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Stranger Dinner

Yesterday, I had one of the best experiences I’ve had in a very long time. It was one of those Stranger Dinners that I have frequently explained here on HESONWHEELS.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, and also to give it a fresh explanation (the concept has evolved a bit since the first time I shared it here), a Stranger Dinner is many things. More than anything it defines the idea of eating a meal, in community, with people that you have a legitimate and facilitated opportunity to connect.

Whenever I travel, which I do frequently, I tend to encounter areas that many people that I’ve encountered in my previous life now call home. Does that make sense? It may be  an old college pal, a recess buddy from the 5th grade, my cohort-mate from graduate school, or the person I met 1 day on an airplane 2 years ago. If we truly connected afterward, whether through phone or Facebook, or whatever, I tend to remember that they are one of a few people that live in the place that I’m travelling to – whether it’s San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, wherever (all locations of Stranger Dinners before, by the way).

The term stranger refers to the relationship that exists between 90% of the people at the dinner, in my opinion. I have met each of THEM before, and of course that also means they have met me, but they have not met each other. The real quick is that sometimes, though, people end up knowing each other in some way and discovering that throughout the process of the dinner. That has happened most often in Richmond and Blakcbusrg because, well duh…I’ve spent my whole life in Virginia, and so have many of the people that I am close to in life.

In this photo, Courtney D. (at the far end of the left side of the table) and Hadley C. (at the close end of the right side of the table) already knew each other before becoming students at Virginia Tech and then coming to a Stranger Dinner!
In this photo, Courtney D. (at the far end of the left side of the table) and Hadley C. (at the close end of the right side of the table) already knew each other before becoming students at Virginia Tech and then coming to a Stranger Dinner! This was one of the more successful stranger dinners, held at The Cellar in Blacksburg, VA!

So I decided to develop the idea of a Stranger Dinner after 2 occurrences. The first, and most impactful, was reading the book Never Eat Alone by an idol of mine, Keith Ferrazzi. The second was realizing that as often as I love to travel, there just weren’t enough hours in the day to have legitimate, meaningful opportunities for connection with as many people I wanted to see in that given trip. Now, Stranger Dinners don’t always provide those deep conversations 1:1 that I would hope for ME. But they do for others. And paying it forward in that way makes me feel even better, oftentimes, than just hogging that person’s attention for myself.

The truest beauty in Stranger Dinners, I hope, happens afterward. It is when those people who are still in that city or town even after I am gone continue to have a connection. In life, I am a connector. And I want them to continue that connection and no longer be strangers even once I’ve returned home and am sleeping in my own bed.

The actual format of a Stranger Dinner, what actually transpires at them, I have never actually published because I like to keep them unfamiliar, with variety, and honestly – even a little unpredictable. It’s for this reason that when it comes to structuring the seating at the table, if I have the opportunity to sit nearest to whom I may perceive as the most introverted, I take it. That way the lack of pre-known structure will hopefully encourage them to open up based on our more 1:1 conversation. And frankly, that’s another thing I love about Stranger Dinner. But that’s a little selfish, so I won’t go into that now. I also won’t share more about the Stranger Dinner Table that I’ve just been dying for someone to invent. But if you’re an engineer and like puzzles, and this sounds even remotely interesting to you then please let me know. :)

Anyways, I hope reading this has piqued your interest on stranger dinners. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be lucky enough to share the community that is a stranger dinner in the not so far future. :)

 

Edit on 1/28/16: I’m so dang proud to say that I inspired something! Good luck in curating Stranger Dinners in Blacksburg, Alex!