#ColgateProblems: Strangers ‘n’ Things

Amy Balmuth Managing Editor

While, at times, Colgate feels so small that if it were a dessert you would ask for more, it so happens that strangers do exist. Talking to someone you don’t know is an art form, the masters of which are Ryan Seacrest and highly-rated Uber drivers. Following “Omg, it’s getting cold so quickly” with “what’s your relationship with your mother like?” is likely to be awkward at best, socially crippling at worst. Thankfully, meaningful conversations do exist and have the power to turn a friend of a friend of a friend into a loyal Instagram follower and confidante.

This summer, I was wanting to meet with a stranger from my sketch comedy class in Starbucks to write for our class. It was the 24 hour kind of Starbucks, so it was an extremely diverse crew: people there equally for caramel machiattos, free wifi and lodging. I stared blankly at my computer screen, soaking up the reality that this 23-year-old classmate with a very Gamestop aesthetic was standing me up when we had an assignment to complete. Looking around for my graphic-tee loving friend, I noticed the extremely dashing Disney prince sitting in front of me. He had the build of an Olympic swimmer and the facial hair of a farmhand, and was working diligently on not one but two computers. As someone who is barely proficient in Microsoft Word, I found this intriguing. He was clearly doing something so important that I couldn’t wrap my humanities brain around it, and I was curious to find out. Suddenly, I noticed we had the same sticker on our laptops, from a café in Cape Town (where I studied abroad). I felt the espresso-like shot of adrenaline that precedes speaking in class, cold calling and initiating conversations with strangers; this was fate, and I must say hi.

Pointing at the sticker, I managed a few words like “Hi, I just noticed we have the same – OMG, so weird! Have you been to Cape Town?” He seemed to be expecting my comment, probably because I had been rehearsing and – maybe staring  for the previous five minutes. He responded in a voice as smooth as his tan, confirming yes he had been there after joining the Peace Corps, that he wants to go back, that he lives in California, etc, etc. Just as I was falling for his impeccably-curated persona, he casually mentioned “Yeah, my boyfriend’s from Franschoek, I hope to go back.” I was not expecting this plot twist, and the awkwardness over my misplaced affection clouded my end of the conversation. Attempting to regain my footing, I definitely said something weird like, “Well, hopefully we can go back to South Africa sometime!” or something equally vague and panicky.

While my experience striking up a conversation with a stranger did not end with a wine tasting in a South African vineyard, I loved talking to this dude and learning about his Hollywood-interesting life. I wish I could stay we’ve stayed in touch to this day, but I can’t imagine he remembers this conversation while balancing two computer screens and a dashing South African boyfriend. With the unknown comes opportunity; so, talk to someone you don’t know and you, too, might meet the person of your dreams in a 24-hour Starbucks.