Meeting the Stranger: a Packer fan on the East Coast
In his novel Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. pokes fun at the superficial allegiances people make, particularly those based on geography (something Vonnegut calls a granfalloon). But as I traveled last week in the Northeast, I concluded that meeting people – no matter what shallow reason might be behind the introductions – makes for a more blessed venture.
For about a third of my twelve day trip, I sported either a Milwaukee Brewers shirt or a Green Bay Packers shirt. And on these days, my attire inevitably resulted in meeting people I would never have spoken with otherwise.
Sure, some of the conversations were actually one-line quips that ended as soon as they began:
- The man at the visitor center in Cape Cod who said, “We don’t generally give advice to Packer fans.”
- The woman in Boston, who in spite of jogging with labored breath over a bridge, nonetheless heaved out a “Go Pack” as she passed me.
- The older gentleman in New York sporting a Yankees’ hat who, after noticing my Robin Yount shirt, said “You’ll be lucky to get out of this town alive.” (I reminded him that the Yankees swept the Brewers earlier this season).
But I also had two lengthier conversations on two different subway rides – one in Boston, the other in New York, both of them only two stops long – that I’ll always remember, and that gave my already enjoyable trip an extra lift that only human interaction can provide.
After a ballgame at Fenway, I met a woman who noticed my family’s Packer paraphernalia, and in the two stops we had together, I learned that she was a social worker from Neenah, that she considered moving to New York but decided on Boston, that she had a boyfriend in Connecticut, that the beaches we were considering visiting were nice but crowded, and that we should consider transferring to the blue line because the green line is notorious for mechanical problems (note: we ignored her advice, and three stops later our train broke down).
In New York, I met a man who congratulated me on the Packers’ Super Bowl championship, announced that he was headed to a Yankee game even though the score was already 12-0 in favor of New York, applauded my son’s and my decision to go to the Empire State Building instead of joining my wife and daughters at a Broadway show, and professed his allegiance to Brett Favre no matter what Packer Nation had to say about it. After I shared with him the details of my family’s trip, he said to my son, “You are one lucky kid.”
Of course, I couldn’t wear my Packers and Brewers garb every day. For much of the trip, I wore shirts with solid colors or stripes, and on those days I spoke with fewer people, started fewer conversations, and went to bed with terrific memories of sites to behold, but not with that extra something, that extra spark that awakens after sharing just a bit of my life with a stranger.
We meet people for silly reasons all the time: for the places we come from, the teams we support, the places we work, the religions we practice, the music we like, the pets we own, the politics we share or oppose and the authors we read.
And we are better for it.