, always walking past just before 5pm); the old guy who is always wearing a tank top and shorts, regardless of the temperature here in Michigan; the lady with the stroller and the chocolate lab. I also have a bunch of not-so-strangers in the crew at my local Trader Joe’s. I go every Monday with my mom and if one of us isn’t there, they always comment on it to the other of us. Also, the other parents at my kids’ daycare. Sometimes I see the same ones, and sometimes I don’t see them for a long time and wonder why.

  109. Kat says...

    This happens a lot at the gym. I’ve been going 4x/week for the past couple of years and mostly see the same people. But I’ve noticed cycles. I’ll see someone all the time. Every time I’m there, maybe for a year. Then I notice, hey, where is HIIT guy? And I don’t see them again. There are still a couple of guys / gals I see all the time, yet we never acknowledge it (gym etiquette? it would be creepy?).

    Anyway, I occasionally go to yoga and see this older guy there, maybe in his late 60’s and he looks so familiar to me. Is it because he’s in my yoga class when I go 5 times a year? Or is he an attorney that comes to the courthouse I work in 30 miles away? That is what my brain has decided in why he seems familiar. Not because he’s in my yoga class all the time. ? But I’m not usually one to approach and initiate a conversation around it.

  110. Ainslie Campbell says...

    There’s a woman who regularly takes my morning bus with me and she annoys me so much!! She’s always really hostile to the bus drivers and like EVERY MORNING makes a very loud phone call to her employers that ONCE AGAIN she’s going to be running late. I want to just shake her and tell her to take an earlier bus, both to relieve me of having to deal with her and so that she can stop being late. But, I guess when it’s a not-so-stranger like this, the annoyance is tempered by the knowledge that I have no idea what her home life is like — maybe she’s stressed by something at home, or she can’t leave earlier because she has to take her kids to school. Either way I wish she would make quieter phone calls.

    • Julia says...

      I already started wondering about this woman you brought up! It seems as if you presented an outline of a promising novel.

  111. Katie says...

    Beautiful concept and piece.

  112. Melody says...

    Thanks for sharing this sweet story, Crossword Girl.

    • M says...

      Hahahah

  113. Abby says...

    How naive (self-obsessed?) am I that I thought I was the only person who did this?! I feel both humbled and comforted by this entire post.

  114. Nina Nattiv says...

    When my twins were born I barely left the house for the first few months. I lived across the street from a woman who gave birth to her third child the same month. I would sit by the window, dressed in ratty PJ’s covered in spit up and watch this woman (and her nanny and driver) so beautifully put together, going in an out of her house ten times a day. I loved her and only spoke to her once a year later. Now my kids are 5, we live in a new neighborhood, and I run in and out of the house with them ten times a day. And even though I never look as put together as her (thank god for scrubs and a ponytail!), I always wonder if anyone is trapped in their home and looking at me and, maybe, admiring my busy life.

  115. Jessica says...

    This reminds me of a lovely and thought provoking short story by George Harrar, “The 5:22”, that LeVar Burton read on his podcast.

  116. Alanah says...

    This is amazing! I have several… the three kids who walk themselves to school as I leave my building. The littlest boy is always causing a fuss so I give him an extra smile. I also have the woman with the bleach blonde hair who’s outfits always have me wondering where she is going. Babysitting? School? Punk rock convention? I’ll never know but it is comforting a big city like Chicago can still feel small.

    • Amy says...

      This reminded me of some not so stranger kids that I had totally forgotten about! For years I lived in various apartments near the same subway station and I’d always see a mom, twin boys, and their younger brother walking to school together. Then I moved away but one day I was near that station again in the morning and saw the twins alone—now old enough to be walking all by themselves to school! It made me laugh out loud that I didn’t know these kids at all but had accidentally witsnessed them aging!

  117. Madeleine says...

    Every single day at 4:40pm or so, we walk around our complex with our baby and every single day at the same time, we see this guy drive past our house and park in his garage. It kinda feels like the movie Groundhog Day but is also kind of comforting at the same time.

