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Stranger 100, Day 100 - Meet Toccoa

Stranger 100, Day 100 – Meet Toccoa, the “Hard-working, Loving Mother”

Merry Christmas! Today… was an interesting day to find a Stranger. I didn’t intend on today being the last day when I started this journey 100 Days ago. However, it was/ is. I wanted to spend a lot of time with my family, so at some time, I needed to leave my family in search of a Stranger. I drove to two Starbucks nearby (the first was closed.) At the second Starbucks, I approached a couple, and they weren’t at all interested.

The second couple agreed. Or at least, the woman did. Unfortunately, the woman was actually underage. She’s got a fascinating story, and was emancipating from her parents. I still spoke to her, though, to meet her, and honestly, I wanted to share her story if only because I was worried about the sparse Strangers around. (Christmas has a lot of places closed.) However, as I drove away back to join my family, I realized that I wouldn’t normally share an under-aged story unless I have explicit O.K. from a parent/ guardian. So, I’ll share her story, but in a different way later. Onwards!

Where else can I count on to be open and full of Strangers in a city I don’t live in? Waffle House! Haha, perfect. I drove to a local Waffle House, parked, and saw a few servers outside. I approached one of them, and shared with her my journey. She happily accepted to be Stranger 100. This is her story.

Meet Toccoa, 30

Who are you?

“I am a server. And, I drive for Uber and Lyft. What else?”

Anything!

“And I’m a mother. That’s about it.”

“… and an owner of a dog,” she laughs.

Tell me a little bit about being a mother. What’s that like?

“It’s exciting! I love my baby. She’s my best friend. She’s 10 — just turned 10.”

… And you have a dog…

We get interrupted. She has several coworkers who stop her trying to “put me to work! I gotta go!”

You drive Uber and Lyft.

“… and Waffle House!”

Why do you work so hard?

“I have a daughter. I’m the only parent,” she chuckles.

“I’m a single parent.”

What is a dream or aspiration that you have for your daughter?

“For her to do a lot better than me, and finish college. Finish college with a doctor’s degree!” she laughs!

“That’s my dream! I don’t want her to stop at Masters or Bachelors. I want her to get her doctor’s degree, and do whatever she wants in life.”

How do you do that for her now? How do you inspire her to do that?

“With the grades. We keep the grades up for school — can be a little easier for when you do go to college, you won’t be so hard. You won’t be so stressed out because you’ll be a little more ahead, than behind.”

I’m guessing, too, that seeing you work so hard inspires her.

“Yeah, because I don’t want her to do what I have to do. I don’t want her to work so many hours just to make ends meet when life can be easier. I want her to know that, not just see it… just see me struggling. We actually have talked — she’s my best friend — we talk about it. I tell her, ‘I don’t want you to struggle like mama.'” She laughs quietly.

“I don’t. It’s not a struggle, but I don’t want you to work so hard for something that can be a little easier if you just finish school. Whatever doctor…”

Seeing as today’s Christmas and everything, what is something that maybe you can’t just buy her? What is something that you want to give her that you can’t just buy?

“The only thing she wants that I can’t buy, by the grace of God, is a brother and sister. I can’t buy that!” she laughs. “And that’s what she wants, so… everything else, I’m blessed. I’m blessed to buy her everything she wants.”

Very cool. So, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day, if you could ask anyone anything, what would you ask anyone? Yesterday, I met a gentleman by the name of Shyamal, and he wants to, essentially, ask you, “What is something you’re planning to do or do do to make the future better for everyone?” (Thanks to Shyamal, Stranger 99)

“I pray. I pray a lot. I pray for everyone. I’ll pray for you when I leave. So, I will advise the world to keep praying for each other instead of being mad at each other. That’s what I advise the world. More prayers, and less hate. That’s all I want for the world to do.”

So what’s a question you’d like to ask anyone?

“I would like to ask…” She thinks.

“I guess, what would they do to change to make the world a better place. How can they help us be a better place?”

“Yeah, make this world a better place.”

After the handshake.

Today’s story is a little shorter. However, in what few precious moments I spent with her, and hopefully, you can read, she is an incredibly hard-working mother who loves her daughter dearly. She had just gotten off her shift, so many people kept asking her to stay longer or go to another location. She was exceptionally courteous, and I didn’t want to take up too much of her time because the minutes she spent with me were minutes she was not spending with her daughter. It is, after all, Christmas. I was so happy to have met her, and to wave her goodbye because I knew she was on her way to see her daughter who would no doubt have a big smile on her face to see her mother.

