Since I’ve changed jobs, I am no longer commuting to San Francisco, but instead I am commuting to Palo Alto. Changing from North to South, from getting on the train in San Bruno to getting on in Millbrae, and of course, no longer getting off at San Francisco 4th and King, but getting off at the Palo Alto Caltrain station.

Having done the commute up to 4th and King for a few years, and making the same general walk, you start to notice things, and then those things blend into the background and you just don’t really think about them any longer… until something shows up in a totally unexpected place. In this case, that something totally unexpected is a lady that I often used to see on the walk from 4th and King up to 4th and Folsom. She had a distinctive tan patchwork leather blazer that she would wear very frequently. Over a few years I’d see it and think “oh, there’s the lady with the patchwork leather blazer”… and then, over time, I wouldn’t think about it any longer, because it was just there. She walked the same commute path I did, and so, meh, nothing out of the ordinary.

Yesterday, as I got off of Caltrain, I saw her again. The same patchwork leather blazer. In Palo Alto. Huh?! It caught me by surprise, and at first I thought “naah, must be a coincidence”. Today, as I got off Caltrain, there she was again. Same blazer, and as I would see, walking roughly the same commute direction I was going once again. This time, I had to ask (and run the risk of being considered some kind of creeper, but oh well, whatever):

“Excuse me, but did you used to work in San Francisco?”
“Actually, I still do, but sometimes I work down here in Palo Alto, too.”

We had a quick conversation, and she told me where she worked and how the company has a number of offices, and she sometimes goes to San Francisco, and sometimes goes to Palo Alto. Not a big deal, really. After a laugh and some quick small-talk, we went our separate ways.

What makes this story, I think, somewhat interesting is that I was prompted to start a conversation because I noticed something “out of the ordinary”. This is a person that I had seen for years on my daily commute, and never said a word to. Why would I, really? It’s kind of odd for a married guy to approach some random lady on the street to start up a conversation (or maybe it’s not, and that’s just my traditionalism showing through). It took seeing her in a totally unfamiliar situation to cause my curiosity to get the better of me and have to ask. It all came about because, at that moment, my first thought was “hey wait… you’re not supposed to be here!”

How often in our testing do we miss interesting pieces of information because, in our world view, they’ve just always been there. We’ve gotten used to seeing them there, and so they must just be part of the ordered cosmos, doing its thing. It often takes us seeing something familiar in an unfamiliar setting to make us “wake up” and do some inquiry. That’s normal, and I’m not suggesting that we suddenly start automatically questioning everything we see, or everyone (for one thing, it’s a good way to get people to consider you a class A nutter, and I already have to fight that depiction enough as it is). Still, when you see something out of the ordinary, it might be fun to check up and see what you discover. In this case, someone I’ve seen for years, and had zero interaction with of any kind, now knows who I am, and I know who they are.

That’s kinda’ cool :).