“Hello, I’m Jose”…REALLY???

chicago 3

By Kenneth Justice

~ A few mornings ago as I sat outside the train station waiting to depart for my weekend in Chicago a young man walked directly over to me and put his hand out to shake, “Hello, my name is Jose. Could you tell me if this is the train to Chicago?” he said

I’ve never been asked to shake hands with a stranger who was asking me for travel information but I obliged him. “Is this your first time going to Chicago I asked?

No, I’ve just never taken the train there and I’m really excited!” he said, “I’m meeting up with my cousin who is on holiday from Spain and my sister who goes to college in Wisconsin. We’re going to have a blast at all the St. Patrick’s Day festivities!”

Jose is only in his early 20’s but is a seasoned world traveler. His mother being from Spain and his father from Mexico, they met in college here in the Midwest and Jose has dual citizenship between the U.S. & Spain.

I just love Spain so much!” he said, “Ya don’t have to have money to hang out with people there. You can just walk down the street and meet strangers and soon they will be your friends inviting you over for wine or coffee” he said.

If I didn’t know better I would have felt someone was playing a cruel trick on me; the things Jose was talking about appeared to be identical to subjects about community and culture that I’ve written about ad nauseum throughout the past year.

When I told him about my coffee house tour Jose got a big smile on his face, “That’s so cool man, I know exactly what you’re talking about” he said, “When I visit my relatives in Spain they are always so jealous of the United States; they love Hollywood, and high-paying jobs, and fast cars. But they don’t realize that our level of community here in the States is so far behind what they have. It’s like you can’t win, because there aren’t enough jobs in Spain for me to move there, but to live here I have to miss out on the community atmosphere of Spanish Europe” he said

We’d arrived a half-hour early to the train station so for the next thirty minutes Jose and I talked about a bunch of different things, from his varied experiences traveling throughout Spain to what he hoped to accomplish with his life following college.

Jose is not the first stranger to randomly walk over to me or sit down at my table and strike up a conversation with me; yet each time a total stranger engages me in a conversation like this I’m almost always struck with how friendly people can be and the simple truth; men and women want to connect.

Being a Christian I’m well versed in the history of Western Christianity and know that attending worship services used to be a major aspect of local community. Writing in the early 20th century, the famous children’s author Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned in one of her books how important it was for her and her husband to choose a church to attend after moving into a new city, “Because finding the right church is an important facet of us being able to connect with our neighbors” she said [my paraphrase].

Unfortunately, many people often complain to me that church community isn’t much deeper than 3 minute conversations and hand-shakes, “I get more fellowship with the regulars I see at the coffee shop each week then I do at church” said a good friend of mine yesterday

Jose was a generally nice dude. It took a lot of guts for him to walk straight up to me and put his hand out for me to shake; I could of looked at him as though he were a leper and blew him off….but of course I didn’t. Perhaps he sensed something in my eyes that told him I would be a good candidate to talk with, or maybe he’s such an all-around nice human being that he looks for the good in all people.

Ultimately, I wish there were more Jose’s in the world. When I read NEWS stories about people being robbed or beat up in plain sight; surrounded by passerby’s who simply turn a blind eye to the evil before them. Maybe if there were more Jose’s in the world community wouldn’t feel so stifled and forced.

Sadly, I fear that most of the time I’m oblivious to the world around me. For every conversation I have with a stranger in public; I’m probably spending twice as much time glued to my computer screen typing away……completely ignorant of my surroundings and the people who walk by my coffee table.

Admittedly, we can’t talk to everyone and we can’t save the world. As much as I’d like to cry with every person who’s suffering from a broken heart; at a certain point I have to distance myself in order to live my own life. I’ve never been really good at finding balance; where do I draw the line between being open to engage with strangers over a cup of coffee, and knowing when it’s time for me to be by myself.

When I first came up with the idea of my Drinking in the Culture Tour I honestly didn’t expect the kind of response I’ve received. It’s been three months since I first announced the tour and in that short time span I’ve received over 1000 emails and messages from readers and bloggers who have offered me a place to stay, meals, and even transportation when I’m in town. As much as I complain about the potential death of community; at least in the blogging world community seems to be alive and well.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,


If you live in the Pittsburgh area I’d love to meet you! I’ll be there in 8 days! Let’s have coffee.