  118. Hannah says...

    I have never put a name to this phenomenon, I love “not-so-stranger”! For about three years, when I walked home from working at a coffee shop around one in the afternoon, I would see this older gentleman with ungroomed mutton chops walking vigorously in the opposite direction eating a raw carrot and holding a handful of raw lettuce. It always reminded me that my routines might strike other people just as strangely as this man’s deconstructed hand salad!

    • Amy says...

      “Deconstructed hand salad” made me burst out laughing!

  119. Shannon says...

    This makes me miss city living so much! Now living in a car-reliant suburb, where even the Starbucks is mainly drive-thru, you just don’t have occasion for those passive interactions that make life feel a little more cozy and safe.

    • june2 says...

      And isn’t that ironic? It is REALLY hard to connect in the suburbs. I sometimes think that’s one reason churches remain alive. It’s like the only active hub unless you belong to a country club.

    • melissa trinidad says...

      I drive a school bus in the suburbs and I see the same people at the same time everyday. Whether it’s people driving to work or people out walking their dogs.

    • Kimberly says...

      I couldn’t disagree more. I have not-so-strangers at the grocery, at the gym, at cafes and playgrounds. And all that is in a car reliant area as well. Perhaps they take more time to establish? Or, perhaps, your eyes just need to adjust to your new setting in order to see your not-so-strangers in your new community. Regardless, I hope you’ll chance upon a cozy, passive interaction that makes your new area feel like home sooner than you expect.

  120. Nicole says...

    There is an older gentleman in my neighborhood (likely in his 80s) who is super dedicated to his walking routine… we live in the Chicago suburbs, and he persists through all but the worst of the winter. He doesn’t go very fast & takes frequent breaks (he likes to lean against a tree in our front yard), but every time I see him I give him a little silent cheer – I feel oddly proud of him for sticking with it. Plus he gives me motivation to get moving myself. :)

    • Alison says...

      We have his counterpart in our DC suburb. We call him running man. When my kids we’re little they’d watch out for him and shout “running man” when he appeared and scoot to a widow to watch him run by. They are 9 and 8 now. If I see him while cooking dinner, I still shout “running man” and everyone still comes to see him run by.

  121. Lauren says...

    When I used to live in San Francisco and commute on the MUNI, I would see the same man almost every morning on my bus. He was very distinctive because he was blind and had facial burns. I would often wonder about his backstory and life. Imagine my surprise when I saw him featured in the New York Times! (https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/nyregion/40-years-after-an-acid-attack-a-life-well-lived.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&hp&fbclid=IwAR0D8kM989JdmbMERtRVuh08Een33W03gO1XZFFNxluhP2chQfYnDiMDfPg) He was the victim of a random acid attack as a child and went on to lead a very full life including marriage, children, a PhD from Berkeley, and a career that included working for NASA! It was fascinating to have this rare opportunity to learn the backstory of a not-so-stranger – and what an inspiring story it was!

    • katie says...

      Ha! That’s wild!

    • M says...

      That story is crazy! What an everyday hero!

  122. Alexis says...

    Yes! I live in a pretty old neighborhood that is going through some changes right now. A lot of old timers on my block. I know them by their dogs, and that is how we make a connection. There’s the big guy who owns King, a tiny Pomeranian. There’s the little guy who owns the grumpy Pom, who he just calls “Dog.” Then there was Julio and his cocker spaniel. The only interaction we have is a head nod. I stopped seeing Julio around but noticed the dog was being walked by his female companion. A few weeks later there was a memorial on his doorstep. I felt sad, but couldn’t do anything about it because we never formed an actual personal connection.

    We also take the bus a lot to bring our son to and from school. And we spot the same regulars in the mornings and evenings (different crowds, each). So I would not be surprised if we were someone else’s not-so strangers! (Shout out to the little old lady we pick up at 53rd St – you can have our seat any day!)

    • Hope says...

      Oh, yeah, I also know everyone in my neighborhood by their dog, as I’m sure they know me by mine. Dog walking REALLY connects one to one’s neighborhood.

  123. Lilly says...

    This blog, this entry, and these comments have just restored my faith in humanity. Thank you. I really needed it.

