School is one of the common experiences we all share growing up.
Well, unless you’re one of those weird home-schooled kids.
But for most of us, from pre-k to graduation, it’s our teachers’ job to instill in us the life lessons that hopefully shape us into functioning members of society. These lessons, according to my old Alma mater’s mission statement, are ones, “that enables ALL students to demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and attitudes required for lifelong learning and productive citizenship in an ever-changing global society.”
I was either never taught, or never learned, a lot of these lessons.
In fact, most of these things I never learned in school are the key factors that shaped me into the person I am today. Whether that could be defined as a “productive citizenship” is debatable, but I know I’m not a complete shit-bag of a human being.
So kudos to all my former teachers, mission semi-accomplished.
One of the earliest lessons I remember being taught was, “don’t talk to strangers.” I can still recall the big tube TV being wheeled in, and the teacher putting in the cassette. Once the lights were off she began showing us fifteen minutes of F-list actors trying to lure kids into a van with promises of candy, video games, and puppies. Like one big continuous opening of Law and Order SVU episodes on some sick loop.
But stranger danger never quite resonated with me. I never learned not to talk to strangers, and would probably still get in a strange van for a free puppy.
Most of my life now is doing the exact opposite of what those old lessons tried to convey. Weekly, if not daily, I find myself interacting with complete and total strangers somehow.
I find myself engaging in conversation with strangers on the internet. People I’ve never met talk to me almost daily. One of these days I might even contemplate going to an unofficial Clock-Out bar-crawl in Philly or Delaware. Just for the sole intention of hanging out and getting drunk with complete strangers.
Whenever I come home from the bar, I literally pay money to get in the back of a stranger’s car. One of my more recent trips involved a Chevy Cavalier driven by Vanessa. She gracefully pulled up ripping a heater in the driver’s seat.
And do you know what I’d like to tell my former mentors and teachers?
I didn’t drink and drive, so kudos on those lessons. But I also piled into that cavalier with no conceivable notion of their morals, driving history, or vehicle maintenance. Like a true digital pioneer, I braved into the unknown with a phone in hand. I got in and ripped a heater with a complete stranger all under the guise of a 4.8-star review along with a burning desire to devour the pizza rolls in my freezer.
Every time I travel I seem to break this golden rule of not befriending complete strangers. Without fail, I’ll end up paling around with someone I know nothing about in pursuit of good times. If I hadn’t decided to slam whiskey shots with a stranger in a dark Dominican club, I would have never gotten to see the unique political views of a scuba-diving Canadian grace my newsfeed today (You’re the man, Rick).
But it’s not just whiskey shots in a dark foreign bar. It’s ripping heaters and drinking pints in London with a charming Dutch gentleman named Hugo. It’s smoking hash walking around Amsterdam with a beatboxing Finnish guy named Arnold. And it’s being in the Beer Mecca of the US, Denver, talking the finer points of beer with a homebrewer named Tyler. All of these memorable life experiences would have been missed had I just learned one simple lesson…
Don’t talk to strangers.