Categories: Culture & Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

65 replies

  1. Talking to a ‘stranger’, when was the last time that happened?
    Once the unnecessary awkward moments have passed, we all generally find a connection and the results are more often than not rewarding. Avoid strangers brandishing weapons, generally poor conversationalists!
    Enjoy the coffee 🙂

  2. “Admittedly, we can’t talk to everyone and we can’t save the world.”

    Why can’t we save the world?

  3. Kenneth…I imagine that you wear a lanyard that says ‘Talk to Me. I’m Friendly.’ Kidding, of course. Some people seem to offer a vibe that it is ok to approach them and come within their bubble. They invite contact.

    Reaching out to total strangers can be risky. We look for subtle clues about their receptiveness. It can be complicated and scary for many people to try it. But, the rewards are great. Once hooked, it is part of our behavior. We seek out opportunities.

    • Jim, lol I really don’t. Honestly, most of the time if you could see the way I ‘feel’; I just wanna be left alone to type away, but inevitably people end up talking to me. I believe it has something to do with the law of averages; the law of averages in this context would mean that the more time you spend hanging out at coffee shops the more the chance that people will randomly walk over to me and talk.

  4. My husband draws conversation–often confessions or complaints–from strangers as well. Perhaps that priest’s collar he rejected all those years ago still shows! You remind me here also of why our son lives permanently in France. (Hence, why we’ll never have any savings!) Fortunately for him, he has a good job, allowing him to flee the land of “men with long teeth,” as one French gentleman told us American men are sometimes described there.

  5. I think friendly, outgoing people tend to draw friendly, outgoing people, simple as that. I was surprised once, when visiting Boston, how many people came up to me asking for directions!

    Hope to see you in the Burgh – dress warm

  6. Teaching 160 students a semester got me very used to “strangers”. Then I joined a fellowship of people that promote reaching out to help strangers. Yesterday, a woman I never talked to was sitting next to me. She was very agitated and stood up to complain about something. When the discussion was over I turned to her and said my name and reached to shake her hand. Her name was Hebrew and I began to relate our shared ethnicity to the topic of discussion. She seemed much less agitated after I touched her. Hand shaking is a very powerful way to make an acquaintance out of a stranger.

    • Ellen, right on. In psychology back in college we talked so much about the power of touch. I really believe in it; in the sense that touching someone’s hand or shoulder can create a deeper connection.

  7. My 97 year young aunt tells lots of stories of her youth. She tells of her mother-in-law going to church on Sunday, where after church she would get to see all of her children and grandchildren. They would spend the afternoon visiting. It was the only time of the week they would see each other because of travel and work constraints, yet how beautiful! I assume that is what the “church community” used to be like!

  8. We may not be able to save the world but we can save ourselves from being hollowed out and separated by the world. We not be able to save others but we can continue to make positive changes in our own lives, refuse to give up on community. You’ve proven and continue to prove that there are decent, generous, accepting people out there, just waiting to find a kindred spirit. Thank you for reminding us that all is not lost. We can take back our community, we just have to be willing to put in the work.

    • Thanks, with each week that passes in my little coffee house tour I’ve been noticing a theme that centers around the idea that people really do want to meet, connect, and talk. Even though our culture tends to be standoffish, a lot of people really do want to be more friendly 🙂

  9. See, this is very interesting, because, as a woman, if a man had come up to me and offered to shake my hand, I’d have been nervous and wary. It’s like when I was complaining about how dangerous the public transit was, and my professor (tall, older, beard) claimed, “MARTA is safe as hell,” dismissing my worries. I’m 5’5″ and not very formidable, so I realized we were having completely different experiences. He didn’t have creepy men sit by him and tell him he was “Pretty enough to be a cheerleader.”

    I wonder how altered your coffee house and travel experiences would be if you were a lady. Please don’t read this as accusatory because that’s far from it. I’m just curious about how society views friendliness or approachability based on gender. From what I can tell, men who converse easily with strangers are considered good because they “let their guard down.” But if I constantly chatted with strangers, my family would be cautioning me and shaking their heads – more likely than not. Then again, I’m perfectly willing to admit this may just be my own experience and not that of other women. I could be overanalyzing of course – happened before.

    What are your thoughts?