  124. i’ve lived in my neighborhood for 11 years and i keep to myself. i’m not unfriendly but i do have an aloofness about me at first interaction. but there are people who will see me at the voting booth and make comments about my hair cut, or inquire about my car that got hit a few weeks ago and if it was running ok. i’m usually bewildered and will stammer an answer. when i got married and my husband moved in with me, people would comment on how they love seeing us together holding hands or that it’s nice that we participate in local neighborhood stuff though we don’t necessary engage directly with people (introverts unite!).

    every time i swear i’ve never seen these people before but their message is always the same: i see you.
    somehow it’s not creepy, but comforting. if that makes sense.

    • janee says...

      Wow, “hellooo from the other siiiide”! This is me too and it is heartwarming.

      The other thing that happens that could be a post on it’s own are the many, many times I have been depressed and a little child, usually a toddler but sometimes older, (actually a couple teens also) will look me in the eye all the way into my soul from across the sidewalk or the grocery aisle or where ever and just blast me with a deeply meaningful smile, usually with a playful tint. I mean, they KNOW. And they are letting me know to just lighten up. It has been major. every. time. Anyone else have this happen?

    • Karine Larochelle says...

      This episode is heartbreaking but one of my favourite!

    • Heather says...

      I was just thinking the same thing! Such an amazing story. And it gets at one of the central tensions of having a not-so-stranger: if that person suddenly disappears, you want to know what happened to them, and it’s hard to reconcile your feeling of familiarity/investment in their lives with the fact that you have no real claim to their story.

    • Dawn says...

      Camila, I had the same thought! Such a moving episode.

  125. Karen says...

    I love this! My not-so-stranger is the old man that walks his dog at the lake. He has a small brown chihuahua that trots along at the same leisurely pace. The man is always dressed nicely in khakis, a button up shirt and a fisherman’s hat. I get so excited everytime I run into them and exchange friendly greetings. And what a great question at the end, am I someone’s not-so-stranger!?

  126. Lisa says...

    Beautifully written and thought provoking. There are several non-strangers in my life, and I welcome their presence each day as does my family. We actually check with each other if one has gone “missing”. The man with the cane and dark glasses on his way to catch the bus, the young man carrying a guitar case heading to a class (or so I imagine), the couple purposefully walking their dog each night, the smart dressed gentleman out for a smoke, and the homeless who have woven their way into the fabric of our daily lives…Each one is a fixture of our neighborhood that helps me feel connected to the bigger picture. To think that I may be their non-stranger fills me with unexpected joy! Thank you Ms. Donofrio.

  127. Rachael says...

    Mine was a barista who I secretly liked but never acted on it. After flirting over the counter for months, he finally asked me out! He eventually told me I was his not-so-stranger too. :)

  128. Kerry says...

    I tell time by the folks I see every day. I walk to work every morning and pass several people at certain spots of my commute. If I see one of them a block earlier than normal then I know I’m probably running late and need to pick up the pace!

    • Maclean Nash says...

      Yes! Me too! If I don’t see my fellow commuters on my walk to work, I get a tinge of stress, hoping they haven’t missed their alarm and overslept. Or, if I don’t see my particularly posh seeming not-so-strangers I think “Oooo maybe they’re at a fancy morning meeting eating croissants with cream and berry coulis”!

  129. What about “not so strangers” on social media? What’s the rule about approaching people we follow? I mostly follow people on IG for their knitting or food content, interests which we would have in common. But still I’m not sure about stopping them on the street to say “Hi!” IRL. Thoughts?

    • this! there’s a local fashion/social media influencer that i follow who i’ve seen around town and i’m like, I KNOW YOU AND I KNOW ABOUT YOU BUT I CANNOT APPROACH YOU BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO SO WITHOUT BEING CREEPY.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      personally, i would encourage you to say hi! i LOVE when people who read CoJ say hi because everyone is always so lovely and funny and nice. it’s such a pleasure to meet people in real life, after writing in an office. it’s exciting :)

  130. Kathryn says...

    There’s the guy who gets my bus most mornings, who I’ve dubbed Handsome Simon. Always sits as close to the front as possible. Sometimes reads a book, sometimes listens to music. He looks like a rugby player, and I have decided he teaches geography. I know what he’s reading this week, but I have never seen him smile…

