Since I was a little girl I have loved listening to people tell their stories. I was always told by my mom to say “hello” and ask how people were feeling, it was just good manners. So imagine my confusion at the comment, “don’t talk to strangers.” How do you know if they’re strange if you don’t talk to them?
Last night I was fully engaged in a conversation with a stranger who is one of the New Jersey Transit conductors on the Midtown Direct line. This conductor and I have fun with each other in passing comments every time we see each other on the train, but last night I began a conversation in ernest with this stranger. Matt, my co-worker & friend, and I had nestled into our three seater with our beer and popcorn making the bench sufficiently unwelcoming with our bags and electronic devises strewn about, when another stranger bellowed that she had boarded the wrong train. I knew immediately she was a Long Branch passenger, gut instinct after living in South Jersey I can smell a native from 50 yards, I advised her how to get back on the right course and then came along conductor 793567 giving this girl a hard time for listening to me. After our Secaucus stop and setting Ms Red Bank straight our conductor flipped that seat and sat right down. It turns out our conductor wasn’t strange at all. She’s a mother of two grown children and a very young grandmother of seven! She has a strong commitment to God and a wicked sense of humor. She even has a name, Regina, a very nice name.
So I struggle with “don’t talk to strangers.” I know it’s a safety thing that I’m supposed to instill in my children but I’m not so sure that I want to give them that fear. There are so many interesting people out in this world, so many stories that can be told on a train ride, at the doctor’s office, or online for the public toilet…. you just have to engage your manners and listen. Maybe I need to teach my children the difference between wonderfully eye opening strange and danger?
In the meantime I’m sure my talking to strangers will continue to embarrass my young children just as I was at times embarrassed as a teenager by my mom. I mean think about that for a second, kids, particularly teenagers, getting embarrassed in front of a stranger. Maybe I’m the one that’s strange. Maybe I’ll never know for sure.