Day 06 - Tom

Day 06 - Tom (5th person I approached)
January 06, 2015 - After meeting a stranger every day for 364 consecutive days last year, this last week has thrown me off my game a bit. I've only met one stranger since December 30, 2014 because of being sick, sharing my story and outlining the plan for this year. It seemed like it had been a long time when, today I finally made it out from under the blankets that I had snuggled with on the couch for the last three days, nursing an ugly cold. It was nice to just get outside and go for a walk. 


I’ve landed on a new ‘rule’ as well for 2015, or more like a relaxing of an existing rule. The first person I approached today had some really great tattoo’s and I know there was a very interesting story there. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to chat. He asked if we could email and arrange another time that would work better for him. I explained that it was about ‘meeting in the moment’ and we went our separate ways. As I walked down the street I gave it some thought. That approach is so last year, I’ve decided. There may be times that a stranger will ask to meet another day, and from now on, if I can arrange it, provided I’ve approached them initially, then I’m going to follow up on that. I didn’t like the feeling of regret I had about not chatting with this fellow today, so I hope to run into him again.


Tom is visiting Vancouver. When I asked him if he would chat for a bit, he smiled, telling me

“Sure, I’m not doing anything else right now.” He was sitting alone in a park, on a bench just watching life go by. 


“I was born in Glasgow, Scotland,” he said.

“I’ve got one sister. She’s two years older, which means she tried to boss me around as a kid,” he laughed. When Tom was fifteen, the family immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta.

“My Dad was an industrial pipe insulator. It was considered a trade in Canada at the time. It wasn’t in Scotland, but it was enough to get him the papers we needed to immigrate. I guess they wanted a better life. My uncle lived in Edmonton already, so he sponsored my parents as well,” said Tom. 


“School finishes in Scotland at age sixteen,” he said.

“I was close to finishing, but when I came here, I found out I’d have two more years. I tried, but it wasn’t any good. We had already gone metric in Scotland, and then when I started school here, maths was still in standard (imperial measurements). I had to relearn it all over. Then, Canada went to metric, so it all changed back. Too confusing. I left in Grade ten,” he said, somewhat resignedly. 


“I messed around and did a few different jobs, then my Dad got me into a job learning to become an insulated pipe installer. Following in his footsteps. He didn’t teach me himself, well, maybe a bit. But he got me in the door. I did that for all my working life,” said Tom. He’s had one significant relationship, telling me

“We weren’t ever married, just common-law, but it’s all the same to a judge. We have a son, he’s twenty-six now,” he said.  


Tom has worked on and off all of his working life as a pipe fitter.

“It’s the kind of job that you work your way out of really. You’re so good at it, the job ends. I maybe spend about six months a year working. The rest of the time is spent looking for work, or waiting for the next contract to start. I decided I’d just come out to Vancouver for a month or so and check things out,” he said.

“I bought a one way bus ticket, kind of spur of the moment, and arrived just before Christmas.” 


With no friends here or a place to stay, Tom has been hanging out at the Aboriginal hostel on the east side of town.

“They’re welcoming to everyone,” he says.

“It’s worked out ok. I spent Christmas day hanging around the shelter. I still believe in Christ, but I don’t do much for the day itself. Christmas is fun when your a kid, you’re not even thinking about Jesus, it’s about the gifts!” he says.

"It's been nice to not be so cold at the this time of year. I'm used to freezing temperatures and snow. This is nice here. Even with the rain," he says of out modest temperature.


Tom's been doing what he can to find a few hours of work here and there through a temporary construction working firm, that hires workers on a daily basis.

“I’m putting some money away everyday, and when I’ve got enough for my ticket home, then my holiday is over. I do okay living day to day. It’s kind of what it’s been like all my working life. Take it as it comes. I like the adventure.”


Two guys approach us and one looks at Tom and says

“Hey, you doing ok? Do you need any food?” Tom tells the guy he’s doing fine, and says no thank you. The guy then looks at me

“How about you, do you need some food?” I smile, and tell him no I’m doing okay, and thank him for asking. Then he tells us

“I had a brain tumour and I’m a little handicapped now, so I know what it’s like to be hungry. Are you sure you guys don’t want anything?” Tom and I both shake our heads, and the guys just move along. I notice the fellow who had done the talking has a limp as he walks away slowly.

“See,” says Tom,

“When that kind of thing happens to me, I remind myself that my life is pretty darn good. People complain abut things and I say to them look across the street, there’s someone in a wheelchair, I don’t hear them complaining. I have it pretty good really. It could be a lot worse.”


I mentioned during one of my TEDx talks that I have a ‘one extra question’ approach that I like to use with the person I'm chatting with. It can be related to something we've already chatted about. Or about something that might start a new conversation. It could be open or close ended. It might elicit a one word answer, or sometimes, an entire chapter of someone's story. I asked Tom what he liked to do, after his day of working as a pipe-fitter. He tells me he likes music and going to the movies. I sit and listen. 

"I used to dabble in drugs. Booze has never been a thing for me. I haven't even had a beer since I got here to Vancouver. When I was younger, maybe in my twenties, early thirties. I’d try things. Weed, I smoke weed from time to time. But nothing else now. I used to do cocaine. Sometimes I’d smoke it, other times I’d inject it. Then I got into crack. It just didn’t seem worth it to me. I mean you do something for a bit, and then you feel sick. So you do some more so you don’t feel sick. I got tired of all the things I would have to do to make the money to just not feel sick. I tried some morphine, same thing. What’s the point I thought. Why spend that money to not feel sick, yet not even get high anymore, so I quit that shit,” he said. 


“It’s funny though. I never tried heroin. I just heard too many things about people getting hooked. Then last week, sitting down minding my own business, some guy asks me if I wanna shoot some heroin. I actually thought about. I thought, well, I haven't even had a beer. I’ve never tried that, and I like an adventure. The guy seemed in a hurry, and I decided no, this isn’t where I need to start anything new. He left in a hurry. I’m glad I said no,” Tom tells me. 


“But, check this out,” he says, reaching into his back pocket. He pulls  out a wallet attached to his trousers by a chain.

“Another guy approached me that same day, asking if I wanted some weed. I said sure, I’m on vacation, why not?  I gave the guy ten bucks, he said he had to go get it. He gave me this ring as a guarantee,” Tom says, showing me a silver ring with a clear stone in it.

“I think it’s a diamond. He never came back. Look it even fits me,” he says, trying to pinch the ring over the large knuckle on his ring finger.

“Guy never came back, but if he does, I’m telling him the ring is gonna cost him another twenty bucks!” Tom says triumphantly. I ask if he’s annoyed that the guy made off with his money.

“No, it's okay, I’ve got the ring. And it fits me. It’s a good souvenir of my adventure here in Vancouver.” #notastranger