  131. Penelope says...

    My not-so-stranger was an incredibly striking older gentleman (probably in his 60s) with a long white ponytail who frequented my favorite bakery in Park Slope, and sat in the same corner table each day, reading the New York Times. I never learned his name, but we developed a rapport due to our shared love of the Arts section (he for the written content, I for the crossword puzzle). We’d have a daily banter, depending on who got to the bakery first, about sharing the section, and he would often rip out the crossword for me in anticipation of my arrival, and slyly hand it to me when I bustled into the bakery for my muffin and giant coffee.
    One day, I realized that I had not seen my not-so-stranger at the coffee shop in several weeks, and shortly thereafter the owner of the coffee shop shared that he had died after a long illness that he had been quietly (unbeknownst to me) battling for a long time. I was struck by the depth of sadness I felt to learn of his death- this person whose name I had not even known had somehow become an integral fixture of my daily routine.
    A few days later, back at the bakery, I grabbed the Arts section (no jockeying for it today) and went back to my seat to begin the crossword puzzle. As I worked at it, a stranger came in to the shop and introduced themselves to the owner as the not-so-stranger’s friend and upstairs neighbor. Seeing me doing the crossword puzzle, they exclaimed “Oh! Are you the Crossword Girl? He talked about you all the time!”

    I guess we were each other’s not-so-strangers.

    • Lilly says...

      Oh, this is lovely :)

    • Laura says...

      This is so beautiful, thank you for sharing ♥️

    • Grainne says...

      This hit me right in the feels. How lovely and sad. I’m glad you were both able to bring joy into each other’s lives.

    • Catherine says...

      Wow! What a great story! Have tears in my eyes..

    • gfy says...

      Poignant! :’-}

    • Sarah Jane says...

      This is dear. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sheri says...

      Oh Penelope/Crossword Girl, what a beautiful story – thank you for sharing. xo

    • oh man, that made me tear up. thank you for sharing.

    • florence says...

      Amazing! Like an O. Henry short story…

    • KC says...

      How sweet!

    • Adrienne says...

      I just got all the feels! What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

    • agnes says...

      what a beautiful encounter. thank you so much for sharing. (I can’t help to comment)

  132. I had lots of not-so-strangers when I was studying and lived in student housing up on a hill outside of town. There was only one bus going up there and I took it almost every day for eight years. After about four or five years, when I arrived at the bus station I didn’t have to look neither at my watch nor the time table anymore. I could tell by the amount of my not-so-strangers whether the bus would come soon, or whether I had just missed it, or if it was late.
    I never spoke to any of them except for the lady in the wheelchair who obviously needed some assistance to get on the bus. But I know I was other people’s not-so-stranger too. It worked a bit like an inside joke, and I wonder how many other groups of not-so-strangers waiting for the same bus were standing there at the bus stop, unaware of my group as I was unaware of theirs.

  133. Some of the not-so-strangers I feel most awkward around are the other parents who are doing drop off and pick up at the same time as me. It feels so conflicting–like I’m missing a lot of opportunities for community and at the same time I also feel no zero to chat when I’m rushing to or from. Nonetheless, every day they’re there. The exact same people….the same silent, semi-awkward glances and half smiles of not-so strangers.

  134. Lorraine says...

    I used to have so many not-so-strangers during my subway commuting days. I even wrote a song for an old band once about the proverbial subway crush. (Wait, didn’t I read recently that a woman wound up marrying her subway crush and now they have two kids?… What an amazing not-so-stranger fairy tale!)

    Especially in cities, this type of anonymous familiarity is intriguing to me. I remember during a particularly lonely time in my 20s, I would commute on the W train when it went over the Manhattan bridge, and I would stare out over the East River while my cheek scarcely brushed the shoulder of a stranger, all of us jammed so tightly in this quiet portrait of NYC routine. It was a strange intimacy, this daily ritual with my not-so-stranger posse. I can go on about this subway offshoot of not-so-strangers, romantic as it was.

  135. julie says...

