Take my picture…REALLY!!!

pittsburgh 4

By Kenneth Justice

~I recently returned from Pittsburgh and the latest stop on my Drinking in the Culture Tour (I’m visiting 100 coffee shops around the Western World; connecting with readers, fellow bloggers, and everyone else in-between).

With trips to Chicago, Atlanta, Costa Rica, and now Pittsburgh in my rear view mirror, one of the trends I’m noticing on my coffee house trips is how many strangers strike up conversations with me. The young woman in the picture is the most recent example.

On Saturday afternoon I was hanging out in South Side, Pittsburgh (one of the city’s trendy café, restaurant, and bar spots) taking pictures when the young woman in my photo tapped me on the shoulder,

Hey, why are you taking pictures?” she asked

After I explained to her a little bit about my coffee house tour she instantly began smiling, “Take a picture of me!” she demanded. Once I obliged her request she began giving me a bunch of information about Pittsburgh,

I’m originally from New York and I’ll be straight with you Kenneth; New York is where it’s happening, but Pittsburgh is a great city to live in if you want to raise a family” she said

The four friends that she had been walking with looked annoyed; they wanted to keep heading to whatever destination had been their goal but she wanted to stop and talk to a total stranger; it was a good metaphor for so much of what is going on in the Western World. More and more people want to be left alone and stay disconnected from strangers and from the world around them…..but there are still a handful of people (like the young woman in the photo) who have a thirst within them to connect with people from outside their social groups.

At coffee the first evening I arrived, I wrote about a young woman who’s goal was to graduate Art School and then to pursue a career as a chalk artist. What I left out of the article the other day was in the midst of my discussion with the chalk artist, a late 30ish young woman sitting three tables away from us was quietly listening to every word of our conversation. And half-way through the conversation with the chalk artist, this other young lady began talking to me about coffee; it turns out this woman was a coffee fanatic. She’d been to every single coffee shop, café, and tea house in the entire greater metropolitan Pittsburgh area and was a wealth of information.

Go to Beehive Coffee” she said, “It’s a strange little bohemian place that shares the building with a dance club. The people aren’t always the friendliest, but you’re almost sure to run into philosophy majors, artists and musicians” she said. And for the better part of an hour she wrote down names of coffee houses, directions on how to get to them, and her take on the culture atmosphere. She even had a travelers map of Pittsburgh which she gave to me (I never did ask her why she carries travelers maps of Pittsburgh in her purse, perhaps she is a tour guide).

At that same coffee shop a couple hours earlier I struck up a simple conversation with the Barista,

So is this coffee shop a good central place in the heart of Pittsburgh?” I asked, and with that simple question he began giving me suggestions on where to visit over the weekend and he even invited me to the bar with him and his friends later in the evening (I didn’t make it because I was too tired from my traveling).

We often talk about ‘other’ countries where the strangers are friendlier and the people are more open to community and conversation; and in many instances I agree that the United States has become much less connected in this regard.

However, there are still pockets of hope; there are still people who aren’t afraid to connect with a weary traveler and share a cup of coffee and a little conversation. Perhaps it has something to do with the setting; would people be as apt to talk to me if I was sitting at a restaurant, a mall, or a fast food place?

As each weekend comes and goes during my coffee house tour, I can’t help but think that there is something unique to the coffee house experience. A simple drink that was discovered in Ethiopia more than 500 years ago and has been a staple of conversation and community for countless generations.

Alcohol of course has a similar effect; bars can often be a great place to connect with people. Unfortunately, while the more coffee you drink increases your alertness…..the more alcohol your drink tends to have the opposite effect. And in my case, the more alcohol I drink the sleepier I tend to become.

Philadelphia is less than a week away and while I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I will get to meet a couple of my fellow bloggers; I’m also looking forward to the opportunity to connect with strangers and enjoying those spontaneous conversations that can’t be recreated with rehearsal no matter how hard you try.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning


Categories: Culture & Society

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

61 replies

  1. I am just happy to see there are people who want to just connect. Who want to close the gaps and know what it is like to communicate.
    Able to connect and communicate has become a skill.

