Don’t talk to strangers. That’s what we are told as children. But if you follow that rule all your life, you’ll end up missing out on many wonderful encounters. Here’s my sister Carolyn Lewis’s take on why you should talk to strangers…
Parking my car on a side road, I suddenly noticed that the house I was in front of had an old truck on the front lawn with a tarpaulin half over it.
It’s not that unusual to see non-roadworthy car bodies on lawns in Hamilton, but this was a truck that could have been an extra from The Waltons TV series. A depression-era monster, it was in front of the most well maintained garden and 1960s split level house with basement you’d ever find – a sort of quarter-acre pavlova paradise that just had to have an owner that spent every weekend pottering around making sure everything was right in his world, fixing things that only he could see needed fixing.
And sure enough, there was one of those wiry old Kiwi blokes in the driveway. As I passed by I caught his eye, nodded to the truck, and said ‘looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you there!’
It was the start of an hour long chat about his vintage car restoration work and a guided tour through the basement of the house which was set up with the most amazingly full (but perfectly ordered and clean) workshop with three car bodies being fixed up at one time.
The response I got from friends when I told them all this was an incredulous ‘so you just wandered into a total stranger’s house? How safe was that?’
I thought about it for a second or two and then shrugged. “What exactly do you think I did in my work for the past 15 years?” I replied.
As a council inspector for many years, both in urban and rural areas, I had wandered onto people’s properties and often their homes almost every day. I had been caught up (unwittingly) in domestics, dealt with crazy cat ladies (and men), hoarders, possible dope growers, hostile nursery men, stroppy farmers, snotty businessmen, and countless ordinary decent Joe and Josephine Bloggs – employed, self-employed, unemployed, educated, uneducated, old, young, sick and well.
When I stopped doing that sort of work, I missed seeing and hearing those hidden parts of people’s lives that they tuck away out of sight – their amazing gardens, their incredible sheds and hobbies, their life experiences, their trials and tribulations that somehow you ended up exposed to because you had turned up one day in your ‘official’ capacity and turned out to be a good listener.
Those who know me know that I will talk to pretty much anyone, anywhere. I love it. You never know where it will lead, especially in New Zealand, where the ‘six degrees of separation’ seems to be condensed down to three.
My current itinerant lifestyle, travelling and housesitting around New Zealand, has allowed me to indulge this interest in people, places and happenings to my heart’s content
And you never know where it might lead.
The other day, for example, I was driving through the Otaki Gorge – full of winding roads, fords, and suspension bridges – in search of a newly opened sculpture park. And suddenly, out of nowhere, I came across a couple of guys walking two massive St Bernards.
I drove past, but then curiosity got the better of me. So I pulled over to say hello to the dogs (and of course, their owners).
The next minute I’m enveloped in a cloud of hair and slobber as both dogs enthusiastically check me out, while the owners and I chat about what life is like with two such monstrous canines (70kg each).
I commented that at least they didn’t sleep on the bed (I hoped) like the 33kg Labrador I was currently minding on the lifestyle block I was looking after.
At the mention of ‘lifestyle block housesitting’ they looked at each other with an eager expression and suddenly I was being invited back to their place for a coffee.
Why not? Strangers? Whatever. A coffee is a coffee, a chat is a chat, and who knew what might come of it?
So I followed them up a winding driveway alongside the edge of a pine forest that borders their land and was greeted with the most amazing view looking out over the Otaki Gorge.
The house wasn’t bad either – one half new, one half renovated, open and full of light.
We had a great old yarn and it turns out they were in need of a house and dog sitter. Once a year they went away for a month and their previous sitter was no longer available.
Would I be interested? Well, of course I said yes.
Don’t talk to strangers?
Sure would be a pretty boring life if you followed that advice all the time.
(text and photograph by Carolyn Lewis @2014)