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. caron says...

    Have never seen the person responsible, but have so appreciated the daily efforts of a home owner along my commute. Each and every day a different figurine is placed on the steps leading to the lawn. Sometimes random tchotkes, often seasonally appropriate items. It always makes me smile. I sent them a holiday card expressing my thanks for a touch of whimsy in each day.

  2. Georgina says...

    I used to commute daily at 7am taking my son to preschool en route to work. Never noticed or remembered another commuter. He’s now 8. I’ve had a second child (2) and still have total strangers walk up to me and say “oh good for you! You did it again!”

  3. This reminds me of a less creepy version of the girl in the train.

  4. Hilary says...

    I love this post, and feel so deeply connected to humanity reading the comments. I’ve always had these not-so strangers lurking in my life, and never quite knew how to describe or classify them.

    My current set of not-so strangers actually revolve around dogs. Our building has many dogs, but only allows them if you own. We rent and try to live vicariously through the many that walk the halls or we see every morning out on our run. By default, their humans become our not-so strangers. We have the pair of corgis always walked by a smiling older woman. We have this tough older guy with a small yorkie, who every morning, waves only to me and not my husband. If older guy doesn’t do his morning wave, I truly wonder what is ‘off’. There is girl with a sheepdog we have seen every morning the last three years, and we actually feel like we ‘know’ her. She recently had a baby, as a stroller began joining the walks. She’s not my favorite, but I haven’t seen them in a while and wonder if they moved. I’ll be sad if that is the case, as I loved watching that dog grow up from a tiny puppy. So many others I could list out from this phase of life and from childhood. It’s so wonderful to hear I am not alone in my quiet observations of the world. I relish these little connections we make.

  5. Alexa says...

    There is a man who rides all over New York City blasting Edith Piaf songs from a boombox tied to the back of his bicycle. I see him most weeks and happy tears pool in my eyes every time…the sight and sound of him makes me feel such unfettered joy.

    In my head his name is something elegant like “Laurent,” and on more than one occasion I have been close enough to say hello and ask, but I always stop myself. It’s better this way.

  6. Jenn says...

    My husband and I take turns walking our dog in the morning. He goes super early before 7 AM and on my days I normally go around 8:30 or 9. We see totally different sets of people! Sometimes in the afternoons someone I’ve never seen before will come up to my dog smiling and waving and I just assume “oh, it must be one of his early morning friends!”. My Dad was visiting recently and accompanied me on one of the afternoon walks and finally he said “do you know ALL of these people?!” and we both laughed when I told him “no but the dog does!”.

  7. monika campbell says...

    Oh my goodness. You know when you’re in a dark place in life and even the simplest joys make you feel like your heart will explode because you are generally starved for well-being? I’m in that place now and this post did that thing to my heart. I love this blog so much. Through all the sorrows I’ve dealt with these past two years, I come here, I read the articles and the comments, and I can honestly say that for a few minutes, I feel really, really good about the world. Thank you C of J and all your readers!

    • Mal says...

      Sending love and hope the darkness ends soon <3

    • Jo says...

      I couldn’t help but reach out. I’ve been in my head too much about some traumatic personal changes lately, and this blog makes me stop in my tracks. it makes me feel the present. it makes me love humanity. I too hope you find light amidst your dark season in more places than you imagined.

  8. Christen says...

    I live in a very rural area so my not-so-stranger strangers are animals. Every morning while driving my girls to school we see the same two doggie friends setting off on what I imagine to be a day of doggie adventures. My other animal stranger is a cow who often escapes from her pasture and stands next to the road. Each time we’re lucky enough to see her we roll down our windows and say “hi cow!!”.

  9. Kirsten says...

    Someone I met in college at NYU (after being not-so-strangers in the undergrad library for months) and lived with in NYC for five years moved last year around the corner from me in San Francisco (we did not move here together). We were engaged but it ended 9 years ago on terrible terms (mostly my fault for not being “ready!”). Now we end up passing each other on the street, seeing each other in the store, at the coffee shop down the street, the playground… We both married and have children (me 2, him 1). He ignores me every time we pass and after many failed attempts at eye contact and smiles and even a hello, eventually I started ignoring him too. And that my friends is the sad story of how once people very in love can quite randomly end up across the country, around the corner from each other, living very similar lives they almost lived together, and turn back into not-so-strangers. It’s funny for me to think that while waiting for our coffees, no one in the shop would ever guess we spent five mostly great years together and almost got married.

    • Tmer says...

      Heartbreaking.

    • Cassidy says...

      This hit me in the feels.

    • Ssan says...

      I have never met someone I decided to leave for a full three years now. And I wonder if this is how it will be for us if we ever be in a close proximity again. This is heartbreaking indeed.

  10. Heidi says...

    I was someone’s not-so-stranger! I went for a walk now and then in my neighborhood, in all kinds of weather, always on the same route. One day — a very bad day — I went for a walk to clear my head. I’d just lost my job, and was deep in the shock and grief of it. That day, of all days, a man came out onto his porch as I walked by and called out to me. He said hi, that he had always noticed me, and that he appreciated my perseverance for always being out there. On that day, I was so upset that the last thing I wanted to do was chit-chat with a stranger. But reading these comments has made me grateful that on that day, of all days, a stranger came out to say, I noticed you, and you inspire me.

  11. Dawn says...

    My not-so-stranger was an older woman who worked at a cafe in my town. I am a nanny and would frequently stop in for a coffee with the baby I watched in tow. She always came over to smile at him in his car seat. We saw her on and off for six years. As the little boy got older, he would rush inside ahead of me to say hi to Mati and give her a hug. She didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak Spanish so our communication was limited but she exuded kindness and warmth. I always yearned to know more about her and her life. One day I saw her walking with bags of groceries-miles away from where she worked at the cafe. I thought about stopping to offer her a ride but thought it might be weird. I also always thought about bringing her flowers and a note to thank her for her kindness throughout the years but never did. I moved and stopped frequenting that cafe but recently stopped by. I didn’t see Mati and when I asked someone they said she didn’t work there anymore. I’m devastated that I waited to tell her what a bright spot she was to me on so many occasions. I think of her often and hope she is happy and well.

  12. Kristiana says...

    Cup of Jo – I often check in each day to read the posts but this week was busy and I am just now checking in. What joy this week’s posts have brought to me. It’s a light to my day and the comment section, like always, makes me smile. Thank you again for this blog.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, kristiana, that makes me so happy!

    • Caitlin says...

      Same here. Thank you for this blog and these wonderful reader comments.

    • Jess says...

      Ditto for me too! Thank you for this lovely space – a real & true everyday sliver of joy :)

    • Kanga says...

      Me too!!!
      I was going to write the same comment today actually … I used to read every morning at my office job … now I’m a mum and check in every few days or at the end of the week … I love the ‘feeling’ of this space 💕

  13. A. says...

    My first couple of months of college, I was really lonely… I was on the phone late at night with a friend looking for consolation when I saw a cute boy across the way. I said to her, “I just saw the cutest guy ever… I want to be HIS friend!” Weeks later I saw him at a concert, then studying in the library, then jumping out from behind a bush to scare his friend on campus, then several times at his on-campus job. Sometimes I’d catch his eye and we’d nod or smile, but we never actually met. When telling my roommate about these encounters, I started referring to him as my boyfriend. Beginning of my sophomore year I walked into a class for the first time and THERE HE WAS. Anyway we’re expecting our first baby later this year :)

    • Juliet says...

      Tearing up. This is amazing.

    • Susana says...

      omg i love this so much congrats!

    • Mia says...

      Please sell this as a movie script. So sweet and heartwarming :)

    • Omg:) sounds like a movie:)

    • Laura Rennie says...

      LOVE THIS STORY! congrats on your baby!

    • Neen says...

      My college friends met in a similar way! They both studied on the same floor of the library on a regular basis, and the guy kept telling his friends whenever he’d see “library girl” out and about. Married with kid now :)

    • Maggie says...

      This is so sweet!!

  14. Lisa says...

    I’ve spent the better part of my work day reading these stories. How wonderful they all are! What a great article.

    It reminds me of the first neighborhood my boyfriend and I lived in when we first moved out together. The neighborhood was way more affluent than we were/are (we were renting a house) and we were seemingly the only folks who walked two “scary” pit bulls around the neighborhood where labs, poodles and retrievers were more the norm. People would very noticeably look down their noses at us when we’d walk by with our girls (that’s what we called our dogs). After a year or so though, if we ever went for a walk without the girls, people we thought were strangers would ask us where our dogs were and would comment on how well behaved they were. It warms my heart to know that my “scary” pups changed some people’s minds for the better.

    • agnes says...

      Love it Lisa! (that you read the stories instead of working, it’s such a great activity!)

  15. Holly says...

    Oh, also…
    This week, NPR’s Fresh Air re-ran an old interview with the late obituary writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, Jim Nicholson. He made a point of writing beautiful obituaries of ordinary people. In the interview he insisted, “there is no uninteresting obit.” So all of these stories we make up about the not-so-strangers? Likely these are just as complex and beautiful as we imagine them to be.

  16. Mary says...

    This post and the comments are some of the sweetest things I’ve ever read!

    When my husband and I first started dating, I kept noticing this strikingly handsome young guy with beautiful long dreadlocks every time we went out somewhere. It was never in the same spot or even the same area of our city but I always spotted him when we were together. We would either see him riding his bike from afar or quite often he would walk in and be seated right behind us in a restaurant. He was always alone and seemed to discreetly notice and recognize us too. After several sightings, I commented to my husband and he casually said, “Oh yeah, that’s my guardian angel. I see him all the time.” It became so normal to us to the point that if we didn’t see him yet, we’d be like where is your guardian angel?

    It’s now been several years since we have seen him but we wonder about him from time to time. I like that we can now call him my husband’s not-so-stranger which is less devastating than to think that your guardian angel quit visiting you, haha!

  17. Holly says...

    THIS IS THE GREATEST POST. As if we needed proof that the COJ comments section is the greatest thing on the internet.

  18. Atwood says...

    There are some reality TV stars that come to the restaurant that my friends and I frequent and I’ve joked that we’ve seen them so many times over the years that they’ve probably started recognizing us. No requests for autographs yet but I’ll report back.

  19. Melissa says...

    I walk to work every day and have 2 not-so-strangers, plus a car. One is a local mechanic that takes a smoke break at the same time every morning and the other is a long-haired print shop owner that I wave to through his shop window. The car belongs to a man I know and when it’s missing, I can’t help but think, “I wonder if Paul is sick? I hope not. It’s Friday, maybe he’s taking a long weekend. Good for him.”

  20. R says...

    I worked during law school in a mid-sized city at multiple law firms. Regardless of where I worked, we had the same handsome bike messenger on some of our deliveries. I never got the nerve to speak to him, but when I am back in that city for work I always do a double take at the bike messengers to see if they are him. It is worth noting that he has likely “aged out” of the bike messenger business but still a fun game.

