Is it Still Safe to Talk to Strangers?
Ahh, the good old “which reality do you live in” game. The elicitation and detection of subtle cues to figure out which database you’re dealing with when meeting a stranger, especially a younger one.
I recently met a younger black American traveler at a bar (I live in SE Asia and occasionally put myself in the backpacker scene). He was obviously well educated and well-put together, so my first thought was “oh shit. Probably a card carrying member of the woke mob.” But after some meaningless jokes, we discovered a mutual love of chess (which he later beat me at) and then at one point he showed me something chess-related on his phone and Joe Rogan appeared at the top of his YouTube algorithm. The young man turned out to be an absolute mensch and fortunately one who shared my reality. So there are some shining stars amongst the younger generation. All is not lost!
Thanks for sharing your story. I'm an old broken-down engineer, and I used to love getting into conversations with people to find out how they viewed the world from where they stood. Didn't matter who they were or what they did - everyone has something to offer. I no longer do that, for fear of triggering one of the many dogmatic land-mines that have divided us into 'elites' (who aren't really, but think they should be) and 'the little people (who aren't really, but have been silenced by all the anger and venom).
Get out of the big cities, especially in blue states (which are blue only because of the blue cities) and you're very likely to find some solid, nice and open-hearted people.
Funny timing Walter. I’m a long-time reader of Matt (Taibbi) and a new and appreciative reader of your work. And I listen to your podcast weekly (done with Matt).
There’s been a negative focus in your discussion because you’ve been tacking the tough and upsetting reality of government overreach in attempting to suppress some political communication (specifically on Twitter).
My use of ( ) is outta control Walter. Help me!!
So you and Matt have sounded crabby much of the time with breaks of levity and semi-hysterical cackling as you lose your minds in real time.
I old Walter. Older than you. Older than Matt. I’ve found myself resisting the negative focus of all-that-is-wrong-in-our nation (planet).
I thank you for this simple hopeful piece that chronicles two guys and a pickle plate summit. We need to reach through the chasm (cultural climate etc) and remember we’re not here long.
You working on any new fiction these days?
All the best...
As a life-long Southerner, I believe talking to strangers is part of my DNA. Before I retired, I was a consultant who worked on long-term projects from Seattle, to Manhattan, to Ft. Lauderdale and many large cities in between. I enjoy talking to strangers (but not on a plane. Please let me read in peace). It is nice to learn about them and where they live. I also enjoyed breaking the stereotype of sweet, Southern girl. I frequently learned that we are more alike than different, and so did they. Mr. Kirn, your essays are always a pleasure to read.
Hope. This was beautiful. Thank you.
My wife and I were traveling to Croatia in 2016, from Seattle, a long flight that ended in Venice where we were going to get a car and drive North the following day. We stayed in a minor, out of the way, hotel on the edge of a residential suburb on the mainland the first night. We walked through the neighborhoods to I get some exercise and came upon a corner deli where we decided to pick up some takeout food and carry it back to our hotel room. The man behind the counter spoke very little English and we, less Italian. But we managed to pick out an interesting collection of prepared dishes that only vaguely looked like something familiar. But when it came time to pay and I reached for my wallet I realized it was back at the hotel, in the pants I changed out of. My wife wasn't carrying anything. I felt embarrassed and apologized to him profusely. I explained that we would have to walk back a couple miles first for my wallet but then I would return for the food and pay him. But he wouldn't let me. He insisted we take the food with us because it was so far. We could pay him tomorrow. So we did. I'll never forget that. He didn't even seem surprised when I showed up in the he morning and paid him. His wife handed me a small bag with a couple pastries in it as I was leaving to give to my wife.
I've been reading a biography of George Orwell. The writer quotes Orwell's reaction to being in England after 5 years in Burma as an Imperial policeman. In Burma Orwell had to watch every word for if he expressed any criticism about the British empire while in Burma, he would come under much duress. The FREEDOM Orwell felt upon returning to England was profound. He could criticize the government.
In the U.S. today we are almost like Orwell in Burma in the days of Empire.
My wife was flummoxed a few years ago when we in the San Antonio airport and several young men with Texas accents walking next to us cussed a bit. They looked at my wife and said “sorry ma’am.” A “we’re not in Jersey any more” moment!
Dang, but can’t he spin a yarn! I find myself re-reading sentences to relish the cadence, the delicious choices of words. And I love his tutelage of Matt Taibbi with their podcast, Walter visibly leading him from leftie mind-mush to rational thinking. Each week another big step.
You covered this topic so elegantly. I find the same exists across Canada, between provinces and within provinces between regions ie urban-rural, and Anglophone vs Francophone. Your description is also very American. Neither my husband nor I like cities yet that’s where we agreed to meet for our first date after meeting on a very long chance; we lived 300 kms apart with Toronto in the middle. So we spent the day at the Island Park and then got the heck out of town. We now live on a farm in the hilly bush of New Brunswick, whose people are noted for friendliness and helpfulness, much warmer than southern suburban Ontarians, noted for rudeness. When we needed a base back in Ontario, (grandkid visiting) we got a cottage even farther in the bush than our farm is in NB; met a few neighbours, attended a tiny local church where insulated plaid shirts and buck-knives were normal Sunday attire; instantly felt at home.
I used to travel alone on business and also for pleasure. Ah the wonderful places I’ve been. At my age going anywhere alone now seems a risk. I appreciate you sharing your travel stories more than you could know. It’s easy to weave a cocoon to feel safe in. Or so you think... thank you for sharing
Jesus Christ. This is the 2nd Walter Kirn article in three days (the first was Smoke on the Water, go read it now BTW) that I've read, and I felt completely seen (I hate that woke-ass term but oh well it works here). Mr. Kirn is paying attention and he does a masterful job of writing down his observations for our benefit. Plus, his writing skills are off the charts. I just subscribed.
Very much enjoyed the article. However, as a seventh generation New Yawker, I can confirm that the same type of encounters are common in La.Manzana Principal. I routinely have them myself. Maybe it's only those of us with blue collar roots that are so gregarious. I have a postgraduate degree in engineering, but my Dad worked in the Post Offfice. President Trump has that New York blue collar attitude himself, which is why he communicates so well with people in flyover country. I don't use that term to mock.people who don't live on the coasts. As an engineer, I've worked on projects in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, in Colorado, South Dakota, Washington State and Wyoming and throughout the Midwest. I enjoyed working with the locals, and made many lasting friendships. New Yawkers get a bad rap.
We don't have a Krispy Kreme here where I live in upstate NY, the nearest one is about an hour away in PA, but your words are Krispy Kremes for my soul.
Walter, I love your inner dialogue way of relating this interaction. It makes me content. Is that odd?