Today’s Stranger 100, Day 100. In a lot of ways, this was the perfect story. My earlier meet with the woman who was a little younger was great, too, and I do want to share her story in a more “age-okay” way. She was very mature, and had a big, big smile. However, today is Toccoa and her daughter’s. Toccoa’s story encapsulated much of this journey in her making time for a perfect Stranger like me while sharing her love for her daughter. That’s what motivates her. That’s why she works so hard.

Meet Toccoa. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 94, Day 94 - Meet Brandon

Stranger 94, Day 94 – Meet Brandon, the “Quiet, Accented Creative”

I met today’s Stranger in the kitchen of Atlanta Tech Village’s 3rd floor. We know of each other’s name, but not much else. In fact, I just know the company he works for, and that he drinks a lot of water. He knows me as, well, the guy with a big tub of oatmeal. I’m pretty sure most of the people on my floor think of me this way + I talk to a lot of Strangers.

I was excited to meet him, so asked my question early on in the day. He was totally game to today’s Stranger, and I’m thrilled he was.

But here’s a kicker… I typically use a recorder, so I can freely meet Strangers without having to worry about “memorization” or taking notes. Today, I did the same. Or, so I thought. Only at the end of our conversation did I notice my recorder was NOT recording. Uh oh. He had so many great things to say that even I was thinking in my head, “wow, I’m excited to share his story.” Have no fear, though! I’ve tried to remember the entire conversation, and I believe I’ve done a pretty darn good job of capturing the highlights. More on this after our handshake below.

Till then…..

Meet Brandon, 27

Who are you?

Brandon starts out telling me he’s a graphic designer and how he loves illustrating. He’s smiling as he’s telling me this illustrating how much he loves what he does. (Did you see what I did there?)

He goes on to share how he, like me, was born and raised here in Atlanta (or at least, in the greater metropolitan Atlanta). Awesome! I’ve met a lot of use few, proud, Atlanta natives on this journey. Happy to add Brandon to this “rare” collection of great people. Brandon shares how he went to “the Art Institute of Atlanta” for graphic design.

Brandon also shares with me his love for “sneakers, nice cars, and football”.

He then beams and tells me how he’s normally quiet, and does not talk to many people around citing, “this is funny”.

That last point piqued my interest, so I asked him, “What made you talk to me?”

Brandon shares with me how he only really talked to me because I wanted to take time to actually talk to him and get to know him. He cites, “you’re right, we get so caught up” — referring to my earlier pitch to ask him to be today’s Stranger when I shared with him how I started this journey to inspire connections with those around us.

Sure, I’m paraphrasing, but I promise you that Brandon was smiling the whole time as he told me how appreciated me taking time out to actually get to know him.

What do you love about illustrating?

Brandon tells me about how he loves taking people’s ideas and “bring them to life”. He talks specifically about brand logos. He tells me how many people have “these ideas in their minds, but can’t illustrate them.” He loves being able to do that for them.

I ask Brandon about the challenge of sometimes trying to create a logo for a brand he’s unfamiliar with, or he may not even appreciate.

Brandon tells me how he does a lot of research around industries and the company/ person to start to visualize what that logo and brand is. He sees this, sometimes, as a problem to be solved, and he enjoys the challenge and problem-solving nature of his work.

What is your brand?

“Quiet creative,” he tells me. He starts out telling me how he has many different facets to him. In fact, he says there’s more to him “than meets the eye”. (I recall this because I’m thinking he’s a Transformer.)

He then says something pretty funny that may forever be embedded in my mind — he tells me how he’s “not a peacock”. To this, Brandon is referencing the huge plume that male peacocks have. He’s not ostentatious with who he is. He’s happy being “quieter”. However, those who know him and are close to him know him much better, and know of the “peacock inside”. To this, I already get the feeling he’s a fascinating person with a great personality and spirit about him. This also about the time I was thinking, “wow, can’t wait to share his story and replay our conversation!” (Palm, meet forehead.)

He ends by saying he “has many layers”.

Like a cake!

“Yeah, exactly,” he laughs.

As he’s telling me he’s a quiet creative, my eyes are also drawn to his left wrist as he’s using his arms. Attached to his big wrist is a bright gold G-Shock watch. I tell how interesting it was for him to mention how he’s not a peacock while at the same time loving “accent pieces” like shoes and his gold G-Shock. (I bend down to check out his shoes — he’s wearing a pair of nice, black sneakers — not quite the louder pairs I was expecting).

Brandon sees me checking out his shoes and comments how he’s not wearing anything too flashy today. However, he’s “not shy about wearing bright pink shoes”. He doesn’t “want to fit into the “norm”. He’s comfortable and confident in himself to wear what he chooses would look good on him and allow him to stand out.

He smiles, and shares how he’s “been here for 3.5 years now” doing graphic design stuff. He appreciates the culture and flexibility in enabling him to express himself with his beard and non-corporate garb.