    • Lisa says...

      HA. Same here. I work at a law firm and there is one messenger in particular that all us ladies swoon over. We always issue an ABP about when we need to call for “the” courier and then get jealous of whoever is covering the reception desk and gets to receive his packages.

  21. Kristina says...

    Back when I was in undergrad, I lived in a house with 3 flats (mine was the one in the middle). There was a grad student that lived above me, and we shared a mailbox. That same year, his parents decided to go on an around-the-world trip and every city they stopped in, they sent him a postcard – he’d get 2-3 a week! I’d be so excited to check the mail and peek at where they’d been lately live vicariously through their adventures. I eventually ran into him and confessed that I’d been looking at them, and holy crap how lucky were they to travel like this! He didn’t mind at all :)

  22. p says...

    i will never get tired of reading the comments on this post. it fills me with deep joy, knowing so many people notice others, in small often overlooked moments. i’v noticed not-so-strangers in my life since i was a child, and loved to make backstories for them.

    once visiting some family in maryland, we were driving to DC to sight-see. i noticed a white car next to ours, an older lady driving, her beautiful white coat, and an ornament hanging from her rear view mirror. on the way home, she popped into my head, i looked out the window, and she was next to our car again! i think back at this moment of excitement and recognition often, although i know she would never know me.

    now as an adult, i’ve lived in santa monica for 8 years. there are many homeless people in my neighborhood, and i’ve picked up the habit to “adopt” them. the first one i called “white hair lady,” i could spot her easily from afar. she used a walker, usually accompanied by her “sidekick”, an elderly man that always followed close behind. i would bring her food and water form my house. if my husband and i were at dinner, i get my left overs boxed up and we drive around the 4th street neighborhood to find them and feed them. the last time i saw her was summer of 2016, by the fall it had occurred to me that she may have passed away, but i tell myself she’s in a shelter now. there are a few other homeless i have “adopted”, the paraplegic veteran who hangs behind the main street general store (he likes gatorade and chips), the young guy outside rite aid (he likes sandwhiches and water), an elder lady who is usually near my yoga studio (i always give her granola bars). i keep extra food with me at all times to give to those in need, and i always try to notice and recognize the homeless, because they are the invisible in a city moving too fast.

    again thank you for sharing this. experiences like these are reminders for all of us to slow down, look up from our devices, notice humanity, and be kind.

  23. Gayle says...

    Driving my stepdaughter to school at about 7:30 am we would see a very elderly man and his small fluffy white dog out walking most mornings. We named them Oscar and Snow. One day as I drove back to my office after dropping her off I saw Osacar and Snow stop at the chain link fence of an auto body repair shop. The guard dog inside ran up to the fence, slid to a stop and waited patiently. Oscar took a plastic baggie out of his pocket and fed the (supposedly vicious) dog what was obviously his regular treat thru the wire. After I told my stepdaughter about this we watched for them the next morning and drove around the block to time passing Oscar and Snow as they made their stop so we could see the guard dog get his treat. I was telling one of our clients, a local trash collector, about our friends one day and he told me where he would often see them walking, at least a mile or two from our location. We speculated, after we no longer saw them, that family members may have put a stop to their early morning wandering.

  24. Linda says...

    I just love this! I could picture all these characters.

    My not-so-stranger is a woman, probably in her 60’s. She has short blonde, tossled hair and goes for walks on my cross street. Except they are not just walks. She wears Beats or other head gear and she dances while she walks. Her arms are flailing and her feet are keeping the rhythm. In my mind, her name is Flo, and I imagine her listening to 80’s pop. We call her dancing/walking lady, and we worry when we haven’t seen her in a while.

  25. Em says...

    I don’t have a not-so-stranger, but I work in a coffee shop and witness a lot of “not-so-strangering.” I love when 2 regular customers nod to each other because they are always in at the same time. Or sometimes we will have a married couple or mom/daughter that are regulars, but always come in separately at different times so we don’t realize they are related…then they will come in together and I am always flabbergasted because I didn’t know they were married, friends, etc. I love when that happens.

    • Jenny says...

      Oh I LOVE that! I used to work in a local grocery store for years and loved when that happened. I’m sure I was a lot of people’s not-so-stranger too, the familiar face in their day to day routine.

  26. Katelyn says...

    I have two that come to mind.

    1. I used to be a barista on the opposite coast of where I live now, and it’s strange how much I miss my regulars. They were so kind. I always hope I’ll run into them someday and even if I forget their name, be able to recite their coffee order to them. Something like, “Hey you! Iced half caff mocha!!”

    1. When my mom would drive my three brothers and me to school each morning, we’d see the same old man (to a 10-year-old, that could be merely 50, but I swear he seemed at least 75) running alongside the road by our house. We’d cheer in the car for him every time and called him our runner. I swear I’d still see him sometimes when I’d come home from college. I don’t live at home any more so I’m not sure if he’s still up to it or what became of him (maybe at 90, he finally switched to cycling!), but man, did I admire his commitment to consistency.

  27. Margarethe Avitabile says...

    In the warm weather months, when I walk from the bus to my home, I sometime see an older woman in a sari sitting on her front porch. I always wave to her and she waves back. I feel my spirit lift on the days I see her and I believe she gets excited, also.

  28. merleb says...

    I was someone’s not-so-stranger.
    We had just moved to the suburbs and I was at the elementary school registering my son for kindergarten when a woman approached me.
    I know you, she said, confidently. My mind raced….school in the city? church? a new neighbor? She was all smiles but I couldn’t place her. It turned out that we stood in the same place on the subway platform for several years. She’s one of my best friends.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that!

    • Neen says...

      When I worked in the city, I had so several subway platform not-so-strangers!

  29. Lauren says...

    When I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, my not-so-stranger was a Ninth Avenue ambler who looked like Karl Lagerfeld as a mafioso (battered leather jacket, pinstriped slacks, wraparound shades, perfectly coiffed black ponytail). He always had a huge black-and-white bunny, calm as you please, riding on his right shoulder.

    I have a crazy variation on the not-so-stranger, too: when I was studying abroad at Oxford, I decided to book a solo spring break trip to Amsterdam. My hostel had a coed shower, and when a spiky-haired punk guy ended up in the stall right next to mine, we struck up a conversation: Oh, you’re from the States, too? Which state? Northern or southern California? In Orange County? Where in Orange County? Do you know the Gypsy Den [a coffeehouse]? Finally he said: “Are you Lauren?” He was friends with my ex-boyfriend, The Man With 42 Blue Coats, and when they had chatted about his upcoming trip to Amsterdam, The Man (whom I had not had contact with for like six months) said in his blasé hipster way, “Oh, you’re going to Europe? You’ll probably run into my ex-girlfriend Lauren there.” Weirdest. Shower. Ever.

    • Jessica says...

      Stop! That is crazy!!

    • Hannah says...

      Wow! So crazy!!

  30. Bethany says...

    Yes. My husband was once my not-so-stranger. I don’t remember meeting him for the first time. I saw him often walking through town and he noticed me too. When we finally had a real conversation at a bar one night, it felt as though we already knew each other. By the end of the night we had professed our love for each other and our intent to be together forever. 6 weeks later we discovered I was pregnant with our oldest daughter. That was almost 9 years ago. We got married on the date of the pregnancy test when she was 2 years old. 3 kids, 1 dog, and 4 houses later, I am still so thankful my not-so-stranger became my person.

    • Kira says...

      This was a delight to read. :)

  31. Tovah says...

    This post has me aching for city life again. I’ll share two that stand out– in San Francisco in the early ’00s were two elderly twins who dressed identically and fancily (fur stoles, little hats, heels) and were very much known around Nob Hill. It always felt like a lucky charm or a blessing when I spotted them. And on the Upper West Side near Columbia is an impeccably dressed elderly African American man who walks the streets with his black bible at night, singing “I love you, I love you, Hallelujah.” I hope he’s still there. If you see him, give him a smile for me.

    • Tali says...

      I love your not-so-strangers! I perfectly picture them both. I moved to NYC a year ago, I’ll look out for this man. :)

    • Bayley says...

      I live in San Francisco and I know EXACTLY which elderly twins you are referring to! I used to see them often on my walk to work.

    • Kay says...

      HalleluJAAAAAH! I remember that man. I moved out of the neighborhood in 2012 but was nearby within the past year or so and saw him. I was so glad to see he was still it at!

      New York has the best almost-strangers. Has anyone seen the man who walks a turtle on a leash in Central Park around 102nd Street?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, a turtle on a leash! what about the woman with long gray hair who sits in riverside park with her pet parrot Toby? he will ask passersby, “want some breakfast?” we used to always stop and chat with them on bike rides and i think we may have inadvertently/subconsciously named toby after that friendly parrot.

    • My grandfather has been a street photographer in San Francisco for 60+ years, and he has a whole section on his site dedicated to these twins! http://www.maur-images.com/portfolio/twins/index.html

      I used to feel the same way running into them—total treat.

    • Kate says...

      Oh my gosh! I totally know that man. Sorry, he drove me crazy! He walked back and forth outside my window for several years yelling that late into the night. He would also yell, “Jesus. Jesus.” and once when my eldest brother was visiting, who bears a striking resemblance to Jesus, went down and said to the man, “Yes, my son.” It didn’t stop the man from yelling for years to come, but it sure did stop him that night.

    • Tovah says...

      Molly, thank you for sharing your grandfather’s pictures! The photo with the leopard-ish fur coats and red hats captures them EXACTLY as they were in my memory :)

    • judith says...

      Molly,

      Thank you for providing the link! I looked at every one of the photos of the twins – they look like they’re a lot of fun! I wonder if they are still around?

  32. Catherine Nelson says...

    My not-so-stranger is this older gentleman in my neighborhood that walks his toy yorkie on his motorized scooter twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Rain or shine he always made sure they took their walk. As the season changed from fall to winter I could barely make out his figure in the dark and I worried that he would get hit or be taken by surprise as he ventured down one of the main streets. So in my flurry of holiday Amazon ordering this past Christmas I ordered a reflective leash to give to him next time I saw him. Who knew that leash would sit in my car for 4 months before our paths crossed again. Last week I finally flagged him down and offered him my gift. He quickly rejected my gift and sped off probably thinking I was some random crazy person. Didn’t he realize that we were apart of each other’s daily routine? Ha I guess not. I realized that night as you did that our not-so-strangers are still strangers. Now the sweet old man image I have in my head is one of an old man that sets his scooter speed to high when he sees me coming.

    • Angela says...

      Sweet gesture!! This made me laugh! I’m sorry he rejected your gift!

    • Jeannie says...

