Diversity and Random Encounters

Those of you that read this blog regularly know what a fan I am of randomness – random people, random facts, random language, random encounters.  Friday night, I was out with some friends at my local dive bar, and went outside to have a smoke.  While I stood in front of a row parked cars, I was approached by a 20-something kid, who apologetically asked,

“Would it be OK if I purchased a cigarette from you?”

“Sure, no problem.  You don’t need to pay me,” I said.  “You can just have one.”

“Oh, but I just hate it when people walk up to me and ask for one,” he replied.

“It’s really no problem,” I assured him.  “Here you go.”

“Thanks,” he said in a soft voice, then turned and walked back in the direction he’d come from.

He got about 20 feet away, then stopped, paused, turned around, and came back.

“You know that laundromat down there?” he pointed towards the huge, generic Coin Laundry at the end of the strip mall.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I know it.”

“I work there every night,” he said.  “When you have to do your laundry, if you come at night, I’ll be there.”  He seemed excited to share his schedule with me.

“I was just there two days ago,” I replied.  “But I was there during the day.”

“Really?  Oh.  I only work at night.”  He went from puzzled that he didn’t recognize me to understanding why not.

“I had the worst time getting that damn money card machine to work!” I told him.

Seems the Coin Laundry doesn’t take coins any longer – you have to pump single dollar bills into a machine with a plastic money card in it, then you stick that money card into a slot on the washer or dryer you want to use.  When I first tried to use the machine, I couldn’t get it to spit out a new card.  A helpful woman intervened when she saw my idiocy, then tried to explain in Spanish that the machine wasn’t working if you chose the English language menu.  I couldn’t follow her, so she finally just took the money from my hand, punched some buttons to get to the Spanish menu, fed it a couple of my singles, and there my card was.

“Oh, you’re not the first,” my young laundromat friend laughed.  “I’ll help you out next time,” he said, seeming satisfied with this offer of help in exchange for the cigarette I’d given him.  With that, he was on his way back to work.

Later that evening, I went outside again.  A group of four people stood chattering together near the door.  I joined them so I wouldn’t be that one random person standing alone pretending to be oblivious to the little crowd a few feet away.  I recognized one of the four – he’s a guy my friends and I call Axl Rose because he has stringy, long, blond hair, wears rock band T-shirts, and always sings things like Def Leppard when it’s his turn at the karaoke mic.  The other three, one woman, two men, were unfamiliar faces.  I was introduced to each, though I couldn’t understand the names of the two men.  The group was in good spirits.  The woman struck me as the sort that was excited by the prospect of playing games, even the made up sort you drum up in the car on a long road trip.  Happy that the thought had come to her, she asked each of us where we were from.

“Wisconsin,” I said.

“Norway,” said Axl Rose.

“Japan,” said man #2.

“Tibet,” said man #3.

“I’m from good old Oakland,” said the woman who’d started us talking about our childhood homes.

The conversation went on for a couple of minutes as we all marveled at the diversity among us, and the distances everyone traveled at some point to end up at the same dive bar in a strip mall in a residential suburb of San Francisco.  In our moment of solidarity, linked together through drinking, smoking, and generally horrible singing at a bar with velvet wallpaper, I realized, in Bokononist terms, we were a granfalloon, and I sent a quick mental thanks to Kurt Vonnegut.