Brief Encounters

My most recent trip to New York City was memorable in many ways. Apart from a fabulous and inspiring PACA conference – more on that later – I also had many chance encounters with people who I will never see again but had meaningful conversations with in a very short time.

I love meeting new people and although I know none of the people I have encountered in the last ten days will ever read this, I wanted to put our chance encounters into words so as not to forget any of them.

I always try and go to flea or antique markets wherever I travel to – I love all things vintage and I find that I get to know a city better and also travel to neighbourhoods I might otherwise never visit. New York was no exception and I went to a couple of weekend markets I had never been to before. Vintage lovers tend to be collectors and they all like to talk about their passion for certain pieces and it was through this that I got into quite a lengthy conversation with one of the vendors. She admired the brooch I was wearing and she had an amazing selection of bakelite and other art deco jewellery on display. We got talking about knitting – she also collects old patterns and I knit most of my own sweaters from 1930s patterns, another common ground. She was a very interesting lady and I did end up buying a gorgeous piece at a good price which I will forever associate with a wonderful conversation.

My next encounter took place on Coney Island, a place I have always wanted to visit but never had the time for but this time I had a morning off and took myself and my analogue b/w camera off to the beach. Coney Island’s heyday was in the 1920s and 1930s and although there isn’t much glamour left, it was still an enjoyable trip. The rides were all shut up but there were a few open diners and hot dog places – apparently Coney Island is the birthplace of the hot dog and so I had to have one right there on the beach.

I was snapping away trying to shoot a line of benches with some great cast iron work when I became aware of someone staring at me. At first I thought that maybe he worked on the beach but as we got into a conversation it turned out that he was on his daily walk along the sea front. I had never really met a Brooklyn local before and this one had a very strong Brooklyn accent – like Clara Bow had, I imagine! Everything seemed to have an extra “oi” in it somewhere and it felt a bit like I was in a movie. We chatted for about one hour and he told me a lot about Coney Island and its locals. He was very kind and incredibly funny and certainly made my trip to Coney Island very memorable!

My last but by no means least brief encounter was on the flight home. The plane was cramped and crammed and the poor guy sitting in the seat next to me seemed wedged in as he was incredibly tall. We got chatting and started talking about movies – as you do with an in-flight entertainment system with about 30 films in it. Music was the next topic and we were both startled to find out that one of our favourite albums was also that of the other, a gem which I have loved for years but I don’t know anyone else who has listened to it. We started talking about our jobs and this is where we differed wildly – he told me about his job as a corrections officer in New York – an occupation I could never imagine having. I couldn’t really see him do it either, apart from his height he seemed the most gentle and unassuming person I have met in a long while. Before his current job he was in the military and had been to Iraq after which he decided to leave the army. I didn’t want to pry but he must have experienced some horrible things over there. We ended up talking a lot about art and his impending trip to Neuschwanstein Castle – I don’t think I have ever had a red-eye flight pass so quickly, thank you!

I know I will never see any of these people again but our conversations will stay with me and I certainly feel richer for having met them. When did you last have a conversation with a total stranger? Is it something we only do away from home? I hope not.