Ask strangers on New York City sidewalks for directions to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I’m getting better at this. I’m thinking ahead about the best way to approach people to get what I want. So I pull out my iPhone, tap on Google Maps, and type in “Golden Gate Bridge/directions.” Then I walk up to a guy dressed in a nice suit who is standing texting away on his own phone.
“Excuse me,” I say. “I’m wondering if you can give me directions to the Golden Gate Bridge.”
He looks at me, perplexed. “That’s in San Francisco.”
“Okay, but I’m typing it into my Google Maps and it’s not working.“
“You’re going to have to fly.”
“Well, let’s see. If I hit the “walk” button, it says “No routes found.” So maybe I should try the train? Oh look, it says that will take 3 days and 5 hours, and there’s a train leaving at 3:20pm.”
“You need to go to Google Flights. It’s a different app.”
Didn’t know there was such a thing. Live and learn.
Next I approach a dog walker with 4 or 5 dogs wrapped around his ankles. “ Golden Gate Bridge,” he says, staring thoughtfully out into the void. “I’m thinking . . . California.”
“Okay,” I say. “How far is that?”
“Well, you’re gonna have to fly.”
Finally I approach an Asian couple I hope are tourists. When I ask, the woman immediately replies, “This is a joke, right?” Nonetheless, I hold my ground, and am once again told I’ll have to fly.
So grateful I’m doing this project in NYC, with an endless supply of never-to-be-seen-again strangers. Otherwise, someone might send me to one of those padded cells with no doorknob on the inside . . .
[Acceptances: 3; Rejections: 0]
EXCHANGE SECRETS WITH A STRANGER
Been stalling on this one, as I couldn’t quite decide how to lure someone into a potentially intimate, possibly compromising chat. But finally the right moment arrives. I’m out walking on the Hudson Park when I see a guy about my age seated on a beach soaking up the brisk morning air. I plop myself down next to him and we stare out at the water.
“I have an unusual question for you,” I begin.
“Okay . . .” I detect hesitancy.
“I come out here in the mornings to clear my head,” [so far, so true] “ and I’m wondering if I told you a secret about myself, would you tell me one about yourself?”
“No.” Ah, rejection at last!
But I’m becoming a persister, so here we go . . .
“Okay, well how about if I just tell you one about myself?”
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think people keep secrets about 3 things: other people/relationships, money, and health. So my people secret is that I have a terrible crush on a guy in my life but because he’s all tangled up with other people in my life, some of whom might get hurt, I can’t say anything to him or anyone else.”
“That’s not a bad thing, I wouldn’t judge you for that.”
“No, but this isn’t really about good and bad, just about things I can’t talk about to anyone.”
“Second: money. I think of myself as an honest person, but I steal things.”
“Oh, well that’s not good.” (He’s still stuck in the moral reading of all this, like he’s helping me figure out if I’m going to get into heaven.)
“Not big things,” I reassure him, as he’s looking slightly alarmed. “I mean like at Starbucks, I’ll take more than my share of sweeteners, napkins, etc.”
“I’d give you a pass on that.”
“Yeah, but the thing is, I could easily pay for that stuff myself . . .”
The conversation goes on in that vein without really advancing, so I move on.
“Third, health: a couple of years ago I had a total hip replacement. I had a fantastic recovery and was doing gymnastics within weeks afterward. But the hospital gave me a little card to present at the airport in case my metal hip set off the security alarms, which it often does. So now sometimes when I want to move to the front of the line, get help with my luggage, or secure a better seat, I adopt my former limp, pretend to be in pain, and flash my card.”
“Well,” by now at least he’s smiling, “I’d be okay with that too.”
We sit in silence for a moment.
Then the moment I didn’t see coming:
“Okay, now I’ll tell you a secret about myself.” Turns out, he’s a tall, fit, active guy who’s always prided himself on being an uber human—powerful and strong. But in the last few years he’s developed a fear of heights and of flying. He’s too ashamed to tell anyone, but he’s given up skiing and other things he enjoys. Thinks it’s genetic (his dad had it), has tried meditation, doesn’t seem to want to go the Xanax route.
Since this isn’t my day to offer unsolicited advice (that’s still on the horizon), I wish him well, stand up, and continue on my two-good-hips walk.