  2. I’m really enjoying your spontaneous conversations! I love the women pictured, what a great attitude! 🙂

  3. Is there somewhere you post your planned cities? Readers could give you suggestions and stop by to say hello.

  4. You are adding to a theory I have – through personal experience – which is:
    Theory PART i: if we can “forget” to be wary, cautious, keep your distance … there is so much more good in folk than “bad”. All of us “trained” to be scared of a word, a touch, an interaction – just in case!
    Theory Part II: And if one dabbles in making connections – we have lost the skill of graciously ending a conversation once one starts, so end up spending far longer in it than we wanted. So the next time we avoid getting into one.
    Theory Part III: ambulance chasing litigation wherein someone is always to blame and must pay, has caused us to stand back – in case we are the one “blamed” if something goes wrong.
    Theory Part IV: The world is a better place than we think. Each of us putting that into practice through commonsense and simplicity is the key.
    (and you US chaps are fond of saying, “Good Job Kenneth!”)

  5. I am definitely that woman off to the side. While I don’t usually strike up conversations with strangers, I will sit and listen to a conversation just to see if I can contribute somehow. I’m not sure if that makes me an oddity or not. I’m just happy to know I’m not the only one.

    • It doesn’t make you an oddity…… going to a symphony on Video Game music, now that might be a bit different; but even that doesn’t make you odd; it gives u your own sense of charm 🙂

    • If only I would have cosplayed at the event! Oh well.

      I wish I could just strike up a conversation with anyone without needing them to be talking. I could just walk up and say hi. For some reason, I just can’t make myself do that.

  6. I am so glad the Pittsburg trip went so well.Is n’t it interesting that the ones who sit quietly. listen with eager ears and then have the most to say. It seems that some people just need a bit more time to warm up and that they too want to connect.

    • Wow, Pittsburg was totally not what I expected…it was a really good time. I wish I had the space in my daily articles to write about everything that happens and my overall thoughts on each city, but 900 words or less is just such a limited space 😦

  7. I just want to say that I really love your blog and I’m so happy I came across it. 🙂

  8. If I ever see you I’ll ask the same question; one more pic pls, won’t ruin ur album 😀
    She looks friendly happy girl.

  9. Interesting how she resisted the pressure of her friends to keep walking.

    • They walked two blocks ahead and then stopped and waited for her….I heard them giving her hell for talking to a stranger, her boyfriend was one of the guys but at least I could tell he didn’t feel threatened that she was talking to a guy 🙂

  10. Enjoyed reading your post.

  11. How great. Man, I love meeting strangers. I don’t know why, but I swear it just doesn’t happen like it used to. Maybe I don’t look as friendly as I used to! Haha :/

    • hard to say; every city and culture is different, so it could have to do with being in the right setting.

    • True… it’s interesting you said city AND culture. I am a Floridian living in California, and maybe that’s part of it… but I’m also a veteran, and I’m still experiencing culture shock entering the civilian world again. I never realized how different military/civilian culture was until recently, since I joined the Navy right out of high school. So yeah, for all I know, I look as out of place as I feel nowadays! Not awkward or uncomfortable, I mean, just kind of like a foreigner who doesn’t know the way things are done here (the civilian world).

      Well, that was a bit of a tangent, but you provoked the thoughts, so there they are! Haha! Thanks for replying, too, btw.

    • I don’t know much about the culture within the Navy, but I can guess that its like you said; VERY different from living in California….

  12. I remember years ago when I went to visit my grandmother in NY that she was always so concerned that it was ‘dangerous’ for me to walk down the streets of NYC and actually TALK to people! I always enjoyed stopping to talk to people and never had any problems. I found that most people were happy to talk about all kinds of things. I enjoyed myself and learned a lot.
    Maybe they liked my ‘Southern’ accent? I have no idea, but I found out that New Yorkers were a lot more open and friendly then they got credit for.
    I think people all over the South are very open to talking to strangers in bars/restaurants/coffee houses/hotel lobbies/malls or just wherever. 🙂

    • I totally don’t mean to Diss the places I’ve been; but so far Atlanta has been the trip where the people were hands down the most friendly; perhaps it is a southern thing

  13. Dear Kenneth,

    There is a bit of a risk involved in reaching out to others to connect. You might be told to mind your own business, you might be ignored. Or you might be met with kindness. But in order to find out you have to have a little courage, be a little vulnerable. Maybe we as a culture are becoming more afraid to be vulnerable or take the risk of connecting?