    • Great thoughts Kira,

      Have you ever stayed at a hostel before? After I stayed at my first hostel years ago when I was in Latin America I realized that a lot of the types of issues you raised have to do with experiences; because I was amazed at how many single women I’ve met who travel from country to country and stay at hostels…. but I’m sure the first time they did it they may have been nervous; but now they’ve developed a maturity in their travels and connecting with strangers.

      So I think the same thing applies to meeting strangers at coffee shops or wherever; you learn how to separate the creepers from the genuinely nice people. And although there are the creepers out there; perhaps I’m an optimist but I believe the majority of people are nice and friendly and aren’t looking to take advantage of an attractive young woman who’s ‘pretty enough to be a cheerleader” 😉

    • Your comments make me happy that the world isn’t so threatening as the Atlanta public transit makes it feel.

      I’ve stayed at a hostel once, and it was a very nice experience – agreed.

  10. There’s some evidence that some people are more susceptible to mosquito bites…Sweet blood or type O blood..? LOL (what type blood r you😀)
    That could be the reason that strangers sense your sweet blood; social, friendly looking dude. 😊
    We need people like Jose in this world and definitely more kind and outgoing dudes like Kenneth. 😉
    My mom will make friends in every trip, no matter what nationality are from; curios, friendly and eager to connect w/other side.

  11. I find now that my life is slower and more simple, I have the time to talk to strangers. If I’m in the local Botanic Gardens, I’m always smiling at stranger or tourists, or asking people with maps in hand, if I can help them.

    I think some people have an open face and a mild-mannered disposition. Some faces are inviting and warm. Some are distant or vacant (and don’t encourage conversation). This dude, (not you’ve even got me saying ‘dude’) probably thought you looked pleasant and open. He would have shaken your hand because that’s a European habit.

    Most meetings or incidents in my daily outings are just plain serendipity these days. I can’t believe how I stumble upon Kindred Spirits quite by chance.

    I wouldn’t mind betting that if I just happened to be in your town/state/country, I would walk into a coffee shop and you would be sitting there tapping away on your computer. It would be really quite funny as I don’t drink caffeine (coffee or tea) after my first cup of black espresso in the morning (when I get up), but for some reason or other, on that particular day, I might have chosen to have an extra cup of coffee and walked into your coffee shop.

    Life’s like that!

    • I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can make it to Australia next year 😀

    • That would be wonderful, Kenneth. I’m sure you would enjoy some of our locals. I wonder if Australians would start up conversations out of the blue, though.

      Might be worth saving up and bringing the whole family. I’d be happy to take your partner & girls to the Zoo and Aquarium etc while you ‘hang out’ in my city.

      Just make it a long stay to justify the expense of fares & accommodation. It’s not cheap to get around the capital cities by train or plane, unless you get some of those really cheap interstate fares (that don’t include luggage – lol).

      Wish I had a spare bedroom to offer you some free accommodation if you visited Melbourne, but unfortunately I don’t – shame about that as I live in one of the best inner suburban areas for visitors to get around via public transport. And while I don’t know the best coffee shops and/or restaurants as I don’t go out to them, I could point you in the right directions to ‘try’.

  12. What a great story! I’m such a hermit, and the past several years I’ve been working on talking to strangers, or engaging in a conversation with random people. It’s always fun, sometimes it makes for a great story, and leaves me feeling better – but man, it can be so hard and challenging! I’m so proud of and inspired by Jose! And you, too, of course!

    • Yea, Jose is the one to be proud of…I was simply sitting there acting all aloof, wanting to be left alone actually lol, but he was a really nice young man 🙂

    • I’ve found that when I’m aloof and want to be alone, frequently that’s when I need the message delivered. 🙂 Not always, but most of the time!

    • Yea, honestly I feel like most of the time I want to be left alone… but I know that I need to be more open and not so closed off from people…… it may not seem like from my articles but I’ve always been the type of person that is happy being alone. I enjoy reading and writing a lot so I could literally go days without leaving my solitude. Writing at coffee houses is a way that helps me to get out off my butt and into the real world 🙂

  13. Reblogged this on randomblog2014 and commented:
    I really enjoyed this post

  14. Kenneth, I really like the comment you made about bloggers and readers. When I attended New Media Expo in Las Vegas, the most profound surprise was that I met so many genuine people, who happened to be bloggers. Thank God for the blogosphere. It has given me yet another community to which I belong and it adds so much color and vibrance to my life. Have a fantastic weekend!

