I have this thing about being in public. Sometimes, strangers talk to you. It’s a real problem for me.
I’m not an introvert by any means, but I don’t want to chat with the person behind me in line who compliments the voicemail I just left my mother. I don’t really want to know why the person on the plane next to me is flying to D.C. And I really, really don’t want to know why the awkward stranger in the coffee shop really loves any song.
I’m happy watching people without interacting. I’m totally fine with chatting with patrons after a performance. But I have a strong stranger danger button.
My husband, however, really likes chatting to people. All the damn time. We get stuck in hotel lobbies, waylaid by elderly women who want to detail exactly what we should try at the continental breakfast the next day. We spend extra time in rest stops hearing about how the gas attendant has never left their home state.
I mock him for it, I grumble at him when we run late because of it. But—and I really hate to admit this—every once in a while, he meets someone really cool.
I’ll let him tell you about it.
I stood in line at a Starbucks in Chicago the other day when a gentleman in his 50s or so cut the line. I looked at him, not entirely sure he’d meant to or not. He glanced at me and immediately stepped back, saying, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I told him not to worry about it. I had done that multiple times.
He saw that I was wearing a Cubs hat (Go, Cubs!) and asked if I was headed to the game that day. I told him that, no, I had actually been fortunate enough to sing the national anthem at a Cubs game a few days before with some of my fellow cast members with the national tour of The Wizard of Oz. His eyes widened, and the conversation began: what other shows had I done, did I have a dream show? And then, despite my attempted polite refusal, he bought my coffee for me.
He spoke as though he knew theatre a bit more intimately than the normal patron, especially when he asked what role I’d be playing in an upcoming production of 42nd Street. I told him that I’d be happily tapping my feet in the ensemble while understudying a very talented guy as the featured dancer. He in return told me about how he used act regionally, and that he’d played Julian Marsh in 42nd Street as well as Fagin in Oliver and El Gallo in The Fantasticks.
The conversation lapsed a bit. I could have let it go, but something spurred me on to ask what he was doing now. He told me that he and his wife had co-founded a program to work with Christian parents—please understand that I controlled a very deserved eyeroll here because where I grew up, to most, if you’re not Christian, you’re unacceptably other—to be more accepting of their LGBTQIA children.
I was utterly floored. I took his hand and shook, thanking him on behalf of my wife, myself, and all allies of the LGBTQIA community, for the work he was doing.
The organization is called Freed Hearts and is based in Texas. It works to get LGBTQIA kids off the streets and back into their parents’ homes. It works to lessen the amount of teen suicides by teaching the entire family that, no, you do not have to sacrifice your religion to love your child.
This is why I talk to strangers. Moments like these. Moments in which a bought coffee inspires a conversation that has led me to ponder how I might pay him back, not only for the coffee but also for the lives and relationships he’s working to save.
So…I guess some strangers are okay. And occasionally they prove there is hope for the world.