    One of my favorite NYC not-so-strangers was Abe Vigoda! I’d see him every time I walked to Hunter when I was a grad student several years back, reliably walking the same route and immersed in his routine.

  136. Cara says...

    I have so many of these people! One of my favorites is the plant man. It’s hard to pin down his actual schedule, but every once in a while he will grace my office on a Friday. He comes to water all the plants we have that look fake but are actually real. He wears a fanny pack with scissors in it so he can give some of the plants a haircut. No one talks to him because he is SO focused on his work, speed walking from plant to plant. Whoever sees him first among my work friends will notify the rest of us. “Plant man is here!!!” We get excited every time.

  137. t says...

    Not so strangers is something i miss so much about NYC. I would always know if one of us was running late (or early) if my not so stranger and I weren’t on the same train.

    I don’t have any now that I drive to and from work. But I also don’t need to use hand sanitizer. trade offs.

  138. Anna says...

    My mom calls these people “consequential strangers” and encourages me to get to know these people as they can make your day-to-day so much better.

  139. Molly Putnam says...

    This is why I miss living in NYC. You can remain anonymous and still have these everyday individuals in your life. And many of them.

    Now, in the suburbs in NC, I have to say “Hi”. I always do, and I am so surprised as to how many people don’t reply back.

  140. Ro says...

    I work from home and yet venture out into the world to treat a public space as my office for the day, in order to get a little human contact. I always see the same faces and have picked up small tidbits about them: one’s working on a book, the other has a baby, another seems to be from France. Sometimes we exchange a knowing nod, but most of the time we ignore each other in favor of our laptops. I do find them comforting, though, and just the other day realized they are my “coworkers.” Working from home can be lonely, but at least I have these folks to remind me I’m not the only one.

  141. Laura says...

    I used to sit in a park every day on my lunch break eating and reading a book. I’d see the same older man every day walking his little dog, and eventually we started smiling at eachother, waving and exchanging pleasantries (how about that weather?!). About a year into this I saw a young woman walking his dog for a few days and I was so curious I had to ask. It turned out he’d passed away that week and she was there taking care of the dog/estate. I felt a real sadness knowing that I wouldn’t see him anymore, even though I didn’t know him!

  142. Caitlin says...

    I have a memory of an elephant and remember faces more than the average person. Sometimes I jump in and say “hey, I know you from xyz”. My favorite related story took place on the subway platform. I saw someone I “knew” and based on his facial expression, I thought he recognized me too. We approached one another and I said “I know you from somewhere, which nonprofit do you work for?” (I am a nonprofit software consultant and had recently been working in Harlem providing training to ~150 people over the course of a week.) He replied that he didn’t do that type of work. Then I inquired what kind of work he did and he proceeded to tell me he’s an actor. He mentioned a couple of shows he had been on and I wasn’t familiar with any of them. It wasn’t until I was on the train that it came to me…he played a love interest of Carrie’s on Sex and the City years ago! I was so attracted to him that I had re-watched the episode many times!

  143. Katie Weltner says...

    And then there’s the mystery when your not-so-strangers disappear!!! You wonder if something terrible has happened, if you’re the only one who has noticed their absence, but you don’t know anything about them apart from your daily 5 second interactions and have no idea how to find them.

    My favorite dog-walking lady has been absent from the park for a few weeks and I hope she’s just on vacation.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! another story: when i was in my twenties, i would take the bus from the east village to the upper east side, to get to work every morning. a young guy used to always get on. then he started dating a girl — they were so cute and flirty and sort of shy around each other. then they got more serious and she would stay over almost every night ( i figured, bc they were getting the bus to work the next morning). they would laugh and sometimes bring breakfast on the bus, etc. and then, after a while… it was just him again. they must have broken up. i was weirdly devastated.

    • Keelia says...

      I worked with a sweet older man who never married and lived with his mom. He would frequently visit a strip club in our city, where, apparently, he was a favorite customer with the women who worked there. One winter, he was out of the office for several week with pneumonia. After two weeks of absence, one of the women from the club called the office to see if he was okay. She told me how she would often chat with him and he would tell her tails from his military service, and that she was worried something had happened to him. It struck me as so sweet, this weird relationship.

