We’ve all experienced it – that feeling when you’re traveling in a strange town, and you meet someone with a connection to something familiar. I don’t know the name for it. It’s serendipitous when it happens, yes, but what is the feeling? Maybe there’s word for it in a different language. I don’t know.
The best I can describe it right now is the “unexpected joy of connection”. That’s how I felt when I started talking to the woman in a turquoise bandanna and her husband sitting in front of the Chart Room Restaurant in Crescent City, CA waiting for a table. Mike was inside putting his name on the list. I don’t often start a conversation with people in recent years. When I was young, I used to strike up conversations with everyone I met, but now Mike is usually the one much better at that than I am. But I struck up a conversation with this woman. Maybe it was the turquoise bandanna she wore that made her seem so accessible. It’s lucky I wasn’t wearing my own favorite green or red scarf that I like to fold in a triangle and tie under my hair in the back. I would have worried that the people in the restaurant
might think we were in some sort of cult sitting side by side with our scarves! But I was bandanna-free, so I simply started talking – probably about the long line or the weather or traveling or something. As we exchanged information, this cheery, centered soul I had just met added, “Well, we’re from Wisconsin, and…”
I interrupted her. “You’re from Wisconsin? I’m from Wisconsin!” (Now, it’s been almost 50 years, really, 50, since I’ve lived in Wisconsin, but when grapes are grown in Napa Valley, you call them California grapes. So too with Milwaukee natives. I felt totally justified to say I was from the place were I was born.) So the woman and her husband and I started talking “Wisconsin”. We stopped when I got a text from Mike that our table was ready. I said “good-bye” and walked away, a smile still on my face from having met such open, cheerful people from “back home.”
When I found Mike, he was at a table for four. The table was round and big and perfect for talking. I asked Mike if he minded if I invited the couple from Wisconsin to join us. Now, family and friends who know Mike might not guess that he is always open to meeting new people, but he is – much more so than my supposedly extroverted ENTP self has been in recent years, so he gave a hearty, “Sure. Ask them.”
I went outside and told the couple, “There’s a table for four if you’d like to join us. Not wanting to be assuming, I awkwardly said something like, “Think about it a few minutes and come in and join us if you want.” They consulted each other with their eyes, smiled after a second or two, and said, “Sure”.
At the table, we introduced ourselves, with names this time, of course. “I’m Geri and this is my husband Teri.” and then Geri went on to assure us: “Teri and Geri – don’t worry if you that mixed up – even people who know us do that every once and a while..” In that one comment I knew a lot about this person with whom we were about to have dinner. She was a person sensitive to other person’s feelings, and I was glad we had asked this couple to join us.
I wasn’t worried that my husband Mike, the native Minnesotan would be left out of our conversation. He’s been to Wisconsin enough with me meeting with family and friends to be familiar with the towns. And towns were what we started talking about. Every city that Teri and Geri had a connection to were places Mike and I had been. Their son had married a girl he met at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee where I had graduated way back in ‘68. Even more interesting, Teri, the husband, grew up in Merrill, a town not far from Tigerton where my college roommate and friend, Sally grew up. It was then that the fun of meeting Teri and Geri started multiplying. I texted Sally who now lives in Wausau, WI, and asked where the small business her father owned “back inthe day” had been located. She texted back the name of a small town Terry knew,. We continued back and forth, the four of us, PLUS Sally, across 2000 miles, finding connections to each other. I love living in the age of texting! If this had been in the 60s, we wouldn’t have even tried to connect having the cost of a “long distance” call added to our AT&T bill.
And as if there weren’t enough people in this restaurant to make it “Wisconsin Night,” a man came up to Teri and recognized his Fox (Valley) Jazz Festival T –shirt. He, too, was from the Badger state, and I suggested that all of us start singing “On Wisconsin” right then and there in the Crescent City Chart Room Restaurant. No one seemed to want to take me up on the offer, the new guy from Wisconsin disappeared, and Teri and Geri, and Mike and I all got back to our conversation.
Mike and Teri talked about Teri’s very accomplished son who does 3-D imaging and whose daughter and her husband are equally accomplished and who work in San Francisco. I was fascinated to learn that Geri is a retired fire fighter, the first woman fire fighter I’ve ever met. We went on and on until the steamed mussels and swordfish were gone.
When I sat down the next day to write about yet another meaningful experience on the road, I realized how important it is to actually get on the road! I’d recommend it to anyone. It would have been more comfortable to stay in our little RV at Newport Beach. We wouldn’t have to lug luggage (oh that’s where that noun comes from) up and down Motel 6 steps. We wouldn’t have to spend hours of driving through sometimes boring terrain, get lost on dangerous mountain roads, and sleep in beds that weren’t ours. But a road trip is a unique experience. It pushes you to the unknown. Often the unknown leads you to people like Teri and Geri. It doesn’t matter that we may never see this open, warm, fun couple again. They left us, and hopefully we left them, with an evening that made the day special, and it is “special” that automatically goes right into that box inside our heads marked “treasure”.