Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Familiar Strangers

I was driving down Vic today when I saw our neighbourhood busker walking along with his guitar slung over his shoulder. I feel like he's never not outside the grocery store playing classic rock covers so I did a double-take. It was him, sure enough--he has very distinctive tattoos on his face and I recognized his guitar strap.

I always think of the town troubadour from Gilmore Girls when I see him. He's, like, our grocery store troubadour. It's to the point where, when I say we're going to get groceries, Sullivan gets excited and says, "And see the guitar guy?" (Note to self: teach Sullivan to say troubadour instead of guitar guy.)

Sometimes he says hi to us, sometimes he's belting something out with his eyes closed as we walk past or taking a smoke break with one of his buddies. He's as much a part of the neighbourhood as the house with the multicoloured picket fence at the end of the block.

Which is why it felt strange to see him all the way over on Vic.

A few minutes later, I turned onto College, and there was the barista from a coffee shop I frequent. Earbuds in, drink in hand, deep in thought or maybe just squinting against the wind as he pushed into it. It was rather windy today. Maybe he was thinking deeply about the wind. But I don't know; I don't know him at all other than that I say thank you to him every time I'm leaving his shop and he says have a nice day and I say you too.

It's weird how people like this slowly become part of your narrative without you really realizing it. You see someone enough times, you don't even have to really connect with them in any way, and then one day you realize they've become familiar. The city shrinks a little every time this happens and feels a little more like home. It's comforting. Isn't it weird that a person you've never truly met can be comforting?

I mean, I guess this is exactly why good TV shows (and movies and books) pay attention to those side characters, the ones that maybe appear once every three or four episodes but somehow become central and endearing anyway. They understand that they're actually super important to the story. They understand that their interactions with the main character tells you both about that character and the world the story is set in.

Maybe I'm that person in someone else's narrative? Does one have to be particularly quirky or consistently present to be that person? I don't have tattoos on my face or own a coffee shop, but I'd like to think that someone somewhere has thought, Hey, there's that girl who... And then they feel like the city is smaller and like I'm a side character in their story.

So question: I know the whole commenting-on-a-blog thing is so 2007, but I'm genuinely interested: do you have a familiar stranger like this? A person/people you see once every three or four 'episodes,' who you interact with on a super minimal basis but whose presence is noted and comforting? Or am I just a big weirdo who has been watching way too much TV? Seriously, feel free to leave a little note.


(I think I actually have upwards of 50 or so I could list off the top of my head. And the more I think about them, the more I appreciate them.)

14 comments:

  1. I just moved to my town so I don't really have familiar people yet, but I remember in college knowing all these library people. There was the kid who was always asleep, the obnoxiously PDA couple, my library crush (who later ended up marrying my roommate 🙈). I love thinking about the side people and love the way you've written it out.

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    1. Hahahaha "the kid who was always asleep." That's awesome. -and the fact that your library crush later married your roommate. Pay close attention to everyone you see in these next few weeks...who knows which characters will end up being important... ;)

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  2. I have trouble recognizing people outside the context in which I know them. For example, I might run into someone I kind of know from work at the mall and they'll start talking to me and I'll be staring at them quizzically while my brain tries to work out who they are. It's a bit disturbing and probably shrinks my cast of side characters, but there are definitely a few - the guy from the deli, a bartender or two from my favorite restaurants, farmers market vendors, and various people who I see at concerts (like the guy who is always reading and the girl with amazing posture.)

    This doesn't actually bother me much anymore. I may have gotten better at recognizing people or I may have realized that this happens to everyone and no one really cares.

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    1. I JUST had that happen to me on Friday where I ran into someone out of context and had no idea who they were - and they were someone I really should've known. Oops. It really does happen to everyone. :)

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  3. There's a lot of homeless people I "know" around Victoria like "scab head picking guy on my bus all the time" and "never recognizes me lady on the sidewalk even though I see her every day and say hi" and "creepy muttering man in a wheelchair covered in religious homemade signs who always tells girls to smile"
    I get to know barista's names after a couple weeks of frequenting a place usually, I don't know how it happens, guess I hate small talk enough to jump right to the next level?

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    1. Maybe never recognizes you lady on the sidewalk actually does recognize you and she goes on her way every day going, "There's that lady I see every day. That's nice and comforting." Maybe she blogs about you.

      Probably.

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  4. There's people like that at the gym. The ones who always take the same exercise class that you do...but you have never introduced yourself to. And you don't really want to, because it takes away some of the odd familiarity of them as a stranger. Eventually I'll meet all the ones who always come to Tuesday night class...but for now it's neat when you see them somewhere else and think, "heh, that's the guy/girl from my exercise class"

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    1. Oh yeah, gyms are great for people like that. (I don't really do gyms anymore, but back when I did there was always a girl on the treadmill at the same time every day who was so intense and she was very motivating to me...)

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  5. Ohh, there are so many! I have this one regular customer at work who fits the bill perfectly. I mean, there are plenty of regular customers but she is always so friendly and kind that I can't help but breathe a little sigh of relief when she walks in the door.

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  6. I feel a bit frantic when I see them out of context, like my cogs are turning too fast trying to place them. One of them once came over and introduced himself though (he was a fellow gym class member and sat with me while I was eating pizza after a night out), which was nice, and although we've stayed as familiar strangers we exchange a friendly smile more often than not now.
    I feel a bit sad when my favourite ones (e.g. nicest barista ever) disappear, and once when I knew I was going to be the one disappearing (from nice bank teller in my parents' village when I was about to go back to uni after the summer), I really weighed up the pros and cons of inviting her to a bbq, but decided it would be too weird and awkward in the end.

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  7. Oh, yes, and you're so right that sometimes side characters become important later - my boyfriend and I have been together for five years but knew each other as vague, distant acquaintances for five years before that, and I love thinking back to times we would have met and wondering how we acted and what we said :D

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  8. The produce guy at the grocery store is this person for me! I always breathe out a sigh of relief when I see him.

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  9. The old, overweight, white haired guy that lives on the next block who almost daily plods down the street, walking by my house, to buy his can of pop from the corner drug store. He makes me smile every time I see him and I really wish I knew his name. He seems like a strange but gentle soul. And my absolute favourite cashier at Value Village. If she's at cash, I always go to her till. She makes me smile every time I see her. I want to hug her and be her friend...even though that would be very weird.

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  10. I had to come back to this post because I just realised I didn't mention my absolute favourite familiar stranger, the Rastafarian Cyclist. You know they're important when they have a name, right? We used to see the Rastafarian Cyclist all the time when we lived at our old place - less so since we moved, but maybe once every six months or so now. He wears black leggings, a luminous yellow top and a giant black beanie which I imagine contains a big pile of dreadlocks, and he cycles at approximately 3mph. It's generally rush hour when I see him but he seems so chilled out, and it always makes me inexplicably delighted to see him and wonder where he's going at such a leisurely pace.

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