Common Interests (Issue 568)

In which we are reminded that starting conversations with complete strangers can be easy if we can find common interests.

With the melody, “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” and the rhythmic clapping of a fully aroused, Boston opening night audience still ringing in my ears, I stood at the end of Row Q, waiting my turn to step into the aisle and leave the theater.

In the aisle, waiting his turn to move past me, stood an older man, perhaps in his early ‘80s. In his prime, he would have been a little taller than me. Solidly built.  I imagine he was probably quite athletic and terribly good looking. Now he was an older man in a wrinkled tan rain coat and blue blazer, his head bowed forward, slightly, almost resting, waiting patiently for a throng of dance patrons to move up the aisle.

“Are you uplifted?”  I asked, looking at him.

He turned his face toward me, looking at me silently for a moment, as if gauging the source and the purpose of the question.  I smiled at him, gently.

“Yes,” he said, with a thin smile. “I am…. I saw it Tuesday night, I’ve seen it tonight, and I’ll see it Saturday night.”

“That’s a lot of uplifting in a week,” I grinned, raising my eyebrows.

“Yes,” he smiled back, more gently. “I’m Vice Chairman of the Board of the company. I see them perform 50 times a year.”

Twenty questions popped immediately to mind, and it wasn’t the time or place to be curious. So,  I thanked him for his work, applauded the impact of the new company artistic director, and wished him well for the Saturday night performance, and he moved up the aisle toward the door.

About 20 minutes later, as I headed down the stairs in the Boston Common parking garage,  I noticed the 50-ish woman in front of me, noting that she was carrying a program from the same dance performance.

“Wasn’t that a WONDERFUL program,” I boomed to the back of her head, three steps below me.

She reached the landing (now, remember, it’s 10:30 at night, and it’s just the two of us on the stairs, nobody else coming or going), turned, smiled, and said, “Yes, it was fantastic. I just loved the first piece, “Home,” didn’t you think that was wonderful? I just loved the music….”

After ten minutes of energetic conversation, I wished her well and we went our separate ways into the echoing expanse of the now almost car-less parking floor.

Common interests.  With a little care, it’s just amazingly easy to move past “normal social barriers” and start conversations with complete strangers if we can find common interests.  Or something about which to complement them.  Or something about which to be mutually curious, as in “Do you see that statue over there, do you know what that is?”  And then be genuinely interested in their answers, willing to follow the conversations more or less where-ever they lead. (Easy to do if the idea is to start conversation rather than achieve a particular conquest.)

On this particular night, between the Vice Chairman and the parking garage landing, I started four other conversations each of which lasted several minutes.  Piece of cake.

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