    • Ains says...

      I spent 5 years bus commuting with a middle aged couple who shared a stop with me, and I wondered if I should tell them I was moving last year so that they didn’t wonder where I went!

  144. Rachel* says...

    I love this and it’s something I think about often! This is one of my Not-So-Strangers: When I was a regular a my neighborhood coffee spot (before I learned how to make good coffee at home!) there was a guy my friend and I would frequently see (often independent of each other). He was probably in his 60s, barrel-chested and fit as a fiddle, silver hair cut in a military-style cut. We made up his backstory, which I would bet is pretty close to the truth: he’s ex-military who now works part-time security for a prominent wealthy family in the area. We call him “Indonesian Fighting Knife Guy” because one day I was able to see what he was reading – a catalog, open to the “Indonesian Fighting Knife” page.

    • Grainne says...

      This made my day!

  145. Sarah says...

    I used to take a yoga class in Soho and often ended up next to an older woman whom I would chat with before and after class– mostly about yoga and never even exchanging names. One night I was at a work event and ran into my ‘yoga-stranger-friend’ and realized she is an incredibly accomplished artist whose work I have long admired! I had worked with her gallery for years and had no idea that she and ‘knew’ each other. New York City, man. You never know!!

  146. Erin G. says...

    This really made me smile. I was also, amusingly, reminded of a time in my life (about two decades ago) when I had a doppelgänger in town. She was a hair stylist and people would approach me and lament that they needed to come see me for a trim: confusion ensued. I’d love to hear about any CoJers with their own doppelgängers!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that’s so funny!

    • Ll says...

      I used to have one as well! I met a friends co-worker briefly once, and shortly after he explained to my friend that he met me in a bar and I had been kind of rude (to his surprise). I was out of town, so my friend thankfully knew it wasn’t me. Around the same time I got a phone call in the middle of the night from a guy I was seeing, asking why I was out by the train station during the night. I wasn’t. I was home sleeping. More weird situations happened, and for a while I thought it was my flaming red hair causing this (you’d be surprised how many people think you look like someone even if the red hair is the only thing in common) but after almost two years one of my best friends saw this woman – we did indeed share hair colour, but we were also similar built and apparently had the same “walk”. I never met her myself, and have now moved to another country. I sometimes wonder if she is ok.

    • Abby says...

      I used to work at a hospitality space and once, a new caterer who came in stared at me for a few seconds, and then told me that I had a doppelgänger in another hospitality space across town. I kinda laughed it off at first, but then the caterer said to me, “no, you don’t understand, I thought you were her at first and I’m SO glad that you’re not — she’s a TOTAL BITCH.”

      Ha! The shot of relief must have been what caused him to say that because, reflecting on it now, it wasn’t probably the most professional thing for him to say. But I just told him, “well, I’m glad to be the good twin then!” :)

    • Alice says...

      My boyfriend had a doppleganger in college. Their facial features were different but had super similar builds, style and hair so from behind people were always confusing them. They didn’t know each other, but knew of each other from people constantly calling out the others’ name.

      A few months after I started dating my boyfriend, my best friend started dating said doppleganger. It was confusing/hilarious/amazing.

    • Meg says...

      I, too, have a doppelgänger! We’ve yet to meet, but each time someone approaches me thinking I’m the not-me-doppelgänger, I tell them that I’m dying to meet her so we can get into some Parent Trap-style shenanigans!

      I can’t tell you how many friends tell me I must not have seen them waving on the trail (uh, I wasn’t jogging that day.) My own sister waved at the doppelgänger in her car. My favorite, though, is when my friend’s little sister ran up to my doppelgänger at the gym… and bear-hugged her.

    • Sophia says...

