“Daddy, do you like sand in your sandwiches?” a little boy asked, sitting on his father’s shoulders and lowering his head, careful not to hit his head on the coffee shop entrance.

My initial thought was – how funny. A little boy, who is clearly too young to understand ‘sand-wiches’ does not imply sand is actually in the food. An hour later, I started to think he may be on to something. 

Two middle-aged women sat at a two-person table in the corner of the establishment, obviously engaged in what seemed to be a serious conversation. They sat close, both leaning forward as if waiting for the climax of a good book. It was one of those “closed” conversations; the kind you see in a public place, and as a courtesy, sit far away.

What was interesting with this one, though, was there were two gentlemen who weren’t able to see the situation this way, and with coffee in hand, confidently sat down at the table two feet away.

“Whatchall talkin’ about?” one of the men asked the women.

“The benefits and secrets of shea butter.”

I smiled.

The men seemed genuinely interested and went on to ask questions about why people use the “expensive stuff” – referring to name brand cosmetics. In a matter of minutes, these folks went from complete strangers to more than acquaintances.

I looked to the left, as the jacket of a young man walking by brushed my side. He was looking for a place to sit in an overcrowded coffee shop on a busy afternoon. I began to feel guilty for sitting by myself at a four-person table and was a few seconds away from offering him a seat.

He started toward the only couch in the place – a small; beat up, two-cushion piece of furniture. A man in his late 60’s sat on one side of the couch, deeply engaged in a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal. As the young man approached and began to sit down, they exchanged a friendly greeting, introduced themselves with a handshake and went back to reading.

No longer strangers.

A woman rushed into the coffee shop. Her hair was a mess, keys hanging out of her purse and chomping a piece of pink bubble gum.  She shot a snarky look at a man sitting by himself at a nearby table and then sat down.

“So what do we need to do?” she said.

From what I could hear, the two were recently divorced and meeting face-to-face for the first time to discuss their high-school aged daughter. At first, the conversation replicated an exchange between two co-workers meeting for the first time.

How odd, I thought. Two individuals who seemed to have once had a loving, intimate relationship, now trying to get to know one another again.

Topics of conversation ranged from typical custody details to explaining their situation to their frustrated daughter. By the time they got up to leave, the two seemed less like new strangers and more like old friends.

And, then, just after the new divorcees left the building, a man in his late 40’s or early 50’s walked in the coffee shop with a set of keys in hand.

“Did someone lose their keys?” he asked loudly, trying to speak over a crowded coffee shop. “These keys were left in the trunk of the white car parked on the street out front.”

It only took a few seconds for a college student to come running to the front door.

“Thank you so much! Someone could have taken these and I appreciate your honesty for bringing them in,” he said.

“David,” the older man said with a smile as they shook hands.

 “I’m Joe. Thanks again.”

“Not a problem. It’s what I hope someone would do for me.”

David walked out the door and continued walking down the busy street. Joe returned to studying at a table in the back corner.

After witnessing these interesting exchanges between strangers, I thought back to the little boy’s question.

“Do you like sand in your sandwiches?”

It didn’t seem so odd now, because it helped me realize something about strange -ers. They might not be so strange, after all.

I don’t like the”strange” in strangers. And, I don’t like sand in my sandwiches, either.

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