      OH my gosh that is so sweet you did that, how thoughtful! I, too, worry about elders precariously cruising on foot or scooters through town, although I wonder if they want my concern at all. :-P Sorry he didn’t accept your gift. I say, keep trying! <3

  33. Sarah says...

    On my commute home from work every evening, I see the living rooms of two corner apartments, floor to ceiling glass windows, starting one floor above the street. Top Apartment celebrated Hanukkah and put a menorah in their window. I was really curious about Bottom Apartment in December. They had the perfect Christmas tree corner, but no menorah, no Christmas decor, no twinkle lights. Every weeknight in December when I left work, I would wonder if a tree would be up that night. Sure enough, the week of Christmas I came up from the subway and saw they had a beautiful, tall, lighted tree in the corner — it looked perfect there, just as I was imagining. And as I walked by, I saw dad holding a brand new baby, still curled up, showing the baby the tree lights. It was such a tender moment. It’s just far away enough that I wouldn’t be able to recognize their faces on the street, but when I see a young family on my block, I always wonder if they are the Christmas people.

  34. Jess. says...

    A couple of years ago, an adorable little lady came up to me and my kids at a neighborhood Christmas tree lighting ceremony to tell us that she watches us walk by every morning from her window on our morning rush, and she pointed out her window to us. Now we wave to Miss Lucy every morning, and her hand darts out from behind her curtains to wave back. We’ve even taken her cookies a couple of times.

    This is the loveliest comment section in the history of blogs, and this post + its comments are just breaking my heart with joy. xox

    • Linda says...

      Miss Lucy… how sweet!

      And I agree… such lovely stories!!

  35. Nina says...

    I love them, too. I loved when I lived in Seattle in the U District…I enjoyed walking down the street and seeing the same asian man sweeping his store’s sidewalk, the same annoying homeless person that once accosted me when I was eating a hot dog to beg for one, the familiar people at the laundry mat…the guys at the tattoo parlor that I wanted to stare at but not….maybe it made me feel good because it reminded me of Sesame Street or Cheers? I enjoyed chatting with the same people when I take public transportation…in fact, it’s funny that we like OUR seats and get annoyed if strangers sit in them (they aren’t on here everyday, they have no standing!) We all want to be known as well, right? We wonder if people will think about us if they don’t see us for a while or ever again? Life is so funny

  36. Yes! I have so many not-so-strangers, because I take public transit every day. There are people I see every day for years, and when I see them out of context it can be weird. I saw a man in a bar once who I recognized from my bus, and he recognized me too, and we smiled at each other in acknowledgement. There’s a woman I must have commuted with over a decade ago – we don’t know each other’s names but we always say hi and wave when we see each other around town.
    And then there are the people I never talk to, but who I always like to see: Frank Chu, the one-man protester at every San Francisco event, who I have ‘known’ for 19 years, a grumpy-looking woman who used to be at every music event I ever attended, and a girl who must be a teenager now who I used to see as a baby walking with her mom in the Mission.

  37. Lauren says...

    I love my not-so-strangers. There is a man that lives near my office and I’ve seen him nearly every day for the last 8 years. I noticed him initially because he used to walk his giant mastiff to the park across the street every day. The dog happily lumbered next to the man as they strolled through the park each day, leashless, and never left the man’s side . At one point, I stopped seeing the man and his noble beast. I wondered what happened and thought maybe he had moved away. Then, eventually, he reappeared with a big, black Great Dane puppy. And, I realized his sweet mastiff companion must have died. I was so sad for the man and what I imagined must have been such a terrible loss for him, that I quietly shed a tear for him that day. I’ve never spoken to the man, or even been in close enough proximity to wave hello. But, I still see him every day with his new friend happily strolling through the park and it’s like seeing an old friend.

    • Karen says...

      This is so beautiful

  38. Nina Campos says...

    My sister met a guy in her late 20’s and swore they knew each other. Turns out, he had worked in the same arcade we frequented as 5-12 year olds on summer vacations! They reminisced about the go-go days of 80s arcade life “that place was the Studio 54 of the Lake Region” Indeed! ;)

  39. Kari says...

    After college, I worked at the first Starbucks in my town (before they popped up on every corner!). I worked M-F the opening shift, and had a lot of regulars. When we first opened, a guy would come in every morning with his own mug, order black coffee, and pay in change. Same mug, same amount in change 5 days a week. After about 2 weeks, we developed a routine with him where he would come in, slide his mug down the counter, leave his change and be on his way. We would ring it into the register later, when the morning rush was over. He was known as “Personal Grande coffee of the day pays in change guy”.
    After 2 years, I left that job and started working in the Admissions office at a local college. My first day on the job, I was walking past the Office Managers desk, saw a picture of her husband and blurted out “Oh my gosh, thats Personal Grande Coffee of the Day Pays in Change Guy!!!”
    Two years later, on the top of my wedding gift from them, was a baggie of change, with the exact amount he used to pay!

    • Linda says...

      That is adorable!!

  40. Laura says...

    I love this post Caroline! You come up with the best stories. I had a not-so-stranger when I worked at the music department in our local Barnes and Noble in my 20’s. I worked a lot of weekday nights and was very single (and very bored) and was always checking out the young guys that would come in and listen to music. There was one that usually came in once every week that I had a secret crush on. He had reddish brown hair, looked a few years older than me, and had an intense quietness about him that I found so captivating. He would walk in very quickly and we would stare at each other for a quick second and he would head right back to the headphones and listen to music for about 30 minutes and then leave. I was always trying to make eye contact with him. This went on for a few months and finally one night I worked up the courage to ask if he needed help with anything and what kind of music he liked. He quickly said “No” and left. It was very awkward. The next time he came in he was with another guy and I clearly got the vibe that he was gay by the way they were interacting. I felt very foolish and didn’t see him much after that. I think that was his way of telling me he wasn’t straight. Ha ha, I’m 35 and married with two kids now. It’s so interesting the people that pop up in our lives. Life is strange.

  41. KH says...

    On the way to the bus stop in the mornings, I used to wear my baby in a forward-facing ergo and walk right past a nursing home. The dining room was at street level with big windows, and the tables were filled with elderly people having their breakfasts. My baby and I used to stop and wave at them, and there were always two white-haired women who waved back enthusiastically with big smiles. Sometimes they seemed to be looking for us. I loved giving them a little bright spot in their mornings. When we moved, I almost wanted to go inside and say goodbye to them though we had never spoken and I didn’t even know who to ask for at the front desk. I was so sad on our last day waving to them, because I knew it would be our last time but they did not.

  42. Kelly says...

    I used to run into my husband’s personal trainer and his wife out at bars. And I frequently run into former waiters and bartenders out in the world.
    I wear contacts only on the weekends, and I know I’ve confused my fair share of people.

  43. Maryann says...

    My not-so-stranger is a guy who rides his bike around town. I also ride my bike around town and give the cyclist “head nod” when I see him. He never nods back. One day I saw him while having bike chain issues and he stopped and took one look at my grease-covered hands and said “be right back”. Five minutes later, he arrived with a bunch of grocery cart wet wipes from the store down the street and a bag to throw them in. And he was able to fix my chain! I was so grateful for his help. I still nod at him and he still never nods back.

    • Jess. says...

      Oh my goodness, I love human beings. I want the comment section of this post to be made into a book.

  44. Jane says...

    Walking back from the daycare pick up we would always pass this row of little houses. In one lived an older man who would often sit on his porch. We would always say hello as we passed. He was always so neat and tidy, as was his porch and little front yard. I imagined him to be a priest who left the priesthood- it was a Portuguese neighbourhood. He sold his house and I don’t know where he is. When the for sale sign went up I thought of sending him a card, but what would I say?
    I’m sorry I didn’t, the new owners never sit on the porch and I still think of him whenever I pass the house.

    On another note, I wish you had a like button for the comments. So many of them are so lovely and so “yes” that just reading them isn’t enough.

    • Jennifer says...

      Yes!!! We need a “like” button; there are so many wonderful moments in the comments on CoJ posts! <3

  45. JoAnna Murray says...

    Yes! I loved this.

  46. Maggie says...

    After college, my brother worked at a popular coffee shop in SF. Alllllll the time, people would see him out in the world, look at him too long, realize who he was, and say hello. A minor celebrity :)

  47. Carly says...

    YES YES THIS IS SO SPOT ON! Mind blown right now thinking if I’m someone’s not-so-stranger….

  48. Becca says...

    I live across from Shrill Debbie, who I’ve never spoken to but whose life I know so much about because she is so shrill! Mr. Shrill Debbie, her husband, is also shrill. I can hear them shrieking to each other about groceries with all the windows closed. I can’t stand them but I suspect I’ll miss them when I move out.

    • Krista says...

      How amazing that hey found each other!

  49. Erin says...

    I’m certain we are all the not-so-strangers in other people’s lives!

    Growing up, I worked as a Sandwich Artist at Subway. I went away to college and my freshman year I was walking on campus when someone rode by on their bicycle and yelled “Subway Sandwiches! Cedar Falls!”. I was stunned.

    Fast forward a few years. I was in pharmacy school when an upperclassman (perhaps the same guy?) stopped me on the stairs and said, “I know this sounds weird, but I have a photo of you holding my sandwich.” He went on to explain that he had done his undergrad in my home town, and one day after Spring Break, he was trying to use up the last few photos in his disposable camera and thought it was funny to have the Subway Girl pose with his sandwich. I’ve never felt more famous before or since. . .

  50. Anna says...

    Cecil and David were not-so-strangers to thousands of people in their neighborhood. I didn’t know them and am in a way surprised by that because I lived there for years and still take my kids to school there.

  51. Corina says...

    Oh, what a beautiful topic! Unfortunately, I don’t have not-so-strangers since I drive to work from somewhere outside the city I live in and then use side streets to get to work. But I do have two dogs that I see every day. One on my way to work in the morning and the other on my way home in the afternoon. Ha! they bring me so much joy seeing them (they are stray dogs but it is clear that some folks take care of them) and I always break my neck looking after them if I don’t see them one day. I always greet them loud in my car in my best Joey voice: “How you doin’?”

  52. Melissa says...

    I’m a barista at Starbucks just down the street from my condo. So my sphere of existence is pretty small most days. When my boyfriend and I are out for walks with the dog I often see customers and will say to him “that’s Rowena, she gets an unsweetened venti iced coffee with nonfat milk”, or “that’s Evelyn, she gets a grand rev up tea, one bag in one bag out with a stevia and an inch of steamed nonfat milk”, or “I don’t know his name, but he gets an upside-down americano”. It drives him crazy but I can’t help myself.

    Sometimes I’ll make eye contact or go to say hi, and I see a sense of recognition in their face but of the kind that I know “they know me from somewhere but can’t quite place where”, so I leave it be.