      I have a doppelganger and apparently she’s not very nice. We go to the same pool club but while I’m a paid up member, she is not. She’s a former member and is known for sneaking in but since I AM a member and staff members can’t seem to tell us apart, she is getting away with it. The pool club is only open during the summer and the year I had my son a week after the club opened there was some confusion since not a lot of club members saw me pregnant during the off-season. Why is sneaky woman pushing a stroller? Is she now bringing things into the club? Who’s baby does she have? Once people figured it out, they were only suspicious of me when I DIDN’T have the baby. After I got to know one of the other members, she apologized for all the dirty looks she had given me because she thought I was the sneaky woman. It seems that half the club had been giving me the stink eye but I never noticed. I wish they had just asked for my membership number. I could ended the whole thing.
      Once I was at the grocery store and noticed that the notebook I wanted to buy was ringing up at regular price although a sign said “50% off”. I went to Customer Service to correct the mistake and the woman behind the counter was so annoyed at me and said “I KNOW! You told me this morning. Give me a chance to correct it!”. I told her that it wasn’t me that told her but she insisted it was. I told her about my doppelganger who seems to make people hate me and after squinting at me and eyeing me up and down, she agreed that maybe it wasn’t me she saw that morning but whoever it was could be my twin and she was rather rude.
      While I think it’s sort of fun to have a doppelganger, I wish mine was someone who paid for people’s coffee and helped little old ladies across the street instead of the sneaky, rude woman wearing my face.

  147. As someone who has a really good memory for faces, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who recognizes people they don’t really know. Every so often I run into a woman who asks, How do I know you? She was a customer at a restaurant I worked at years ago. It’s always a bit awkward, but at least we kind of recognize each other.

    • Laura says...

      OH I was going to write about that – I have super facial recognition skills and remember people I’d seen once on a subway months ago.

    • Kristen says...

      Me too — I’ve told people that my “stupid human trick” is that I can see someone just once on the subway or street, and, if I get a decent look at the person, will never forget the face. So, if I see that person again on the subway or elsewhere, I’ll know I saw them before, and play a game with myself to try to figure out where I saw them, whether I actually met them, etc. It drives me a bit crazy when I can’t figure out where I saw them or if I know them! They become my not-so-strangers in NYC.

    • Alisa says...

      Oh, thank goodness I’m not the only one with excellent facial recognition! I am always trying to place where I recognize people from, but it’s generally a random stranger who was in the same grocery line as me :) ha

    • f says...

      Same! I hardly ever forget a face (though terrible at names). And then you wonder if the other person remembers you… I like to play the game of just guessing a person from behind from their walk or how they hold themselves. Eerily, I’m often correct before I even see their face. Weird!

      I often see this older Orthodox Jewish man eating bags of potato chips on the train for breakfast. Hope his health is ok!

    • Lee says...

      I have super facial recognition skills too! I always seem to see people from my flights hopping around the same city as me. Once it was a trip to NYC and I saw the same woman from my flight twice! Most recently it was a trip to Thailand and I saw this couple twice as well in two different cities. Thankfully, they recognized me as well so I didn’t feel too weird. haha.

  148. Alec says...

    WHY does every guy on every dating app have a photo of him holding a ginormous fish???

    • Betsy says...

      My theory is that men generally don’t take as many pictures, whether it be selfies or group shots, as women do, so they have a smaller pool of photos to choose from. A situation where a typical male will want a photo taken is after a fishing adventure in which they’ve caught a large bass or whatever. So when making their dating profiles they have to choose from pictures of them with fish, pictures with niece/nephew (“not my kid!”), and pictures from their friends wedding. Hence, the dating profile comprised of fish pic, kid pic, tux pic.

    • Cara says...

      It’s an epidemic.

    • CitricSugar says...

      I think most of them truly believe that that’s what we’re interested in knowing about them, that it gives them mystery and cachet, when really it looks like a pitch for bro-friends. Also standard photo fare from these dudes: most, if not all pics while wearing sunglasses; leaning against the super-douchey car while lamenting that he is ‘turned off my chicks that only care about cars and money”; holding glass of wine or beer with my arm around someone I cropped out who I will ‘explain’ as my sister…

      I’d blame them for being clueless but I’ve seen what women think are good man-bait photos and we’re just as bad. Between instagram filters and fish photos, the human race is probably doomed.

    • Meredith says...

      So you know he’s a catch! (ba dum chhh)

    • Ro says...

      So you know he’s a hunter who can provide fresh meat for the family.