We were just strangers when we met

The sign read “There are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met.”  This turned out to be pretty prophetic.  By the end of one month of travel, we had met many strangers who by the time we had to part ways, were new friends.

August found my wife and I on a trip up the Rhine in Europe.  It started with us meeting two couples from Nebraska, Mureen and her husband Murray and Gayle and her husband Larry.  We shared stories and drinks and continued those conversations all week long.  Now we also met another couple the very first day and bravely introduced ourselves.  Through the next ten days, we shared walks and talks, dinners and stories of our lives.  But eventually we were saying goodbye to our new friends, Polly and Stu, but knowing we would make a mutual effort to meet again.  Strangers had turned out to be friends we just hadn’t met.

And then there was Lucerne.  We had boarded a paddlewheeler for a trip around Lake Lucerne.  Knowing no local dialects and completely on our own, we took a seat across from an elderly women.  As the boat moved away from the pier, she leaned over and asked if we were from the U.S.  Over the next hour we carried on a fascinating conversation learning things about our new friend, Lucerne and Switzerland.  When she had to disembark at her stop, the women next to her, not knowing any of us, leaned in and said “I’ll take care of them from here.”  And she did.  No language barrier was going to thwart the effort of strangers becoming friends.

My wife and I just returned from a short trip to the North Woods.  On day two of our stay, I headed out to an area golf course.  I was going to squeeze in a quick nine holes somehow hoping I could just play alone and practice my game undisturbed by any semblance of competition.  But this was not to be.  Instead, I was paired up with two gentleman, Gene and his son-in-law, Ryan.  As they had never played the course, I turned out to be their guide.  The three of us shared a very beautiful fall morning and what turned out to be one of my best scores of the season.  As I finished on the ninth hole, we all wished each other well and where we had been strangers just two hours earlier, parted as friends.

The next day, Deb and I took a long bike ride on a trail near our cottage.  When we returned back to our car, which we had left parked at a local pub, we decided we needed some lunch and the pub looked inviting.  It was while we were there that I discovered the sign I quoted at the beginning of this piece.  It was placed prominently above the bar and in the patrons soon proved how true it was.  In no time at all we were in conversation with two local construction workers, the bartender / owner of the pub and two other couples who were traveling like us and had decided to drop in, because that’s what you do at a North Woods pub.  The sign was true, there really were no strangers there.

The next day found us again at the end of another bike ride exploring yet another local pub.  Before you start worrying about my drinking habits, remember that we are on vacation, wait even better, we are retired.  Earlier, as we were locking our bikes and walking downtown, a woman crossing the street had overheard us pondering about this new place, well new to us, and told us it was a great place and that we ought to stop back later when the place opened.  Well it was later and we heeded her advice and entered the establishment.  To our surprise, the women, it turns out her name was Margaret, was not only working there but was in fact the co-owner.  We ordered our drinks and retired to the warmth and coziness of their backyard patio.  There Margaret waited on and conversed with us, sharing her story and getting ours in return.  Within the span of half an hour, we felt like friends.  Hopefully Margaret is reading this blog and is approving my story.  There is no doubt that The Vine in Minocqua will be a new favorite stop on our stays up North and we will look forward to more conversations with the owners, Margaret and Scott.

Our trip was coming to a close when we got one last chance to make a stranger a friend.  It was Saturday and we had just finished golfing.  Not wanting to miss the Badger’s football game, we stopped in the Sayner Pub, yes, I know this is starting to sound like a North Woods pub review but it’s just a coincidence.  We seated ourselves at the bar, best viewing position, I swear, and began watching the game.  We were soon surrounded by strangers who through the comraderie of a sporting event would become our new friends of the day.  Bob on our left, recently retired and living up North and Ryan on our right who turned out to be from Madison.  The Badgers won, we all celebrated and after sharing our stories, parted with the memories and emotions of another well spent day.

This piece would be pointless without a message, okay moral.  One never knows what interesting story resides in the stranger sitting next to you or maybe waiting in the same line.  That is unless you take the step to find out.  To maybe even introduce yourself.  What’s the worst that could happen?  They might just turn out to be the friend you haven’t met.

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