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Friday May 04, 2001, 02:35

"Do you ever talk to strangers?" "Not that often, no."

And so began another in my failed attempts to turn New York City into the biggest small town in the world. Well, some might argue that it already has that mentality, but I particularly like the idea of being able to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the street, just because.

Obviously this was the wrong way to start. That is, with a woman who had clearly been hit on numerous times in the mere 10 minutes that I had been walking along side of her. Those are the most peculiar of times in this city. Block after block, steps matching step by step by step, stopping at all the same lights, staring straight ahead, not acknowledging the fact that there is another human being with whose life you have suddenly have something in common: a path to a destination. The destinations might be different, but the paths converge, and shouldn't there be some sort of tip of the hat, a nod of the head, blink of an eye? Something?

I thought so, and so I asked her about strangers.

"It seems a shame. The city is such a wonderful place, and people just don't interact enough."

Perhaps I should have qualified it initially with something like "I'm not trying to hit on you" which would have probably worked equally as well, or poorly, as the case may be, but it would have at least acknowledged the fact that, regardless of motive, I knew what exactly it looked like I was doing.

Amazingly enough, I am fairly certain that all I was looking for on my walk home was someone to talk to. I had just attended a free concert being broadcast on the local NPR station. None of my friends could go. I wanted interaction with another human being.

"You should probably know that I'm having a particularly bad night and I would just like to walk home and think about what's going on," she said.

Valid. And as further evidence, I looked back to the conversation she'd been having earlier (I will note that it is almost impossible to ignore a conversation one is having on a telephone while walking down a sidewalk, even if that sidewalk happens to be along Fifth Avenue) in which she had informed the caller that she was almost home and that she would talk to this person (of presumably male, but actually unspecified gender) later. I would then note that she continued to walk for an additional 20 blocks or so, which is not really my definition of close to home.

When you get down to it though, I can understand a person's hesitation in speaking to random people on the sidewalk. How many times a day do I sidestep people who approach me? And yet I would like to think that there is something different. About what? About me? Am I cuter or something? Am I less threatening than the crazies that wander the streets shouting of government conspiracies and the power of cheese?

Again, probably not.

But this will not deter me from trying. The next time I end up walking any extended distance near someone, they'd better watch out. And that goes for you too. If you see me walking down the street, stop me and say hi. It'd be fun, right?

...

It must be noted that the evening was particularly warm. It was something I picture out of a small European town. The air is thick with moisture and heat and families stroll down the avenues, watching people, occasionally stopping for coffee. Couples were walking hand-in-hand. The pace of the normally hectic city had slowed just a bit. And there was something fairly magical around. Not quite enough to bring two particular strangers together on the street, but as I neared my home I did see a man and a woman exchanging phone numbers.

Cynically I would say that he asked for her number, she asked for his instead, he gave it to her and she subsequently discarded it.

The romantic in me believes that she called him two days later, he remembered that evening and they ended up friends.

Which one sounds nicer to you?

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