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One of the most common locations for finding a stranger is the seat next to you. It’s the seat that was unoccupied a few minutes ago, but now holds someone that you don’t know, someone you’ve never seen. This person could possibly change the entire course of your life, or just make for an enjoyable evening—or perhaps a nerve-racking one.
Tonight my daughter, Olivia, and I are the strangers ready to find good empty seats at the open -air amphitheater at Chautauqua Institution, a mecca of cultural and educational opportunities in Chautauqua, New York. We’re looking for not only the right viewing location for the Jennifer Nettles concert we’re attending, but also neighbors we can live with for a while.
The seats are first-come, first-served benches (think church pews). I know from experience that, at a popular event like this, we’ll most likely be squeezed next to whomever is seated next to us.
I spot a young woman who’s what I’d call a “cool-looking person” seated next to a guy that looks friendly and “cool” as well. She has hip green glasses, lots of stylish jewelry and a friendly smile. “Are these seats free?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says cheerfully as the two of them scoot over. Maybe she’s relieved that friendly-looking people like us will be their seat-mates. I ask her if she’s seen Jennifer Nettles before. She says she has, and adds, “She’s great!” Then she tells Olivia that she likes her bracelet.
After Olivia thanks her, she says, “Don’t just think it, it’s good to say something nice to someone if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s what I believe.”
I like her philosophy. I tell her that my daughter, who goes by the stage name Olivia Frances (www.oliviafrancesmusic.com), is a musician and song-writer. And then I pause.
“You should brag on her,” she says, much to my relief.
I take my iPhone out and press iTunes to show the two of them a song from Olivia’s album, “Back to Happiness.” She holds the phone up to her ear and he leans in close. They smile and listen to the whole song, which I didn’t expect them to do—but I love them for it.
When the music starts she and Olivia begin dancing in their seats, waving their arms back and forth in sync with each other. It’s beautiful to watch, like two old friends who have practiced these dance moves many times before. The “cool” guy and I sit on either side of them clapping along with the audience in rhythm.
When it’s time to go, we finally introduce ourselves to each other. “Nice meeting you, Dawn and Todd,” I say.
“Good luck with your music, Olivia,” Dawn says, and there are smiles all around from the four of us. A concert is so much more enjoyable when you share the music and a bench with people whose company you enjoy—like these people in the seats next to us to whom we were strangers just a few short hours ago.