A Stranger in New York City

By Melinda VanLone | Photos

Jul 17

Grand Central Station in New York City, at sunset.

 

I met a man in New York City, in Grand Central Station. He was eating ice cream at a counter. I stood next to him and ordered a crepe. He smiled, and cleared off the stool next to him so I could sit down. I thought, in typical New York fashion, that I would eat while checking my email and be on my way. Instead, I found myself drawn into a story.

He was an older African American gentleman, dressed in a suit (jacket laid on the chair), white shirt, and pink tie with butterflies. He smiled, and immediately introduced himself. I was immediately suspicious. New York is, after all, a huge city full of people willing to steal things from you. Right?

His name was Lorenzo. I shook his hand, and he asked me where I was from. When I answered Dallas he nodded and said “I’ve been there. I just got back from San Antonio.” I informed him that I got engaged in San Antonio. We both agreed it’s a beautiful city.

“They held a reception for me there.” The way he said reception made it sound important. Reception with a capital R.

I asked why, and he gave me a cryptic smile for an answer.

He continued to tell me about the people he’d met. Names I recognized out of newspapers. Rich people. Famous people.

“What do you do?” I asked him. I was thinking politician, or some sort of salesman.

“I tell pretty ladies how beautiful they are.” He smiled, and it reached all the way into his eyes and made them dance.

I checked his suit again. Nothing fancy. The bag he carried was worn from travel. The hat he placed on the counter reminded me of one a preacher would wear. His cadence reminded me of the same thing. He spoke like someone who was used to speaking in front of crowds of people.

He flipped open a notebook filled with handwritten names, addresses, phone numbers. He pointed them out one by one, telling me about the people he’d met and the places he’d been.

I began to doubt he actually knew these people. But he was nice, sociable, and so friendly I couldn’t do anything but smile in response and enjoy the chat.

He never did tell me who he really was or what he really does, but I managed to find him later on the internet (and isn’t that, in itself, an awe-inspiring and potentially creepy thing?) I was right, he’s a preacher. He’s also a bathroom valet who has been in the New York Times as a beloved character who has, indeed, met a lot of rich and famous people. I can see why he’s beloved.

He tells pretty ladies how beautiful they are.

It just struck me that in such a large city, in such a crowded place, during the mad rush of everyday life, here was a man who simply enjoyed being in the moment. He never once looked at a watch or a smart phone. He never complained about his job or checked a train schedule. He made eye contact, and smiled, and told me how beautiful I was.

Lorenzo, thank you for the chat and for making my day a little bit brighter.

It seems silly, but it reminds me of something Ferris Bueller said. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

Somehow, I bet that’s Lorenzo’s motto.

Tell me, have you slowed down long enough to meet a stranger and find out their story?

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