    Just this morning I was chatting wth a customer as I was on the bar, and he told me he saw me as a customer the other day and thought “I know that girl from somewhere, she’s so familiar!” but couldn’t figure it out. I must have been on my break, but it’s so funny how I just being on the other side of the counter makes such a big difference for people. Context I guess.

    • agnes says...

      I’m totally foreign to starbucks and I don’t know what the names of the beverages refer to but they seem to come out of a child’s book or a bit surrealistic. I love your story.

  53. I had a not-so-stranger in my Columbus, OH neighborhood when I was 22. He was maybe 50, on the handsome end of average-looking, with a kind face. Sometimes I’d be running late for work, and take the bus instead of walk – we’d wait in comfortable, friendly silence, him nodding at me as I approached with his earbuds in and professional backpack over one shoulder. It’s rare to spend moments alone with a strange man and feel at ease, but I did with him. I sort of had a crush, the kind you have on a teacher when you’re 13.

    But then one day I ruined it. I saw him at a neighborhood bar, where I was grabbing dinner with my then boyfriend (now husband). I took the opportunity of finishing my third drink to go stand at the bar right by his stool – and proceeded to make some of the most uncomfortable, one-sided small talk of my life. I felt so young and silly and suddenly not just buzzed but maybe tipsy? Or even borderline drunk? And he was nice but not making much eye contact, and when he did, it was sort of wide-eyed and confused, like “why are you doing this?”

    After that every time I saw him I was embarrassed, not because anything I had said was so bad in and of itself, but because I had been foolish enough to burst the lovely quiet bubble of our mutual strangeness, and revealed myself to be an disappointingly ordinary. Because that’s part of the romance of the not-so-stranger: the idea that they wonder about you too, that they see you and make up stories about you, and think *you’re* mysterious and intriguing.

    • Nicole says...

      This is so poniant and perfectly illustrates the beauty of these relationships. Oh how we romanticize that other person’s life and how crushing to find that they were ordinary the entire time.

  54. Helga Thomsen says...

    Carolyn is becoming my favorite writer along with Jane Austen and Dorothy Parker.

  55. Sarah says...

    The comments for this post had me laughing and crying, all at the same time. I don’t know when I’ve ever read so many (even saving them as a treat to come back to!!) or enjoyed them this much. Thank you, thank you for this reminder of the beauty that can be found in life and the people around us.

    • Liv says...

      Haha, same – I was reading these on the subway home last night and kept bursting out laughing to myself!

  56. Kristen F says...

    My not so strangers were a pair of ladies that would walk past me and my dog every morning for three years. They walked slowly, but smiled and always said how cute my little dog was. You could tell they were best friends, maybe sisters. My heart broke one morning when I only saw one and it was only a matter of weeks that I no longer saw her. I found their obituaries in the local newspaper and it hit me harder than I ever thought a “stranger’s” death would. I always smile when I think of them, they were always so happy and you could tell they cherished each other and their time together every morning. They’re a reminder to be a happy stranger to everyone, you’d be surprised how just a smile can turn someone’s day around.

    • Jay says...

      This reminded me of my own no-so-stranger stranger. We met over college spring break; I with my best girlfriends on break, he with his best guy friends. We met early in the break and ended up hanging out all week (drinking, dancing, drunken dance-floor make out sessions, just being 21 in general) and once break was over we all became Facebook friends with one another and followed each other’s lives from a distance. A year later, I was in his home city for NYE and we messaged back and forth briefly. Another 6 months later, I log onto Facebook and see all the other guys had posted-my no-so-stranger stranger had passed away very unexpectedly. Like you, it hit me harder than most people would say it should have but I could tell in the brief time we knew each other he was genuinely, a fun, funny, solid guy and was heartbroken that more people didn’t get to experience that. Even now they do an annual fundraiser in his honor and I always wonder if it would be weird if I donated anonymously.

  57. Amina Carter says...

    For years there were two ladies who I’d see, without fail, at the mall each time I’d go. Regardless of what time of day, day of the week or month of the year I’d venture in, they would be there at the same high top table in the center of mall. But then this past Christmas I went in and they were gone! I found myself looking around for them in different parts of the mall. I started hypothesizing: Did they go to ANOTHER mall? Did they simply get sick of the chaos? Or worse- did something happen to them? I talked obsessively about it to my husband, who finally (rationally) said to me: “what if they are just at home?”

  58. Mouse says...

    This only happens in cities. I used to love this aspect of living in NYC. Now I live in deepest rural Maine, and there are no strangers—only people you haven’t met yet, and will be sorry you met after the next town meeting!!

    • M says...

      Yes! I live in Maine too. I’ve so enjoyed reading this article and all the comments – it has made me miss urban life! As my husband and I went through our list of not-so-strangers last night we realized that between school and work and simply living in a small town for more than a decade, over time many of our not-so-strangers have turned out to be a friend’s cousin, or a kid’s coach/teacher/friend’s parent or a co-worker’s spouse or something like that. Maine is a small town!

    • Sarah says...

      Heyy! Just a shout out from another reader in the Maine woods. Look at this way: Summer’s coming. (I think.) Maybe we’ll find a not-so-stranger in a summer vacationer? ;) xo

  59. Tilly says...

    Myself and my kids used to play a game walking to school where you could score points for spotting not-so-strangers! Like the really old woman with the walking stick (Candy Cane) or the old woman walking her dog (Madame Pooch), etc. We started exchanging “good morning”s with Madame Pooch and she stopped to tell us one morning that her husband was sick and then continued to give us updates over the following months until he died. I don’t walk them to school anymore, but they still see Madame Pooch and Pooch every day.

    • Samara says...

      I can’t believe I’m reading this – my ex and I used to do exactly the same thing! We called it Commute Bingo as we used to drive one and a half hours to work and back each day together. We gave nicknames to certain joggers, people waiting for the bus, particular cars we’d always pass. Even spotting a certain number of pelicans perched on light posts would score a certain amount of points. Small world, big hearts.

  60. Karly says...

    There’s a woman who takes the same bus to work as me (in London) – not every day, but often enough. She has a lovely red coat, always grabs a Metro on her way up to the top deck, and usually does her makeup on the bus. One time, she got a phone call and I discovered that she’s French – it was so exciting to fill in another detail about her! We never make eye contact, but she must know me too. I always wonder what she thinks of me… I’m changing jobs in a few weeks and will have an earlier commute – I wonder if I will still see her around? We clearly live nearby but I’ve never seen her outside of the morning bus commute… What a strange thing it is.

  61. SFord says...

    This rings a bell.

    I walk my dog regularly and always see the same dog walkers. I know the names of their dogs (and they know the name of mine) but I don’t know their names! Maybe its a British thing – we say hello and talk about our dogs but don’t introduce ourselves!!

    • Christine says...

      Not just a British thing! There are so many people in our neighborhood that I only know as “[dog’s name]’s mom” or [dog’s name]’s dad”! And sometimes I think that’s weird and that we should learn more about each other, seeing as we encounter each other daily and all that, and other times I think that knowing about our dogs is enough simply because we love our dogs that much!

    • Definitely not a British thing. I live in a pet-friendly apt building in the US and only know people by their dog. I read an article once about all the ways losing a pet can devastate a person and only being known to your neighbors by your dog is one of them. All of a sudden you are “no one” to these people. It can be very isolating. I never thought of it that way!

  62. Dee Nargi says...

    You are remarkable Caroline. Don’t ever stop writing. I love this and all of your writing.

  63. Tanya says...

    I walk my son a mile to school each morning, up a hill. There is another mother who walks her son to school down the hill. I can always judge how early/late we are based on where we pass them

  64. Sally says...

    I like to go out for a coffee every Saturday morning at my local coffee shop, usually just as it’s opening at 8:30. I take a book and I linger. It’s lovely.
    I always arrive at roughly the same time as a man, who is maybe in his late-50s. He is always wearing the same dark grey raincoat, with a brown collar, regardless of the weather, and always brings his own reusable coffee cup. He always orders a flat white. He then sits in the same seat, at the back of the shop, and then talks quietly on his phone the entire time. He always has a little smile on his face as he talks. He has that soft look of someone who is talking to someone he loves. I like to imagine he’s talking to his daughter, or a grand-child.
    I like to think that, like it is for me, his Saturday morning coffee is one of the highlights of his week. Plus, he gets to talk to someone he loves.
    Next time I see him, I’m going to give him a smile.

    • Venn says...

      I love this. I go to the same coffee shop every morning to get a takeaway cappuccino on my walk to work, the girls behind the counter recognise me immediately, but ask daily “Large cappuccino, one sugar?” “Yes please”, as I swipe my contactless card and wait 30 seconds for my coffee. I am ashamed that I have never once asked for their names, but after reading this, I am inspired to have the courage to be a little bit more social.

  65. There’s an older man who is on the same bus very often. He wears a beret and amazing sunglasses. We’ve never spoken, but I always feel like we acknowledge each other silently. My style inspiration.

  66. Lindsey says...

    I love the color and humanity this concept – and these people – provide our lives.

    About a decade ago my husband and I were newlyweds in a new city. We were doing a lot of exploring of our new home and didn’t know a lot of people when we started to notice our ‘best friends’. We each had these people that we continued to see all over town. Not just in one specific place but in many places. It was obvious that we had similar interests and tastes. My ‘best friend’ was about 10 years older and turned out to be the Executive Director at the Contemporary Art Museum. My husbands ‘best friends’ were a very active and very cosmopolitan couple in their 80s we called the Browne’s. It was always such a thrill to see them out – especially at a new location. The more offbeat the locale, the more excitement! One night we went to a roller-derby match and saw all of them there!

    At one point I decided enough was enough and said I was going to walk up and talk to my ‘best friend’. With pleading, puppy-dog eyes my husband begged, “No! Please don’t break the imaginary wall and ruin the magic!” It melted me and I quickly went back behind the imaginary wall and into the imaginary world that we had created with these ‘best friends’ of ours. It has been 10+ years and we have moved three times since then but I still think about our ‘best friends’.

  67. Laura Farrar says...

    The ‘Walking Man’ walks past our house twice a day towards and around the park at the end of our street. He is not a commuter, it is merely that he takes this walk twice a day, every day. My children and I refer to him as ‘the Walking Man’, as although we swap pleasantries if we see him while we are in our yard, getting into our car, going about our daily lives or at the park ourselves, we have never asked him his name. Sometimes I feel we should. But then, last week when my 4 and a half year old said so excitedly while walking down to the park ourselves, “Look, there’s the Walking Man. Hello Walking Man”, and he smiled and waved back at us, I thought, no, it is right that this is how we know him. We talk about him and about what he might have done for the rest of his day, what he might be doing, what he might be reading or whether he prefers watching the squirrels or the geese at the park. I wonder also what he thinks about as he walks this same route. Do you know that scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant is walking through the market as the seasons change around him? I wonder if Walking Man feels like that. He’s seen me walk to and from the park with a baby bump, then a baby wrap or carrier, then a stroller, then pushing a tricycle, then chasing a balance bike while pushing another stroller and now chasing a bike while pushing a tricycle. Outwardly to us he appears unchanged – he has worn the same coat for the past five years and wears one of two hats, depending on the weather – but I wonder what has changed in those years for him. I feel like Walking Man and his ‘story’ will be the subject of my first novel.