    • Yea, the blogging world is fascinating and what’s so weird is that two years I knew NOTHING about it. I could of told you what a blog was, but beyond that I really didn’t pay much attention to it. Now, after 15 months of blogging I feel like I’m approaching the epicenter of the blogging world meeting so many people from all over the U.S…… its crazy to say the least.

  15. The concept of community has changed a great deal. I remember in the early 90’s when Pagans were trying to reach out to each other and we developed Cyber Communities. Pagan-Home.com was one of the earliest and was active for a number of years (you can find it on The Wayback Machine) and we also had an email list of 300-400 Pagans. Administering it was like herding cats. BUT, we had a worldwide community – literally. People met people hither and yon even if they were alone in their own community and afraid of coming out of the broom closet. 😛

    I live in a little apartment compex now where everone pretty much knows everyone else, but you are talking a town of 9K people – it’s like it used to be in the 50’s (in some ways) with kids playing street hockey and pickup baseball or soccer.

    While I’m an introvert I worked in social work for years and at this point in my life I’ve never met a stranger. I make New Englanders crazy.

    I do find that we just don’t take time to listen to people anymore and there are MANY lonely people out there. Me, not so much, but I often say hello to someone and end up in a half-hour conversation I was not anticipating. That’s assuming I don’t have to leave to pick up a grandkid or something. We seem to have lost our communities – which is sad.

    • Yea a town of 9k seems really small to me! Although I’m in a metro area of millions and millions of people so anything under 100k seems small to me lol

      Some days I wonder if my writing and thought process is helping to contribute to the larger conversation about community because if people don’t keep talking about this subject; perhaps we will wake up one day and realize that nobody actually connects anymore!

    • One cannot help but connect here. I kept running into the primary daytime Dollar Store worker yesterday at the local supermarket. The third time I said, “I’m stalking you,” and she laughed. The fifth time my very handsome friend David was with me and I said, “And now you have a great looking guy interested too,” We all laughed like hyenas. Try that in your city, Get arrested. 😉

  16. “surrounded by passerby’s who simply turn a blind eye” Most of them are not blind but to occupied by shooting a clip to put on youtube.

    And true more like the man Jose would make a happier country. And you can hear the Spanish/Portuguese community here with being open inviting and loving to have a communication.
    it makes you wonder what we ‘Whites’ are lacking.

    maybe we live to much in a digital world. 😀 Though enjoying your journey a lot.

  17. As I’ve said, I have a problem with becoming to emotionally attached to your people and their problems. I think its great how you do your best to listen. I think itsis all people need, unfortunately. So many people lack a true community. I think its what draws them to you. At least that’s what I tell myself after listening and helping others. Some of us are just born for lending an ear. Gesh, I love it because then I’m off the hook for sharing my story. 🙂

  18. I live in Spain and coffee culture is alive and well, but if I drank as much coffee as the locals do, it’d be like I was on crystal meth. It’s not Starbucks, it’s strong!

  19. Posting on the internet is a little bit like being a ‘Jose’, whether Facebook or a blog.

  20. “Unfortunately, many people often complain to me that church community isn’t much deeper than 3 minute conversations and hand-shakes, “I get more fellowship with the regulars I see at the coffee shop each week then I do at church” said a good friend of mine yesterday”
    –You know, I really think church is meant to be all about relationship. I’ve taken your advice and gotten really into Francis Schaeffer. OMG. Man, really awesome. Because I can’t get his books here in English, I’ve had to resort to Amazon’s kindle app on my tablet. And being that I’m in the middle of another book right now, I haven’t started reading with gusto yet. I’ve only downloaded samples so that I can have a taste. Plus, I’ve watched some stuff on Youtube. That being said, I’m in the middle of a five hour long documentary of his, “How then should we live”. I really, but REALLY loved what he said about the early church. That they didn’t meet in large numbers, but in people’s homes. They would eat and break bread together, then the reading of the Bible. And accepting it as the absolute truth of God, not just for a religious experience. So yeah, that says to me that it’s all about relationship. All about community. Not a performance or ‘sacred’ activity.