    As an introvert sometimes I come off aloof and I truly don’t mean to. Maybe sometimes I let fear of rejection get the best of me. I will work on that!

    Thanks as usual 🙂


    • So much truth in what you say Allison; risk, fear, vulnerability, are all things that probably keep people from connecting…. but in the end I wonder if we just ended to take the risk and if people don’t reciprocate; so what, we just move on with our life 🙂

    • Yes! I agree. It is better to take the risk and add richness to your life by reaching out. In the end it’s about the person you want to be despite anyone else’s reaction.

  14. Here’s hoping the pretty young lady in your picture can persuade her friends to interact with people as she did. We could do with the barriers breaking down a bit more.
    Enjoy the continuing journey.

  15. Kenneth, you have an incredible talent for getting on with complete strangers! Nothing like that ever happens to me!

  16. So did you ever go to beehive coffee? Is that where you met the PhD art professor?

  17. Yes exactly! It hurts to reach out and be left hanging. And some people are more natural listeners than speakers or take longer to warm up. A deep topic, indeed!

  18. I love this blog for many reasons, however I am glad to see that there is still hope out there for REAL communication between real people. As technology is an ever increasing part of our lives, more and more people are not learning or are losing the art of conversation and look bewildered when someone dares speak to them.

    And yes, Kenneth, us poor southerners are a friendly batch for the most part. I think it is the sinful amounts of sugar we put in all that sweet tea 😉

  19. Love the spontaneous conversations in coffee houses!

  20. Love all these random conversations! What fun. Think people are hungry to connect but we all mistrust others so much. Enjoy the coffee . You need to go to Vanilla Black in Glasgow….

  21. I would not ask anyone to take a picture of me but I love to start conversations with strangers. And I bet my bus and train rides are more interesting thanks to this…

  22. Sounds like fun, enjoyed reading ..thanks.

  23. your tour is amazing! I’m so gonna keep following it 😀
    What I love about meeting and interacting with complete strangers is that most times they remain strangers, after that one conversation there will never be another one. And if one may think that their words will soon be forgotten, I disagree: I still remember the care and affection of an old man I met on a train while talking of his life, although I’d never be able to recognize him. the fact that I had never met him before and that I never did after made me think more about our conversation and it made me cherish this memory as one of the sweetest and most curious ones.
    Good luck in Philadelphia 🙂

  24. Kenneth – Sorry I’m late with this – here are cool places in Rittenhouse Square – all walking distance from each other:

    Club Quarters on Chestnut

    Friday, Saturday, Sunday

    Beer / Food
    20 Manning Grille – 20th and Rittenhouse Street (a lot of people in and out)

    Monk’s Cafe

    A lot of cool spots on 20th between Locust and Spruce Streets

    Sunday Brunch
    Day by Day

    La Columbe is a great choice, nicely done 🙂

    Peace ~ Allison

  25. the best thing to write about in the world-coffee….i can probably be the brand ambassador of the coffee shops close to my place….a visit to the coffee shop every evening is inevitable…drop me a line if u happen to be in delhi…will fill u in with everything coffee related in new delhi…..

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  27. I’ve found the same thing, that most people aren’t as grumpy as they look on the street and are happy to connect. I’ve started making it a point to smile and say hi to people I pass on the street or on the running path by my house; most look stern and try not to make eye contact, but as soon as I flash a smile their mood instantly changes–most smile and say hey back. It’s almost like we’ve programmed ourselves into believing remaining quietly in our own bubbles is the socially acceptable thing to do, but it definitely cheers me up when strangers are friendly or strike up a conversation.

  28. i grew up in “Da Burgh” (I’m in Australia now) – I hope mah peeps were good to you. I enjoyed this post.

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