(Meanwhile, I’m sporting some slacks, black loafers, black polo, and black sweater. I am the antithesis of Brandon. Haha)

Curious, do you have a personal logo?

He tells me he does. In fact, that was part of college — he had to create his own logo and brand. His logo was a lime green circle with an upper case “B” and lower case”r” — represents his name.

Knowing logos and brands change over time, I ask Brandon if his logo would be the same, or how would it have evolved.

He thinks about this and laughs because of the loudness of the “margarita green” color. Definitely would not be the same.

Today, Brandon’s logo and brand would be much different — mostly gray or black with simple lettering of “B” and “R” (or “b” and “r” — all the same case). If there was an accent color, it’d be thin, and subtle.

He goes on to tell me how his skills are far and away better than what they were in school.

So, I’ll start to wrap this up. I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (congrats, your Stranger 94), what would you like to ask anyone, effectively, tomorrow’s Stranger? So, I’ll let you marinate on that for a moment. First, Mike, who I met at the gym yesterday, wants to ask you, “What’s the most down, or the lowest, you’ve been in your life? And what did you use or how did you get out of that rut… and keep moving forward?” (Thanks to Mike, Stranger 93)

Brandon didn’t hesitate answering going back to the time after he graduated from college. He cites, “wasn’t able to get a job”, and how he was wondering if he had “wasted” his time and money in college.

However, Brandon kept pursuing his passion, and knew that he would have to work hard. He grew up illustrating, and wanted to be an illustator growing up. It was in college when he learned he could adapt his passion for drawing into graphic design.

For Brandon, it was about being consistent and persistent as to why he’s doing this in the first place. “Never being complacent.” (How great is that to hear, too, after Mike’s story yesterday?)

Your turn. What’s a question you’d like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I’d like to ask what’s their life’s purpose.”

After the handshake.

I am/ was disappointed that I didn’t get our conversation recorded to better convey Brandon. However, I do hope I did him justice in sharing his great story. But with a recording and a fuller transcription, I don’t think I would’ve have captured who he was to how I know you’re all interested in knowing. He, like the previous 93 Strangers and indeed the next 6, has many layers that I only provide a glimpse of.

Brandon had great energy. I definitely got the sense that he was shy by his body language. However, he was smiling the whole time, and he was happy to share. I suppose what was great, too, about the recorder not on was that I am somewhat surprised by how much I remember from our conversation several hours before. I expect that memory to deteriorate some, but he hit a lot of notes that are both inspiring to me and connect with me. And while he said he was happy to talk to me because I made time for him, I hope he realizes that I appreciate him making time for me and opening up to me. By the amount I can recall from a very busy work day, I’m proud to say I was a decent listener, and got to know Brandon. So thank you, too, Brandon.

Meet Brandon. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 77, Day 77 - Meet John

Stranger 77, Day 77 – Meet John, the “Strong Christian”

Today, I got the chance to meet another gym staple. I knew of his name and sometimes his workout routines. However, I knew so little about him. I just always remember his Mad Men-esque hair cleanly kept even in the gym. Meanwhile, he’s deadlifting 4, 5, sometimes 6 plates. He breaks a sweat, and I break a sweat just watching him. So as I wrapped up my sets, and he wrapped up his, I asked him if I could get to know him a bit better, and if he’d be today’s Stranger. He happily accepted. Meet the Strong Man.

Meet John, 26

John just dove right into it.

“Grew up in Tucker. Was born in Pennsylvania, and moved down here when I was 3. So I grew up in Georgia. I was home-schooled starting out. 6th grade, I went to a small private school. Then for high school, 9th through 11th — or 8th through 11 — I did like a co-op. It’s like a college set-up but for home-schoolers. So you go to your classes once or twice a week. Do your homework. Manage your own schedule. And then for my senior year, I went to Tucker High School to play football, specifically. We won the state championship.”

Because you joined.(?)

He laughs, “yes, of course!”

“And then, that…” he pauses and thinks for a moment.

“Went to the gym. I’ve always been kind of active. And then, I started going to the gym when I was around 15-16 — just me and a buddy. That kind of led towards football. The gym I was going to, a lot of kids from Tucker were training there. That kind of got it in my head. Growing up as a young adult, a lot of the older guys I looked up to were strong. So that helped motivate me to lift heavy, or do good at the gym and stuff. Training for football was what really built my gym kind of workout. And then, I tried out to play football at Georgia State, but I didn’t make the team. So I just focused on my school. I worked two jobs on campus. I double-majored in finance and computer information systems. Then, coming out of college, I got a job at Key Property Services being a financial analyst. That company had big lay-offs. Funding dropped a lot. I got laid off, and then I got a job with CSRA doing IT — which also fits my major. I like IT better, so that’s what I have there.”

