Meeting People Through Children
In 1987, I spent a number of days exploring Southport, England while my husband was in business meetings. I was reminded that children can be a tool to opening conversations with strangers. Like the woman who noticed Heidi slumped in her stroller and scolded, "Do you know your baby is asleep!" Or to this wonderful driver of a double-decker bus, who welcomed Heidi onto the driver's seat so she could pretend to drive his bus! He is the stranger I will remember, for his warmth and humor. I remember him as Mr. Oz.
I learned quickly that children play a different role in England. Some restaurants and pub owners turned us away when they saw Heidi in her stroller. When given advance warning, Heidi was welcomed into a ritzy French restaurant. The owner borrowed an antique high chair with velvet cushion from a shop next door. He seemed proud to announce they had only once before accepted a child to their restaurant. But regardless of culture, there are people who delight in children everywhere. Above is a picture of Heidi with Peter, our waiter at the hotel. He was one of those people. We left after each meal with extra supplies of fruit and biscuits for Heidi to enjoy later.
Riding Mr. Oz's Bus!
Heidi and I waited at the bus stop across from our hotel until we spotted a double decker pulling up to the curb. "Where to?" The driver asked when I stepped onto the bus. I explained I just wanted to go a few blocks to give Heidi a double-decker experience. I paid 22 pence and climbed the stairs to find the upper deck empty.
View From Bus
Heidi and I enjoyed looking down on the cabs and cars and watching the tree branches nearly whack the windows with each turn.
After a bit, I trotted down to tell the driver we better get off, but he encouraged us to just stay on and enjoy. Back up we went. I could hear him whistling "We're off to see the Wizard" from his seat. He kind of reminded of the Wizard of Oz.
The scenery changed. From city to suburbs to countryside. Fields and farms, a cemetery, a church...a storybook image of a girl riding a horse down a dirt road. The bus stopped for about 10 minutes when we arrived at the turnaround spot in Banks, a coastal village north of Southport. I asked what the fare was for the return trip. "Oh nothing, I think." Teased Mr. Oz. "Since you've come all the way from America."
The Bus Takes a Rest
In Banks, the bus rested and Mr. Oz stretched a bit. He climbed upstairs and enjoyed the view with Heidi and me. Then he asked if Heidi would like to sit in the driver's seat. He offered to use my camera for a photo while Heidi played with the wheel. Then Mr. Oz asked if I would mind the bus, while he ran into a stone building nearby. He dashed off, leaving me with all the ticket money just sitting on a little tray. A woman climbed on board and laughed at the sight of Heidi and me at the wheel. "So we ride free today, do we?" She said with an accent that matched her perfectly. A tidy little man in a black cap laughed behind the woman. When Mr. Oz returned I stayed with others who had gathered up near the front. We jabbered the whole way back. Everyone had to tell me who they knew back in America. And everyone had to tell me what I needed to do on my remaining days in Southport.
Thanks Mr. Oz!
Not only did you welcome Heidi and me to your bus, but your positive spirit seemed to spread to anyone you came in contact with.
Heidi doesn't remember this little adventure that occurred 25 years ago. But I remember it fondly.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers