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There’s always an internal conversation that happens when I’m deciding whether or not to talk to a stranger. The ego never wants to do it because it’s risky. The other person might think I’m weird, or creepy, or just awkward (heaven forbid!), and the ego hates feeling awkward. The rest of me wants to jump in because I end up meeting cool and interesting people this way and I like cool and interesting people. Sometimes the ego wins and sometimes my bigger self wins. Then, on some occasions, I get so excited that my ego has no time to put on the brakes before words are tumbling out of my mouth and I’ve engaged a total stranger in enthusiastic conversation.
Like this morning…
While waiting in line at my FLC (friendly local cafe), half-awake and scrolling through emails, I felt a presence behind me. I instinctively turned to glance at who had arrived and I saw a twenty-something, hipster-ish girl, standing there wearing a bike helmet and a t-shirt that said “CUTTERS” on it.
“Breaking Away?” I said.
As soon as the words had left my mouth, her face lit up like a Christmas tree. It was like I had just given her a check for a million dollars delivered by a puppy riding a unicorn. Like the clouds had parted and the sky was raining free tickets to burning man. Like I had invited her to a combination Wes Anderson marathon/Craft Beer festival where Bill Murray was bartending. Suffice to say, she was excited.
“Oh. My. God.” she said.
For those of you who don’t know, Breaking Away is a movie from 1979 that features a group of friends from working class backgrounds who are called “cutters” because their fathers are all stone cutters who work in the town quarry in Bloomington, Indiana. There’s also bicycle racing. I’ll let you read the IMDB entry for the rest.
“That was my father’s favorite movie.” she said, “This was his t-shirt. I’ve never met anyone who got the reference and I’ve been wearing this shirt for years.”
“Well, it’s one of my favorite movies too. Your father had good taste…and I love that shirt!”
And there we stood, for the next five minutes or so, quoting lines from the movie and talking about our favorite characters while the rest of the crowd was getting their lattes. It was a really nice intergenerational moment. I don’t get a ton of opportunities to connect with people in their twenties, especially around 70s pop culture references, and it was so fun to geek out with her over this obscure little piece of cinema that we both adored.
As I got my coffee and shoved off toward work, we said goodbye and I thought about how grateful I was for interactions like this. How happy I was that I had opened my mouth and found a bridge between us in the process. I mean, we are seven billion separate people on a remote rock, hurtling through space, but this morning, two of us came closer to each other. Two “thems” became an “us” over something that we loved, and a temporary friendship was forged. You can say that’s unremarkable or miraculous, I guess. I’m choosing to call it the latter.
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