  68. Jenny P says...

    Caroline you’ve done it again! I knew this quirky, fun post had to be yours after I read the first paragraph. I often pass the same man in the foyer of the office block where I work. I know his name and why he left his previous job. He’s a semi famous, not so stranger who once was a politician. I still catch myself thinking I know him, before I remember his public past.

  69. C says...

    My 13 yr old son and I sat together on the couch reading these stories. We talked about our shared ‘not so stranger’ and then he told me about his on the bus ride home who looks like Robin Williams and always gets off at fred meyers. I love that we laughed and shed some tears together and that he now realizes he may be someone elses ‘not so stranger’.

  70. Sister says...

    I shop at thrift stores… fairly obessed with it actually. For many years an older gentleman and I would cross paths every couple of weeks. He was tall and had beautiful skin. He was always shopping in the ladies section. I noted that he liked silky and glorious water colored fabrics. One day quite by accident while looking for vintage slips, we actually had eye contact, he was shopping for robes. All of the years of not-so-stranger crossings I had made up stories of him shopping for a elderly mother or and ill wife. At that very moment I realized he was shopping for himself. I felt a little like knew a secret he did not choose to tell me. It was so so odd! I only saw him one time since then. His skin was still so lovely!

  71. When I lived in Vancouver BC, I’d bike-commute everyday. While I (gratefully) remained mostly entirely anonymous, there was a woman who also rode the same path I did, and while we may have only waved to each other once or twice, I realized seeing even one not-so-strange face was appreciated and really grounding.

  72. Diana says...

    In San Francisco, there is this man who has been doing like, step aerobics in adorbs retro workout clothes outside his apartment (where Market turns into Portola, like twin peaks neighborhood I guess) on the weekends since my husband was a kid. I haven’t seen him in a while, I hope he hasn’t lost his rent control or something. He must be the not-so-stranger to thousands of people at this point. Also, I’ve seen him a LOT over the years and I don’t drive that street *that* often- does he do step aerobics for like 4 hours a day? So many questions.

    On another note, I think about how the not-so-strangers in our lives are so often the elderly, who are also often isolated. This post has inspired me to introduce myself to some of the older folks I see in my neighborhood. I can only imagine that sense people are looking out for you in the community gets more important as you age.

    • Megan says...

      This almost made me cry! My grandparents live in a small town in New Hampshire and are 90 and 96. They know everyone who walks by their house and every cashier etc. It does mean so much to the elderly to have these touchpoints and be acknowledged. They’re very lucky they’re real friends with so many people in their community but I always think about how there must be so many more folks whose only interaction is with the people who walk by.

  73. Kelly says...

    Also, when I was in middle school, I used to pass the same boy on my walk from home school every day and had a huge crush on him, but we never talked to each other. Then one day, after we passed each other, he threw a snow ball at my back, and when I turned around he was giving me a sly smile and walked away. Heart throb!!

  74. Mallory says...

    I’m not sure if your comments allow links—but Google “Sonder video” and click on the link that says “Sonder: The Realization That Everyone Has A Story – YouTube.” It’s an awesome, really cool video that has stuck with me for years and this post reminded me of it.

    • Susan Young says...

      Mallory thank you for bringing this to my attention – very insightful. I have actually subscribed to the youtube channel.

  75. Kelly says...

    I’ve started noticing an old man who frequents my same neighborhood coffee spot. He’s hunched over, shuffles along with a cane, and orders a cup of earl grey tea and a piece of cake every day. He sits at a table and reads the newspaper apparently his name is Bill. I think I have an old man crush on him.

  76. Molly K says...

    One day in college I was walking to class and this guy coming toward me looked right at me with his whole face lit up with recognition and hollered, “Hey, girl!!” And I managed a smile back and said, “Oh, hi!!” And after we passed each other I thought to myself, “Who the HECK was that?!” And I still don’t know if he mistook me for someone else or if I was his not-so-stranger.

  77. Hannah says...

    I feel this way about the houses in my neighborhood. I live in Richmond’s 150 year old Church Hill, and every night I take my dog for a long walk through the neighborhood and say a silent hello to all of my favorite houses—the basement window filled with blossoming paper whites, the carriage house that blasts Stevie Nicks out of its open windows, the old ship captain’s estate.. My neighbors and I are all just passing through. But these houses? They’ll probably be here for another 150 years, witnessing births, deaths and all of the messy life that happens in between.

    • Lisa says...

      Ha! Fellow RVA resident here. I was scrolling through the comments and saw Church Hill! There are some great places in Church Hill. I used to feel this way about the Fan too.

  78. Twyla says...

    My not so stranger is a semi-handsome, slightly uptight/nervous man who lives in our condo complex. He and I leave the house every morning for work at 7:30, and he will always say hello. For years he drove a noisy gold Volvo and when I could hear his car starting while still in bed I knew I was very late. He goes to Tim Hortons (Canadians will know) every single day for coffee, even on the weekends. I notice when he’s away all weekend, or when he gets home very late st night. Once his car didn’t move for a whole week (I knew because the snow piled up on it), and was worried. I have a bit of a stranger-crush on him and enjoy our extremely brief encounters, but never want to burst the bubble by finding out too much about him.

  79. MM says...

    When I was living on the UES, I’d go for a run in Central Park early every morning before work. In the summers, when I was running back to my apartment all sweaty, the doormen would be hosing down the entranceways. One day, one of the doormen held his hose in the air, creating a sprinkler for me to run through. I was so delighted that I couldn’y help laughing and holding out my arms as I ran underneath!!! And then it became a daily summer tradition, and I always made sure to pass his building on my way home.

    • Tovah says...

      OH i miss living in New York so much!!!

    • Susan Young says...

      I love this! NYC is the best.

    • Jill says...

      Yes! This! I still think about this story often even though I heard it years ago. Incredibly moving.

    • b says...

      I am obsessed with this episode and revisit it every once in a while as an indulgence.

    • judith says...

      Okay, twenty-three minutes later, I see what you mean. What a haunting story. Thanks for the link.

  80. caitlin says...

    Working as a barista, I have tons of these not-so-strangers. There’s small black coffee with coconut milk nice dad guy, large coffee with lots of room business lady, and the pretty ingratiating high-maintenance bro with a quad shot iced latte and half of one shot on the side.

    My favorite part of being a barista is having the chance to know a little more about these not-so-strangers. Just from their time in the shop, I know about their hip surgeries, their new babies, their PHD graduations, and even about their dads’ passing away. These small connections can be such a joy, a nice reminder of the highs and low we all have.

  81. Hayley says...

    Squatty and Cool Guy, the loving names we bestowed upon a neighbor and his friend. We would see them out working on their cars and make up stories about what they do. One day Cool Guy pulled up to the window at the drive thru I worked at and I was so star struck seeing him up close and I almost blurred out “COOL GUY!!!” But caught myself before I said it out loud! Squatty would come through the drive thru more often and it took all the self control I had not to say “Squatty how are you fiend?!” Hahaha! This article so perfectly captured such a real thing. I HAVE ALWAYS WONDERED IF I WAS SOMEONE ELSES NOT SO STRANGER

  82. Ellen says...

    I once learned I was someone else’s not so stranger. Some time after making a new friend, she introduced me to her husband. He recognized me immediately as someone he had seen many times given that we worked in the same vicinity. He admitted that he had names for all his not so strangers. Mine was “compassion face.” He said I always walked around with such a compassionate look on my face. Hilarious!

    • Carrie says...

      How lovely that he thought you seemed compassionate! That sounds like a wonderful compliment.

  83. Tessa says...

    There’s an elderly couple living in the apartment building across from us. We watch them tend to their plants, eat supper, babysit their grandchildren and watch tv. When I hadn’t seen the wife for a month, I was worried sick!

    One day shortly after I had given birth to my son, we were walking down the street and came across them. Both of their faces lit up like grandparents seeing their grandbaby for the first time! Then I realized that they had probably been watching me grow bigger with each month, bouncing on my exercise ball while watching tv, taking pictures of my husband while he set up the nursery, then eventually bringing that sweet baby home. As I type this, the old man lays on the couch watching tv and everything feels just right.

    • Peggy R says...

      I love this so much! What a beautiful story Tessa!
      Reminds me of the Cheevers. My husband and I used to live across (backyard across, what is that called?) from who we called “The Cheevers” (always said in a British accent). Our back windows faced the back of their brownstone, which had been renovated so their back windows were enormous and fish-bowl like. They were ALWAYS (the whole family, mom, dad, two kids) sitting in their large, beautiful living room watching a huge tv but all also on devices of some sort (laptop, phone, ipad). We’d casually look out our back windows and be like, “how are the Cheevers doing today? A bit of screen time is it?” (more British accent). We used to make up stories about what they were each looking at on their devices. “Oh, Mrs. Cheever is looking up the lyrics to I’m on Fire and Mr. Cheever is googling how to grow a thicker beard.” The stories got more and more elaborate. We moved a year ago and honestly we quite miss the old Cheever family. (Note that we are highly guilty of excess screen time, so while we were being mock judgmental, we loved the Cheevers in part because we are just like the Cheevers).

  84. Meg says...

    I once befriended a not-so-stranger. While in graduate school, I had been teaching a summer course at the university, and all month we took bus #18 to campus. If David was at the stop, I knew I was on time. In fact, that’s how we met. One day, I ran around the corner and didn’t see him. This meant I had missed my bus. But then, David walks out of the shadows and I blurted out, “I’m so glad to see you! You’re my marker for whether I’m late!” David laughed a Canadian, polite laugh and wore Birkenstocks.

    Thus began our ephemeral friendship. I eventually would arrive at the bus stop early just to talk to him. And since Austin public transportation is never crowded, I’d sit in the handicapped seats next to him so he wouldn’t have to strain his ears. I began walking to his building via the long route to mine, and on the last day of classes, we realized we’d probably never see each other again. So he gave me his card, from which I learn his last name.

    Naturally, I Wikipedia him. And I learned that he and his first wife Assia had rented a London flat from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (yes, that Sylvia Plath). It seems that move prompted an affair: David’s Assia was pregnant with Ted Hughes’ child at the time of Sylvia Plath’s suicide. Somehow, David failed to mention that in all our mornings of conversation.

    • Megan says...