    • I’m glad you are enjoying it! I’ve literally read every one of his books, I watched the videos, etc. He’s had a huge impact on my life in so many ways….. some of his stuff can be kind of ‘heavy’ but its well worth it if ya ask me 🙂

  21. In the last few weeks I have met a lot with my former school mates, the end of story is, it doesn’t matter how great each every country is it from outside, be it Germany, State or UK.., they (romanians) all want and miss the native country and isn’t about a piece of land and not only about roots and family, it’s all about community and the way people are born in/with it.
    I traveled in some places and I lived in some from where I have a whole picture of being there or there. Nationally, we are different even we, people have same shape and same capacity. Personally even if I can travel all life through Italy ( amazing architecture), I will choose Spain to live (beautiful people), one example. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how money do we have in our pocket but yes, it’s very important with who we are and less where we are.
    Exceptional piece of work, Kenneth! Thank you.

  22. I find it amazing that, despite society’s obvious disconnect with one another and the lack of community, YOU still have little trouble being approached by strangers who then strike up a several minute (or hour) conversation. Do you carry a sign around your neck that says, “Please come tell me your life story”? You somehow manage to get more information out of people, about themselves, than I know about my husband of eleven years. Either I come across as completely unapproachable (I don’t mean to if I do), or you just have a gift. Or maybe my husband just doesn’t talk, which is certainly true.


    • Ha ha no sign around my neck. Like I said in a previous comment, I think it has to do with the law of averages; I hang out at coffee shops so much that the law of averages ends up bringing people to my table. I’m also a fairly straightforward person; I talk to people that I’ve only just met the same way I talk to people I’ve known my whole life, so I think that type of attitude in talking to people helps me connect :0)

  23. You know what’s crazy about people like Jose? I still keep hearing people tell me that is too dangerous. Most of the reason my boyfriend followed me into the city the weekend you came was to make sure I didn’t get kidnapped, raped or murdered while I was there. What! you went to meet a complete stranger?! I wonder if they’d say the same thing if I was going on a date with someone I met online. What’s going to happen in a public place surrounded by witnesses? I think I’ll take my chances.

    More and more, I’m starting to think that is the issue in the states. We are afraid of each other. We are afraid to go anywhere alone or make ourselves vulnerable in any way. We close ourselves off from strangers in the fear they might be a bad person, even though the chances are rather slim. At the same time, we miss out on the community that could be.

    • TK, right on. I bet if we looked up research studies to try and back up these fears that people have we would find out that almost all of these fears are totally wrong and misplaced. The world is a lot safer than the evening NEWS makes it out to be. And strangers are more likely to be nice and helpful than to be mean and nasty

  24. Hi Kenneth, the comment regarding getting more fellowship at a coffee shop than at a church, is unfortunately, all too often true. When God told us not to “forsake the assembling together”, I don’t think that God meant that we were to only get together once a week during church services. We are supposed to be a family, and a body, and all the parts need to work together for a healthier whole. God did say, “It is not good that man should be alone”. I don’t attend church service, but I have “church” fellowship whenever, wherever and with whomever I can. Thanks for sharing community on your blog 🙂

  25. People come up to you because you are approachable. It allows you insight for your blogging! Seriously, I think an innate friendliness and concern for others is something other people can sense in you. I have people constantly talking to me and telling me waaayy more than they should because they know I will listen, without judgement.
    For the most part, I think people often receive from others what they put out. You are willing to open up and communicate and so are they! Consider it a gift and a blessing.

  26. I live in Pittsburgh, and there is a cup of coffee with your name on it.

    • Cool! I’ll be at commonplace coffee in the morning and then at Tazzo D’oro in the afternoon. I’d love to meet you and hear about life in Pittsburgh. Ive never actually been there before so I’m hoping to learn as much about the city in during the weekend I visit 🙂

    • Are you going to be at the location on Forbes or Penn?

  27. “Ultimately, I wish there were more Jose’s in the world” Just read this article, I think U’re a Jose in your own version. Thank you for visiting and will comeback to read more 🙂

  28. A few years ago I was invited to join THE PIONEER VALLEY GENTLEMANS WHISKEY ASSOCIATION. Why? I asked. They wanted me to be a part of them BECAUSE I was a genuine Christian. I was honored. Go figure.


  1. Chance Encounter On A Plane | Chronicle of a Wayward Son
  2. It’a about the journey…REALLY??? « The Culture Monk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: