1. Explore the Unexpected.
2. Extol everyone.
A few years ago I experienced my first New Orleans Mardi Gras - a ridiculously amazing bucket lister for reasons you would never expect. For the first time in my life I had followed my heart and moved to a city I was crazy in love with. And then the magic started happening. During one of the early Carnival parades a new friend texted me to ask where I was. When I responded his reply was "why are you on that side of town with those people?" He implied that there was something wrong with wanting to hang out with people who don't look like us. I resisted the temptation to reply what I was thinking and instead shut my phone off (spoiler alert...smart phone disabling will be a recurring theme of my life and of this book.) After a while I started the long walk home and found myself in a neighborhood the Texting Guy might have called "sketchy." But I didn't really notice because I was having too much fun looking up at the colorful lighted theatrical show rolling down the street. Just then I snapped back to reality as I literally slammed into a young woman who no one would have mistaken for my sister. I tried to apologize to her and her couple of friends but her only response as she looked me over and assessed the parade loot I was wearing around my neck was to point at my chest and say, "I WANT your purple beads." Uh oh. Now, things were getting interesting. It was one of those 17-thoughts-at-once movie slow-motion moments. My brain must have misfired because my immediate response was to nod toward her own collection of fresh costume jewelry and say, "well, in that case I want your green ones."
She paused for a second and said, "ok, 2 of your purple ones for my green one"
I had no idea what was going on but at least things were getting interesting. I then said, "nope, ONE of yours for ONE of mine" and she smiled and said ok. I then reached to remove my strand of green beads and what happened next is one of my life's most amazing moments that I wish had been filmed by one of the camera crews that always seem to miss the authentic experiences in favor of a boring New Orleans cliché. As I was about to remove my strand of beads that we were going to trade, this young woman smiled and looked me in the eye and said, "no, we have to do it TOGETHER."
Before I knew what was happening our arms became intertwined like you see in those just married wedding reception first slice of cake photos. You know, the one where the bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom) do the you-feed-me-while-I-feed-you pose. I was actually doing this with my new sister on St. Charles Avenue. When we finished our bead exchange the young woman and her friends wished me a cheery Happy Mardi Gras and just walked away. I stood there absolutely stunned by what had just happened. Through a stranger, the Universe had just said, "Welcome to New Orleans."
Texting Guy had no idea what he was missing.
A few years ago I was sitting on a bench on a busy street corner in San Francisco. I had come up with this crazy idea to visit the world’s coolest cities; then write and shoot photos for a book series about what it's like to hang out for a day with a week's worth of badass locals. I would soon finish the first of these for New Orleans and now I was researching cool city #2.
Eric is a young, hip surfer-dude guy who also happens to be one of the world's (yes, the planet) top food photographers. He's on a text-name-basis with celebrity chefs and he actually said yes to my random request to meet and hang out and chat about his life in and beyond San Francisco. We had corresponded only by email so other than seeing his work, I really don't know what to expect.
He suggested we meet at one of his favorite restaurants - a place where he knows the people and the food. I realized it must be special because the line was out the door and half-way down the block. This gave us a chance to begin the conversation that would clue me in on what really matters. Over the next hour I was going to discover the secret to living the rich and fulfilling life I've always wanted.
Eric arrived and after introducing himself he did something that I find pretty amazing but that very few people do...he immediately started talking with me as though we've been friends for decades. None of this business of approaching a stranger with hesitation until we've hung out a couple dozen times. What's that all about? That's what dogs do. They meet on the street. They sniff each other's butts. After a while they decide, "hey, you're kinda cool, wanna chase this stick with me?" But Eric didn't ask, "what's up?" or "howzitgoin"? He introduced himself and immediately treated me like a longtime friend. He understood one of the secrets to living a rich and amazing life ...See strangers as friends until they prove otherwise. When we're 12 it's wise not to talk to strangers. When we're old enough to buy shots of bourbon, we should be over that nonsense.
So try this sometime. It really works.
Connect with strangers. They really ARE amazing.
Don't start with "hi, hello, or 'sup"
And don't say simply, "I like your boots"
Start with "Dude, those boots are SERIOUSLY badass. Please tell me where I can get a pair and look as cool as you." Then stand back and get to know your new friend. - Stephen