      He was my poetry professor!! We all knew his back story but of course he never mentioned any of it.
      His class was amazing btw. I graduated in 2007 so doubtful he’s still teaching

  85. Michaela says...

    This post and all the comments are so, so delightful! Now I’m thinking of all my not-so-strangers. There, of course, are the people who catch the bus at the same time as me every day, and the grocery store cashiers I see around our neighborhood, but the person I always want to know more about is the (already!) 6-foot-5 man who not only wears platform lace-up boots, but also a top hat!! There is usually some sort of very Victorian overcoat as well. He’s just such a presence! Surely he must know he’s the entire city’s “toweringly tall steampunk fanatic” not-so-stranger. I’ve only seen him a handful of times on a bus route by my house that I rarely use, but it always feels like I’ve just spotted a celebrity.

    • Dee says...

      Haha this. I used to live in a heighbourhood that had a similar ‘celebrity’ character. This guy carried an enormous white rabbit and was often shirtless. He rode a particular bus route often and if I saw him I would always message my love. When social media exploded he got his own Facebook group!

  86. I love this! These not-so-strangers certainly make a big city (I live in LA) seem a lot smaller, like we really are a part of a community. And as someone who thrives on routine (and sometimes gets teased about it), I love knowing that I’m not the only one out there who shows up at the same place, same time every day, to do the same thing that ignites some sense of grounding in this uncertain life :)

  87. Allie says...

    I recently met someone from my neighborhood at an adult gathering. We looked at each other in kind of a familiar way and she said, “green stroller?” And I said, “blue stroller?”

    • Emma says...

      This is perfection.

  88. Estella says...

    I walk past this tall, unsmiling, bespectacled man, sitting on the metal railing, taking his morning smoke almost everyday on my way to work. Sometimes he carries a backpack, sometimes he carries a pouch. Sometimes we make eye contact, sometimes we don’t. Almost all the time he holds a venti Starbucks in his hand. Last Christmas I got him a Starbucks card. Sadly, I never plucked up the courage to give him the card (I did spend a fair amount of time thinking of what I should say/write on the card though!). Now, I don’t see him anymore. Still, I find myself looking to see if Starbucks Guy makes his reappearance.

  89. Rachel says...

    Found myself on the SF Muni and as I pulled out my latest knitting project, the older gentleman sitting next to me, whom I had never seen before, exclaimed, “knitting, knitting, ALWAYS knitting! I see you here at 6 in the morning! and at 6 at night! What ARE you knitting?!”. I broke into to a huge smile – “socks!”

    • Calliie says...

      I love this! It made ME break out into a huge smile reading it!

  90. Katie says...

    When I worked at a shoe store in my little downtown, a tall broad-shouldered man in a suit and cowboy boots would stomp around my store on his lunch break. He would pass me on my own lunch break, while I sat on a bench outside the courthouse. I assumed he was a lawyer. I always thought him arrogant, with his loud, purposeful stride and leather folio. Yet he was so handsome, I always hoped he would would say hi.

  91. Sandra says...

    Awww…this is what I miss about living in a big city (Chicago). I had so many no-so strangers there in various apartment buildings an on my commute to work (Walking Man!). Now I’m in a TINY ‘burb where everyone knows each other. Our only not-so stranger is Red Coat Lady who walks down our street (no sidewalks here) every day right about the same time I leave to take my son to school. She’s an older lady and I”m so impressed she is out there doing her morning walk like clockwork, and rain or shine. I tried to say hi once when I saw her at the library, but she didn’t seem to want any part of that. So at least I have one not-so stranger left in in this town.

    • mk says...

      Sandra – I live in Chicago and was going to comment on Walking Man. Gentleman in his 70’s, slim build with a beard, in the warm weather he loses his shirt and always wears shorts, and you see him in so many random neighborhoods, to the point that you’re like how is he here?!?! – could this be the same Walking Man?

    • Sandra says...

      Hmmm…I wonder if it is the same guy? I was talking about this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jhv3mj1UUKU (also known as Michigan Avenue Yanni). I’ve been seeing him since I moved to the city in the 90s, and it was always so comforting to see a familiar face. There was a newspaper article about him a few years ago after he was attacked so finally got to learn his backstory. I saw him over Thanksgiving (his hair is gray now) and he seems to have recovered and is doing well.

  92. susan says...

    There is a book called Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlife. It offers different takes on what the afterlife might be. In one of the stories, your afterlife is populated with people you knew in some way in your prior life, including the background players or “not so strange strangers”. A fascinating extension of this idea…..

  93. Amy says...

    There is an older man who sits on his porch during rush hour. Every day it’s above 40 degrees and his only goal is to wave and if your window is down yell “have a GREAT DAY!” Our town has had news stories about him. He is HUNDREDS of people’s not -so-stranger. He makes me insanely happy and my children discuss if we will see him or not. I have a desire to bring him donuts and chat but I’ve yet to bring up the courage. His name is Vern and he is FANTASTIC even if I’ve only SCREAMED “You too!” At him from my car window. My children call him “you too”. I agree it’s a form of love.

    • T says...

      Please please do it! Vern has the courage to look foolish to some to make you happy, be brave! Pay it forward!

    • Lara says...

      We had a similar story with a man in my city. For decades he stayed in the same busy square during the evening rush hour, waving people goodbye and smiling at them. When he died, everybody felt that life in the city had lost some of it’s poetry.

  94. So, I have the wildest story about not-so-strangers on a train – from a documentary on the “Dead Letter Office” in Australia, i.e. the office where all the un-deliverable letters go, that people send (unstamped letters to Santa, etc). Apparently, it’s very common for them to get a ton of long love letters, with no stamp and no clear address – the theorize that it’s just a way people get unrequited love off their chest.

    ANYWAY – this guy sends some nuts 20+ page letter and addresses it, unstamped, very specifically to a woman who gets on a certain train, every morning, and sits in this seat in this carriage etc. The train he described leaves from Victoria Station, which is a major train station that happened to be right next to where the Dead Letter Office is in Melbourne.

    As he was so specific about this woman on the train, on a whim, the women who worked at the office decided to tape the letter up on the exact train and carriage where she supposedly sat every morning – and would you believe she found it, read it, wrote back to his return address and they ended up getting married!

    I can’t for the life of me find this anywhere on the internet, so there’s no way I’ll ever be able to verify I’m remembering this all correctly, but I’m going with it’s true :)

    • Claire says...

      I love this story and hope too it’s true :)

    • Venn says...

      OH MY GOD I have the biggest smile on my face reading this! This is incredible!

  95. Ashley says...

    Caroline I’m pretty sure I used to see you all the time in my gym actually! I was never 100% sure but I think you used to take the workout class before mine and I would always debate saying hi to see if it was actually you but never did. And then I moved into Manhattan and so that was that but I always wondered if it was you haha

  96. madeleine says...

    my friend ended up having a child with her not-so-stranger! they one day introduced themselves, fell in love, built a house, had a baby. we are all just playing parts in each other’s stories :)

  97. I write about this every so often on Instagram! The woman at the coffee shop where I pick up a blueberry muffin before work, the three bus drivers who are on shift during my commute, etc. Being someone’s not-so-stranger kind of gives me the creeps though, ha!

  98. Angela says...

    I love this topic. Most of my not-so-strangers are regulars in my Zumba class. When one stops coming, I worry a little! I was just thinking yesterday, “if I ever cancel my membership, I’ll make an announcement to the class so no one is concerned.” My other not-so-strangers are at work – my company is large enough that you see the same people everyday for years at lunch but might not meet them until you interact unexpectedly.

  99. My husband and I used to live on the east side of Providence and walked all the time on a nearby boulevard. After a while we started seeing an older woman walking a gorgeous terrier. He always seemed so upright and proper (how do terriers do that?), so we called him Captain Lawrence after a book character we loved. Lo and behold, one day we ended up walking a few paces behind them, and it turned out Captain Lawrence lived on our street! After that I always felt like saying “I know that dog! He lives on our street!” like he was some kind of celebrity.

    • Tracey says...

      My pilates teacher was relaying a second-hand story to me about a dog and as she went on I was finding it weirdly familiar. Then it hit me! She’s talking about my dog! He’s quite a charmer and has become quite famous around my suburb.

  100. Renae says...

    My college friend called these people her “hey buddies.” You see them, say hey (aloud or in your head) and keep walking. Until next time, hey buddy.

  101. Anna says...

    I was raised by my dad, so my childhood centered around attending minor-league sporting events in my hometown. The minor leagues attract some interesting regulars in the stands, including a group led by a guy bearing an unfortunate resemblance to Charles Manson. Over the years, across various sports, my dad and I would see “Charles” and his crew shuffle past our section, and we would knowingly nudge each other. It was something I never really even thought twice about until after my dad passed away a few years ago, and I found myself at a game with my husband struggling to explain the significance of the seemingly random group of fans I was fixated on.

  102. Erin says...

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

    WAIT a minute – it never occurred to me that I might not be a not-so-stranger to my not-so-strangers. I always assumed it was mutual. This is boggling.

    • Eliza says...

      Almost day for 7 years I walked on the same trail with my dog, then my dog and my baby, then my dog and a toddler and a baby, then back to the dog and one toddler while the older was in school, then both kids in school and it was just the me and the dog, then I fell into a depressive funk and haven’t been able to bring myself to walk very much and I wonder if the “trail people” notice I am no longer a fellow trail person.

    • Masa says...

      Yes! :-)))

    • SB says...

      SAME. I do try to catch my not-so-strangers eyes’ frequently, to exchange a smile or a nod, hoping that we see each other as in this together. (Altho maybe not you, nail clipping guy)

  103. Caroline says...

    I frequently take clients to a certain bar near my office. I’m there probably 3 times a month and the same dreamy bar back is working every time.

    A few weeks ago I was walking my dog and a guy my age stopped to pet her. When he looked up to say something I realized it was Dreamy Bar back. I literally yelled OMG you work at X Bar. He was kind of startled and then said oh yeah you’re that girl that goes on so many dates!

    • Jess. says...

      Is there a sequel to this movie?!

    • Nikki says...

      I 💗this!! And Jess, your comment literally made me laugh out loud!!

  104. Kate says...

    When I first moved to Chicago 8 years ago, I used to walk about a mile home from work when it was nice out. I took the same path directly up State Street. There was a door man at the Dana Hotel with amazingly cool dreadlocks. Everyday he would wave to me, everyday I would wave to him. And then FINALLY we exchanged names. Ceasar, a fittingly cool name for him. I move a year later and no longer walked home from work.

    Fast forward 5 years, and I’m leaving the airport. My Uber driver picks me up and drives me home. As I’m getting out of the car and he’s getting my suitcase out of the trunk, he says… “Were you the girl that used to walk by Dana Hotel every day for two years?” And I screamed, “CEASAR!!!!”

    Smallest world. I love it.

    • molly says...

