Conversation Starter (Issue 764)

In which we are reminded that conversations with strangers are easier than we make them… if we would just start.

So…New Year’s Day. Pasadena, California. My buddy and I were standing at a cocktail round eating lunch before the Rose Bowl. Beautiful day. We were in the Stanford alumni enclosure with thousands of Stanford fans ranging in age from a few months old to well into their 90s. Maybe some of our friends were there but we didn’t see them. We hadn’t planned ahead. We felt little isolated, really, looking a sea of people in bobbing cardinal shirts and hats, engaged in vigorous conversations.

As we stood there, eating, focused on our food, a kid … sorry…. a well dressed young man of about 12 years … approached us. Sensing his presence, we looked up. 

“Hello,” he said in a big voice, waving, looking from one of us to the other. “Are you guys here for the game?”

“We are,” we replied, enthusiastically. “Are you?”

“Yes,” he replied! “Who are you guys rooting for?”

“Stanford,” I replied.

“Yes, I see you are wearing Stanford colors. Who are your favorite players on the team?”

I admitted that I hadn’t followed the team very closely during the season. He turned to my buddy and asked the same question. Same reply.

“Where did you guys go to school?” he asked, a little incredulous.

“Well, I’m the son of a class of 1938 at Stanford. My buddy here went to Cal.”

“Cal? That’s a great school. I live in a house divided. My dad went to Stanford and my mom went to Cal. We give her a real hard time about that. And when she reaches her limit, my dad says, ‘oh, boys, leave your mom alone. Everybody knows that Stanford is the better school.’”

He laughed. “She doesn’t like that very much.”

And on we went, two balding middle-aged guys and a 12-year-old. We talked about the Rose Parade floats; life in California; various players on the Stanford football team; differences between LA and New York City (his home); his thoughts about the upcoming game, shopping in LA and the various stores his mom has dragged him through, and his thoughts about where he might want to go to college (“Stanford,” he replied. We were shocked, of course). Very pleasant.

“Well,” he said, looking at both of us after about 15 minutes, “it’s been really great talking to you guys. I hope you enjoy the game.” And he gave us a little two-fingered salute to his forehead, smiled, and walked away.

I shook my head.

“Really?” I said, turning to my buddy. “Really???? That was a  t w e l v e –y e a r – o l d!!!!!! …We’re standing here, by ourselves, and HE opens a conversation with us, a couple of middle-aged guys he doesn’t know …. and then HE dismisses us to move on when he’s had enough!!!!! Really?”

And, I’m just kicking myself; I forgot to ask for his card so I could follow up. I may need him at some point.

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