“I’m staying up in Alpharetta, so it’s kind of a drive. Coming here at 5 in the morning beats all the traffic, so the drive isn’t that bad.”

“I’m the oldest of five children. There’s a 10-year difference between the oldest and the youngest. What other questions?” Haha. He really ran with that without me asking anything. That was great.

What are some of your passions?

He thinks for a moment. “Strong Christian. So, trying to live for God, I guess. It’s one of the main things. It can be difficult to, I guess, when you read the Bible stuff, it tells you a lot of things, but how do you actually apply that to everyday life because a lot of people struggle with that. So that’s also what you work with with other people.”

What’s a key way that you live like that?

“One example that really comes to mind is one of my friends started a moving company. I’ve been working with them on Saturdays. Because I don’t cuss or anything, a lot of the guys like, it’ll stick out to them pretty quickly, and they’ll start asking questions.”

He wants to clarify, “That just kind of came to mind.”

What’s your favorite exercise?

“Well, my actual favorite thing is bench press. When I was 18, I got 315, and I’ve had injuries. I dislocated my elbow playing football. In college, I ripped my shoulder up — and this is both on my right side doing jiu-jitsu. So, I had to start over a couple times. That’s been kind of a nagging thing that I’ve been struggling with, but it is the way it is.”

“Deadlifts are probably my strongest point.”

What would you say is a fascinating thing about you that most nobody knows?

“I guess if you first met me, you probably wouldn’t know that I am probably more what people would call a nerd. So like, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, stuff like that. Computer games…”

What do you love about that stuff?

“Umm,” he thinks. “I don’t know! I guess they’re just interesting. Like I didn’t ever like reading at all until I read The Hobbit — the first Lord of the Rings book. I guess that fantasy kind of world is interesting.”

If you could go back in time, not forward, but back in time, any time period in history, what would it be and why? (Thanks to Kira, Stranger 76)

“Well, would I be able to keep the knowledge that I have now?” Sure.

“Then, I would probably go back to the beginning of college, so that I could… I mean, the way technology is now, if you go back to any point in time, there will be a lot of other challenges and difficulties. But if you could keep the knowledge that you have, you know that you’ve developed over time, and apply it to being a younger you, you could probably focus your time and energy a lot more effectively to develop yourself.”

“… Not necessarily undo mistakes because you learn things.”

I make the comment that you’d create some multiple timelines. (Yes, I love the nerdy stuff, too!) We laugh about it.

So what is something you would like to do with all this knowledge? Would it be to invent the iPhone?!

“In college, I kind of saw the opportunity in the housing market where I was living. I was watching the prices after 2008 when I went into college. And I was living right near Turner Field. But I didn’t have money at that time. So, I mean there’s a lot of opportunity there but how to execute on that would be something I now have the knowledge to do. So stuff like that.” He thinks some more.

“Maybe try to get a… instead of working on campus, try to get an internship in IT or finance-type of place.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“If there’s something that you want in your life that you don’t have, what are you going to do starting today to get that?”

“Because if there’s something that you want, you can’t keep doing the same thing you’re doing. You are where you are because of what you’ve been doing.”

After the handshake.

To John’s point at the end explaining his question for tomorrow’s Stranger, I wanted to point out one of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes (at least, he’s credited with):

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The beauty of meeting Strangers is the little nuggets people share that strike a chord with readers for whatever reason. When John asked his question for tomorrow’s Stranger (and indeed, thinking about Einstein’s quote), I thought about something real near and dear to me. There are things we do and things that occupy our minds. Or at least, there’s one thing that has been occupying my mind for so long. I tell myself that I’ve been changing my approach and even how I feel about it. However, I still get largely the same result. That’s me thinking about this one thing every single day. So I wonder if I’m really making a marked difference while expecting (hoping) for a different result. I’ll share this one day, but not today.

Like I said earlier, I’ve seen John in the gym. He’s a regular much like some of the others I’ve met on this journey. This has been so great for me to connect and get to know people I see at least twice in the gym — a place that I call my safe haven and my meditation spot. It’s great to know (in a hey-there-are-mini-connections-everywhere-kind-of-way) that John is similar to a previous Stranger Bruce (#70) who also loves the fantasy world and video games, and both are very strong guys. John made the comment about how most people wouldn’t peg him as a “nerd”. That’s great to hear, though, in some respects because this journey continues to highlight how people are so much more than what we see.

Also, I was wondering what John’s “alias” was going to be. I really wanted the strength side to be a part of his alias while I was thinking about the nerdy side as well as the religious side. So how great was it that John pretty much gave me his alias that really has two meanings — “Strong Christian”. Ah, that works so well.

Meet John. No longer a Stranger.