From Stranger to Friend (in one conversation)

Turns out, the family’s dog walker was stealing the expensive whiskey.

“Seriously?” I asked. 

“Yep,” answered the bass player called Hammer. “She was going through a bad breakup. I kept noticing the (whiskey) level going down.”

I laughed. Few people can make me laugh out loud; now that includes a dude I had just met and could barely see in the pre-show darkness of a stage wing. 

Context: Every year, I am a volunteer photographer for the band Sister Hazel’s Lyrics For Life concert. L4L raises money for cancer research and pediatric patients.

This year, Sister Hazel enlisted Pat Monahan from Train to perform alongside them and then summoned Hammer to join them. 

“I got in around 10 this morning. Flying out at 6am tomorrow,” he told me; he was disappointed he could not stay longer because he wanted to try this barbecue place he had seen near the airport called Sonny’s.

We were standing in the darkness near rows of guitars. I am not sure how the conversation started, frankly, as I am not one to strike up conversations. I’ll talk your ears off in a group, but I am an awkward flub one on one. 

Something compelled me to introduce myself to the affable chap watching the pre-show hustle. Before I knew it, we were talking barbecue, whiskey, touring, dogs, sushi and fried alligator. While Hammer is not from Florida, his alligator story is a doozy. 

A friend, he said, was fishing for crabs one day when a gator swam close to monitor—and likely steal—the crab catches. Bad news, not just because there was a maneater nearby but also because the man was banking on selling the crabs.

So, per Hammer per the crab guy, he jumped on the alligator, stabbed him and took him to market with the crabs. 

Two notes here: 1. Jumping on and stabbing alligators is a bad idea. Also illegal. 2. I did not believe it, nor did Hammer, I think. 

It did not matter. It was a great story. 

We chatted for 20 minutes before showtime.

The musicians knocked it out of the park. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised.

“Cancer, we’re coming for you,” Sister Hazel posted on social media after the show.

These are good people doing powerful work. As I drove home that night, I considered another takeaway: Take a chance on strangers.

I mean, don’t go fishing for candy in trench coats or anything, but do not be afraid to make a friend. My inclination that night was to fiddle with my cameras until showtime, to stay comfortably on Planet Dave. But something nudged me, and now I know more about fine whiskey and misdemeanors in the dog-walking community.

In these polarizing times, the act of turning strangers into friends seems almost rebellious. Turns out, strangers can talk to each other without bluster and when they do, they can add another alligator story to your arsenal. 

Plus, who would have suspected the dog walker? 

Well done, Hammer. Case closed. OS

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