      Ohmygosh, I love it!! That’s so sweet & so incredible:)

    • Rachel says...

      Oh my god this comment almost made me cry

    • JennP says...

      Love this!

    • Una says...

      THIS just made my evening :)

    • Rebecca says...

      I absolutely LOVE this story!

  105. When we were first married my husband and I would run along the West Side highway most mornings. We always passed two men running in the opposite direction and would say hello as we passed. We made up names and back stories for them. One year we were away for a month and on our first run back as they passed us one of them yelled plaintively, “You didn’t even leave a note!”

    • molly says...

      Too cute!!

    • HAHAHAH! This made me laugh out loud, I love that they did that. You have great not-so-strangers.

    • Sweetie Pie says...

      Love this – hahh!

    • Madge says...

      Love this. I go for a walk most weekday mornings and pass two older men going the opposite direction to me. After awhile we started waving and saying good morning. Over summer I started walking earlier due to the earlier sunrise and so hadn’t cross paths with them in awhile. When I finally saw them again one of them stopped me and said “we thought you got lost!”
      Now I know them by name and often stop for a chat :)

  106. Amanda says...

    My heart just busted open with so much love for humanity–how lucky and amazing are we?

    • molly says...

      Right?! I felt exactly the same way reading this! Absolutely precious. xo

  107. Oh my gosh! “Red shorts!” – my best friend goes to the gym every day and has with gripping detail shared with me the myriad “not-so-strangers” that frequent the Equinox in Williamsburg. Whenever I come to visit her, she invites me as a guest (because Equinox is an amazing spa!) I can’t help but wanting to say, “Oh my gosh, “red shorts!” “girl who looks like me but with a slightly different body!” I’ve heard SOOOOOOOO much about you, so nice to finally meet you!”

  108. Lindsay says...

    Ha! Great post! My husband and I have ‘the smoking lady’ we pass on our way to work. As soon as she takes a puff on her cigarette she brings her hand down and right back up again. Just last week a girl from my barre classes came up to me and told me she was that person frantically waiving at me during an NBA game we were at. Until this story, I didn’t realize *I* could be someone’s not-so-stranger.

  109. Elaine says...

    What a beautiful way to generate storytelling. Loved your post and the comments. Thank you.

  110. Rae says...

    I swim in the mornings and I live in a fairly small town. Seeing these people on the street that I “know” from the pool, without caps and fully clothed, is always interesting. There is a group of three men that swim in the mornings from 6:15-6:45 every M-W-F. Two are father and son, and I haven’t worked out how the third is related to them. Perhaps he’s just a friend. They get in and swim really fast for a half an hour, and then they get out. It’s comforting and inspiring to see them in the mornings, these not-so-strangers. I loved this post! Thank you!

    • Sally says...

      My mum swims every week at the same time, in a little local pool, and has got to know the regulars.
      I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been with her, when she’s suddenly marched up to someone on the street and said, “Hi! I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on!”

  111. Jenny says...

    I call them “extras in the story of my life.”

    • I love this!

    • sarah says...

      just perfect

    • Claudia says...

      Me too! And then I realized I too am an extra in someone’s story of their life. *mind blown*

  112. Anneliese says...

    Can a dog be my not-so-stranger? My office window overlooks the backyard of the house next door. I see one of the tenants everyday while he lets his dogs out. I know his dogs names and their quirks. One day I was walking my own dog and he was driving by and stopped and asked me about my dog. He then told me a little about his dogs and I had to fight the urge to say “Oh yes, I know all about Zoey!”

    • Elise says...

      Yes! I have a neighbor dog that I look for in his window as I drive past every day. One time I saw him in public with his humans and finally got to pet him – he was very familiar to me but his owners had no idea!

  113. Mishka says...

    I’ve only seen my not-so-stranger twice , but it’s safe to say that he’s changed me. I first saw him at the entrance to a Disney park, clearly well into his 80s, alone, wearing a Disney character t-shirt (tucked into his khakis no less!), hunched backed and walking with a cane. I imagined that he was alone because his family was busy buying tickets (fearful that he was actually there alone- too sad to consider!). More than a year later, I visited Disney again, and there was my not-so-stranger, tucked t-shirt, khakis and cane. There was no denying that he was there alone, which at first broke my heart. But then it hit me — he was visiting Disney World alone, but he was OUT, enjoying life. What a lesson! It still brings me comfort to think that no matter the circumstance, I will always have it in my power to find ways to enjoy living.

    • Callie Michelle says...

      I love this! It would’ve hurt my heart, too. What a lovely memory to have.

    • b says...

      I love this. There is so much power in doing things by yourself. And doing Disney alone – imagine going on whatever rides you want, seeing whatever parades you want, wandering the shops at your leisure. There’s something freeing in that.

  114. Emmie says...

    My husband and I came up with a word for these people, kindred strangers.

    • Terry says...

      Love this term you guys invented! It is a comfort to see these same faces, even though we may never speak.

  115. Angie says...

    Years ago I (foolishly) moved to Las Vegas with my boyfriend, who worked all the time. I worked from home and was horribly isolated and depressed. These not-so-strangers could easily make or break my day. Did they smile and nod, or was it a scowl? It put so much power on a second’s passing.

  116. Polyana says...

    About 10 years ago, I would ride the train to work, and there was always this guy in the same train car as me, who was SO handsome. We would exchange glances every morning, and I would call him “Train Boy,” as I gushed about this random cute boy, to my friends at work. We would come up with all sorts of stories, like about how he could be married, and that’s why he never approached me on the train (and never that it would just be awkward to be approached on the train).

    Sometimes I would pick a different car, and voilá, there he was again. It was serendipity, and we were bound to end up together. Then suddenly, he wasn’t there anymore. It was a tragic couple of days, and sometimes I still wonder whatever happened to him. Did he get a new job? Did he move? And most importantly, why didn’t he TELL ME?

    • mcf says...

      Aw, this made me laugh!

  117. Julia Mallett says...

    I go for a run early most mornings, and have a lovely ongoing interaction with a pair of older gentlemen who are out together for a walk-n-chat constitutional at the same time – we always give each other a little half salute. “Morning gents” I call out (or bellow, because I am usually listening to Hamilton, loudly), “good morning!” They singsong back with big grins. It is lovely! (And also somewhat reassuring as my run at this point is off-road near a river and a little isolated, so I like that there are a pair of people who expect to see me and would likely remember doing so after the fact. But that is grim! I’ll just focus for now on how nice it is!)

  118. Meredith says...

    Leaving church on a recent Sunday, my husband commented he had noticed an older gentleman he hoped was a glimpse into his own future: silver beard, obvious muscles, full sleeve of tattoos. . . And the very next week when he chose a seat close to us in the crowded auditorium, I knew he must be THE GOALS GUY immediately. I love being in the know on my husband’s not-so-stranger-man-crush :P

  119. Alison says...

    I would 100% watch this movie.

  120. Shelly says...

    My daughter shared a kindergarten class with a girl named Julie. Julie’s dad is tall, blonde, and attractive. I saw him during class events (and only class events) that year and spoke to him several times, just friendly chatter. First grade is uneventful. Fast forward to second grade, I keep seeking Julie’s dad around school, at drop off, on the sidewalk, in the hallways, even at the beach once (school is near the beach) etc. I always smile and/or say hi, as I do with most parents I recognize and/or have spoken to more than a few times. He always says hi and smiles back — but these big, big smiles. Then one day, there is a school-wide end of second grade event and all parents are there. I see Julie’s dad… talking to Julie’s dad (or who I thought was Julie’s dad!). Turns out, I’ve been saying hi and smiling to a total stranger all year. They look so similar. But this non-Julie’s dad man must think I’ve been flirting with him! I’m now avoiding eye contact and I’m sure he wonders why the super friendly lady aka his not-so-stranger is suddenly so shy/rude?

    • Jenny says...

      I for sure thought this was going to end with “and then I officially met and fell in love with Julie’s Dad and now I am her stepmom.” Sorry, sorry – I loved the real ending too!

    • Carol F. says...

      LOL

  121. Olivia says...

    I have created a full story about my not-so-stranger (I am even thinking about writing my first screenplay inspired by him!), he’s an older man who tends to the crosswalk outside the elementary school in my neighborhood. This man brings his big German Shepard dog with him and the dog stands in the back of his old Chevrolet red truck with the truck bed window up watching his dad work every morning and afternoon. In my mind, they are a retired police and K-9 pup duo that still have the zest for life to get out there and help where they can. Every morning I imagine the man calls to his pup “C’mon boy, let’s get to work!” and the dog comes running ready to report for duty.

    • Ann says...

      Go for it!

  122. Yes!! I do this all the time. I used to go to a restaurant that’s now closed down, and since it isn’t in my city (or country for that matter), it would be whenever I was visiting that city, so not like we were regulars per se. Anyway, my husband and I made up names and like life stories for the waiters and waitresses since many of them worked there for 20+ years so we’d see them around. We once even tipped our favorite waitress $100 just because. :P We really got into that fantasy haha. Miss that restaurant.

  123. Louisa says...

    I was a barista in Seattle. So a thousand people would make small talk with me every day. And then they would see me out and about and say “now how do I know you?,” and I would say “oh, I make your coffee at Zoka’s,” and they would be so impressed that I remembered them. I never actually recognized them, of course. It was just a (pretty reasonable) guess.

    I did have one not-so-stranger – we ran around Greenlake at the same time with our labs (mine black, his chocolate). Finally one day he asked me out… and I had just that day started dating my now-husband. There is a parallel world in which he asked me out a day earlier.

    • Rachel says...

      whoa! this is wild. WHAT IF?!?!

  124. Ceridwen says...

    Or the not so stranger stranger who becomes your life partner. Little did you know about the whole life yet to be unfolded, with you in it, when you saw them waiting for the same class every week…

  125. Jessica says...

    I have this stranger fantasy that one day I’ll walk into someone’s house, a new friend perhaps, and I will be the STRANGER in the background of their framed photo. I have been thinking about this for a decade at least!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, hahaha, that would be incredible. love that it’s your dream.

    • m says...

      Ah! I had an experience somewhat similar to this! In college, I was getting settled into my freshman dorm when I heard someone playing The Beatles (my favorite band) down the hall. In a rare burst of extroversion, I decided to go make a friend. When I introduced myself and the girl invited me into her room, I saw that all of the pictures she had on her walls contained people I knew from my high school! They were her friends from her youth group. She came into my room and experienced the exact same thing; my youth group friends in the photos on my wall were people from *her* high school! Thinking back, it’s not so wildly coincidental that two girls from a small city knew some of the same people, ended up at the same university, and then ended up being placed in the same hall (I’m just going to assume that the admissions folks at my small university had some schemes around placing freshman in proximity with others they might have things in common with). But at the time, it was so bizarre!

    • mamabird says...

      A friend has a picture of her and her now husband at a party together….two years before they actually met!

    • Ellen says...

      oh my gosh, this (kind-of) happened to me! There is a photo of 3-year-old me in a frame at my mom’s house, and in the background is some random kid. Fast forward many years and my best friend and I realized that that random kid was her! We went to preschool together and didn’t know it. :)

    • shannon says...

      Like George Costanza photobombing Krueger’s family beach photo, and then becoming his employee years later and seeing the photo on his desk in the office!

    • Ann says...

      My neighbors have a sweet story like this. The husband has a snapshot from a restaurant meal from his first week in town (moved from out of state with his two adult sons), and his now wife (my now neighbor) is in the background! Their whole story is a treasure. Everything about it, even the part about how they first…didn’t meet.

    • Every now and then I wonder whose random photos I’ve wound up in as a background extra…are strange images of me scattered around the country? Or the WORLD?

    • Linell Patterson says...

      My mom and step dad are in the same old school black and white summer camp photo- only realized it after they were married!

    • Another Jessica :) says...

      Doesn’t sound that strange to me! I’ve had people come back into my life many years later and I only realized it because of a photo memory. Once, in college, I went out with a group of friends (most of whom I’d known since junior high), but one of my oldest friends brought a new friend with her, whom she met in her department at her university. We get to talking with the new girl, and she says she’s from a small town we’d probably never heard of. Well, turns out she’s from the small town next to where I lived for a few years in the early 90s. And then it clicked: this new girl was a friend of mine back in kindergarten! Not only that, she was AT my 5th birthday party – I remembered a redhead girl in a frilly-sleeved dress, but when I mentioned it, she wasn’t certain it was her. So the next time we all got together I showed her the photo of me blowing out the candles on my cake and sure enough, she’s standing next to me! Smallest world ever.

    • Emme says...

      hahah what an amazing and hilarious fantasy. These stories are making my morning.

    • Lorraine says...

      I love all these stories of people appearing in others’ photos! In highschool, my friends and I would exchange pictures we took at shows. When I got to college, I joined a band and later found a few of my bandmates in some of those old photos! It was an amazing discovery, to have pictures of them watching one of our favorite bands (Slowdive). :)

  126. Charlotte says...

    Amazing! I thought it was just me! These stories are making my day. My husband and I call these Colourful Local Personalities. I live in a small city so occasionally I do intersect with them. I have a few people clocks (as someone earlier referred to them), one of whom turned up at a neighbour’s funeral and turned out to be the son of some other neighbours.
    My favourite is a woman who used to catch the same train as me. I had seen her for years and never spoken or acknowledged each other. When I got pregnant with my first child, she was in the ultrasound waiting room at the hospital. Twice. Then when we went back to work after maternity leave we would see each other again. Eventually I discovered that her son was at the same nursery as my daughter (next to the railway station!). After our kids started different schools I showed up to a party for a new friend of mine and my now Not Stranger was there – they had been part of the same baby group. We run into each other reasonably often and I love that we have this long history together.

  127. Jacqueline says...

    This immediately made me think of a fantastic scene in the movie “Prime.” If you haven’t seen it, you must. Meryl Streep is gold!

  128. T says...

    My family moved recently, so we know few people in our neighborhood. However, a woman who works at the grocery store across the street always greeted my toddler son with a friendly smile at the check-out, and I found myself trying to be in her line if possible each time we were shopping. Then, last week, I was on the bus in our city with my son in a stroller. Another baby on the bus had started wailing, and my son began to cry too. Then a person in a wheelchair needed to enter the bus, so I was trying to pick up my sobbing son, balance him on my hip, and fold up our stroller to make room for the wheelchair. It was chaos. Suddenly I hear a voice saying, “Let me hold the stroller for you. Let me, please.” I look up, and it was our kind checkout lady! I could have kissed her. What an angel. Now I know her name and we say hello :)

  129. Allison W says...

    I was incredibly shy in high school, so I made a vow that I would be more outgoing when I entered college.

    Once at college, I had a not-so-stranger that I would see everywhere around campus. Going to class, in the dining hall, near my dorm… he was seriously EVERYWHERE! Because of my vow to be more outgoing, and because the hopeless romantic in me was sure this meant we were supposed to be together forever (I’m a 4 on the enneagram), I stopped him on the sidewalk one day when our paths crossed yet again.

    “Hey,” I said. “I see you everywhere around campus, so I thought I’d introduce myself.” To which he just rolled his eyes, shrugged, and said, “Well I’ve never seen you,” and continued on his merry way.

    After that encounter, we would sometimes awkwardly make eye contact when passing one another, but I definitely didn’t try to talk to him again. C’est la vie.

    • Tess says...

      Good for you for honoring your vow… and what a twerp. He could have started looked for you afterward. Sometimes our own thought stories are infinitely better!

    • Emily says...

      Oh god! Also a four, also shy in high school and trying to be less so in college, I went up to my (VERY cute) not-so-stranger — but I wasn’t so subtle as you and actually just went straight into saying he was cute! He had a girlfriend at the time but after that I saw him EVERYWHERE and wanted to die. We did end up dating casually later, but nothing serious like I’d imagined when I saw his NPR tee in the dining hall…

    • Twyla says...

      Yay, enneagram!! I’m a five…

  130. Kaitlin says...

    We have an 8 year old dog who gets three walks a day and we realized after our daughter was born that we are the Not So Strangers of so many people in our neighbourhood. Not necessarily our neighbours, but people who work in the converted industrial building, or who run the linear park by our house, or use the commuter rail line. I was genuinely shocked, but heartened, by how many people stopped us and commented after our daughter was born…they’d been watching us the whole time.

    The flip side is an older man who bikes the linear path daily, who my husband calls The Elder. One day he stopped to talk with him and learned that The Elder is the same age, grew up in the same small town, and has the same number and alex of kids, as my father-in-law. What if your Not So Stranger is actually your Bizzaro World Father?!

    • JR says...

      After reading a lot of these comments, I’m noticing just how many not-so-strangers are described as very attractive—after all, they catch our eyes amid our mundane errands and commutes for a reason! ;)

      It’s sorta like the so-called “halo effect”—we tend to ascribe more positive attributes (and perhaps make up more intriguing backstories) to strangers who are attractive.

  131. Marta says...

    Recently my husband ask me how do I feel like Spanish living abroad. We’ve been living in Edinburgh for the last four years. My response was I feel like a part of the landscape.

  132. Patricia says...

    What a great post! SO relatable and funny :)

  133. Jo says...

    I call these not-so-strangers “characters”. Sometimes it feels almost wrong that I don’t know more about the people who I see at the gym multiple times a week or the bearded guy who frequently works at the coffee shop next to me, but other times it’s comforting that we are all bearing witness to each other’s lives in a quiet way.

  134. Lou says...

    In college I called these my “Campus Crushes”. I still remember the girl with the pixie cut and sharp eyebrows. The boy with flaming red hair and a jawline cut like marble. Birkenstock-wearer working on theory in the math lab. Pillars of my undergrad experience.

  135. Meg says...

    Haha! Yes! My husband and I call them our ‘Street Friends.’

  136. Lenae C says...

    haha I love this and think about it all the time, especially since recently taking a job with a commute by train into the city where I see lots of the same people every day. I like to think I’m so perceptive that I could not possibly be someone else’s not-so-stranger without having also noticed them, but I guess it’s possible!

  137. H says...

    I frequently go to see DJs play in Brooklyn. At almost every party I’ve been to, there is one man who loves to dance WILDLY (flailing limbs and all) right in front of the DJ booth. He always seems like he is having the absolute time of his life. He is a dancing inspiration.

    The other day, my boyfriend sent me a video of a DJ set from a European festival with a timestamp. I play the video, and lo and behold, there is the dancing man- front and center as always!

  138. Kimby says...

    I laughed out loud at the part about seeing your-not-so-stranger in a different kind of clothing. Even people I used to work with would only ever see me in dresses. At the office, on airplanes, running errands after work. One day, for whatever reason, I wore yoga pants to the office since I had no clients. One of my colleagues immediately turned to me and said with a straight face, “did you run here?”

  139. Abesha1 says...

    Oh, this post is so wonderful.

    I used to smile with a man on the landscaping crew at my apartment complex… we didn’t share much language, so conversation was limited, but he was so friendly to me and my son. I know he was lonely; his family was in South America and he never got to see them. It was winter when we moved away suddenly, so he hadn’t been around much, and I never got to say goodbye. His name was Cristobal.

  140. Lyndsey says...

    Oh Caroline, I always love the things that spark you enough to write them down and share.

  141. I’ve had so many not-so-strangers in my time here in Portland. It reminds me that the place I live isn’t so big after all – just a busy little neighborhood. Its comforting.

    • Brooke says...

      Ooh hullo, Stacy, another Portlander! It does feel like a sweet busy little neighborhood around here a lot. 😸

    • J says...

      Hello from another Portlander. I agree – it’s small enough here that I encounter not so strangers every day, everywhere I go, bustling about their day. It is comforting somehow 🖤

  142. I used to see a tall handsome man on the blue line in Chicago every morning as I headed into work. We got on at the same stop. He usually had a book in his hand and I was entirely smitten. I moved abroad for a year and came back to the same apartment. I was walking home from the train and he was walking to it and I said ‘hi how are you’ very enthusiastically. He just smiled and kept walking. It wasn’t until a block later that I realized that he was that guy on the train and the relationship was completely one-sided in my dreams.

  143. Denise says...

    O yeah, for sure, most of my not so strangers are bus-stop-buddies who commute at the same times I do. Sometimes it’s comforting and sometimes I see them and internally I’m thinking, ‘please don’t talk to me today I just want to read on my commute.’

  144. Kristy says...

    This is the best!

  145. Janice says...

    I work in Midtown Manhattan and I used to see a woman almost every day either during lunchtime or after work. She used a tiny low-to-the-ground wheelchair, and she herself was very tiny. I used to worry that someone looking at their phone would knock her over. One day near a crosswalk I said hello and mentioned that I often saw her and she told me that she worked in an office nearby, and that she could only use certain subway routes that had elevators. She was inspiring, seeing her braving the crowds, confident, on her way to and from work. I haven’t seen her in quite awhile. I hope she moved on to another great job that she loves.

  146. Rose says...

    I have so many “subway friends,” I call them.

  147. Anna says...

    Oh your meta questions got to me. Being someone’s not-so-stranger scares me to death somehow and might even be the reason why I like to move every couple of years. Which is super weird because I am a not-so-stranger by profession. As a psychotherapist it is really awkward to meet (former or current) patients out and about in real life (maybe with my kids in tow) because I know a LOT about them and love them, but they don’t know much or nothing about me and I am not allowed to acknowledge them or greet them in order to keep the requirement of confidentiality.