The Welcome Return of the Run-In

Dec 14, 2021 · 73 comments
Larry Israel (Israel)
I live in Israel. Once, on a visit to New York, I had rented a car and I was trying to return it one night, about 10. I was having difficulty finding the place, but I saw a man walking on the sidewalk. I stopped the car, and got out to ask directions. The man, who lived across the street from me in Israel, told me how to get there. Another time, while walking near Wall Street, I got tapped on the shoulder, and asked "Don't I know you from Rehovot?". So it's a small world.
brooks-kinder, andrea (burbank, ca)
The best part of working the reference desk at the library is seeing patrons that have not been seen for months. Seeing an older patron survived and is feeling comfortable about coming back to the library is great. Would I call these patrons friends? No, but they are part of the connections that makes me feel like I truly help my community.
Miss M (Massachusetts)
The part about this that I liked the most: that the author, or a sane copy editor, rendered Ms. Crosley as "an" essayist and novelist, rather the "the." In recent years the Times, especially in the style and magazine sections, has seemed to adopt the convention of calling almost everyone "the," as in Joe Schmoe, the bricklayer, as if to elevate the person to fame and distinction. Ms. Crosley has actually made a name for herself, but 9 times out of 10 I've never heard of the person (but am left wondering if I'm the only one who hasn't). Let's have more of "Picasso, the artist," and "Jane Doe, a painter."
Guido (Cincinnati)
While not really having a say or a choice in chance encounters described in this article, I've found myself thinking about the Russian Roulette of characters I've met, known, liked and disliked throughout my entire life then wondering if they're still around. If so, have they changed or are they still the same as they were. Ditto for me. That's the real benefit of this all.
Kenneth (Ohio)
What an incredible experience to relate and share with us! The paper of record surely keeps getting better every day. I applaud this talented mother for reminding us of the Arts.
Never trumper (New Jersey)
I truly feel sorrow for the author of this piece. One of the most pleasant experiences In life is the unexpected meeting with an old friend or acquaintance. I only look back and smile when I think of these chance encounters. Life is fun. Lighten up!
This place Is pho kin Great! (Sofa king Fresh)
American Expatriate (in Asia)
Surely dreading meeting acquaintances unexpectedly was dreaded only by misanthropes? "Run-ins?" "Routine annoyance?" Fiddlesticks. What an odd article.
Ruth b (NYC)
Indeed ODD! Got the sense the dude has no friends, or considers himself too important to relate…
George (Cobourg)
It says that "most people dread small talk with weak ties." That shouldn't be. Small talk with weak ties should be fun. If you are having trouble with it, come up with a few "all purpose" comments in your head beforehand, so that you aren't "stuck".
Not left enough (NorCal)
Completely relatable! Loved reading your perspective!
trxila (illinois)
Very enjoyable to read, excellent writing!
Regina (US)
I love the idea of weak ties, a term I hadn't heard before reading this. But without knowing the formal name for them, I have felt the importance of weak ties very much, and have reflected on this more since being vaccinated and returning to some of my normal activities again, happy to see people again whom I had no reason to encounter in the earlier parts of the pandemic. I agree with the author that weak ties make you feel part of your larger community. It feels good to connect with other people, in one way or another, not just those you are close friends with, but acquaintances and near-strangers. There's something very human about it, something so mundane but also extraordinary. Just imagining all of those people living their lives while you live yours, and sometimes your worlds overlap for this or that reason. The world feels so big and so small at the same time, and we're each only here for a short moment. That we know each other at all is so beautiful. That's one of my takeaways from pandemic life.
TRU (Brooklyn)
@Regina so well said
AES (New York, NY)
A "run-in?" Was there a brawl after that accidental nudge? And then everyone she was with also had "run-ins" with former co-workers and friends! Oh the drama. . . and at the theatre! Did they have to be duck-taped to their seats? I will add "run-in" to "Let's cheers to that" and "Thank you! No problem." The English language continues to "out-run" me! Can you believe this? What are the odds?
William Case (United States)
CDC data shows the U.S. age-adjusted mortality rate in 1950—the midpoint of the 20th Century—was 1457.3 per 100,000 persons. According to the CDC, the age-adjusted mortality rate in 2020—the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic—was about 828.7, a significant increase over 2019 but a huge decrease compared to 1950. Vaccination and improved therapeutic medicines are expected to reduced COVID-19 fatalities along with the current mortality rate, but if the mortality rate remains the same, Americans would have to adjust to a mortality rate much lower than the mortality rate their grandparents grew up with.
J (Michigan)
This article strikes such an odd tone to me. For myself and many other queer people who came out over the pandemic, seeing acquaintances and family members has such an awful tinge of anxiety and dread.
teach (NC)
I just had my freshperson college students writing about weak ties, and what's happened to them during the pandemic. We all agreed that their weak ties had already broken down because of time spent online--but the pandemic has made many of them hungry to establish analog lives, complete with speaking acquaintances and your roommate's boyfriend's friend. Only connect.
Raymond (New York, New York)
“Jerry! Hellooooooooooooo!”
Mark H. (Mankato, MN)
Gee, sorry to hear that - running into an acquaintance is usually an "annoyance." Maybe you should check inside your head, or where you live?
MSC (Chicago)
@Mark H. Not everyone in Minnesota nice. Some aren't even nice at all. I didn't like running into people pre-pandemic. Check your extrovert tendencies before you tell anyone to check themselves, anywhere.
David H (Northern Va.)
Nah. Its still a routine annoyance.
danny k (maryland)
"When we were about 20 or so feet apart, we would drop our bags. “Emma Freudddd-en-berger, is that you?” I’d shout, “What are you doing here?” Then we’d run toward each other for a dramatic embrace." Congratulations on having the bravery to openly admit this obnoxious behaviour.
Passion for Peaches (left coast)
@danny k, they were around age 18, on what may have been their first overseas trip. Everyone is annoying and self involved at that age. Add a Eurail pass and some spending money, and obnoxiousness will ensue. Spoken by someone who did a year abroad in college, in a European country. I’m sure I was annoying to someone. When I was a young teen (maybe 13 or so), my best friend and I would walk around town trying to look sophisticated and cool, speaking in British accents. As if we were fooling anyone.
TRU (Brooklyn)
@danny not obnoxious at all! Teenagers. Fun. Lighten up!
Chris F (Brooklyn, NY)
@Passion for Peaches Speaking in British accents was exactly what I and 3 friends (all aged 12-14) did after seeing "A Hard Day's Night" in 1964 (in Brooklyn, no less)! We had all the dialogue down perfectly.
J_Dilbs (WA)
I read this and could only hear Jerry Seinfeld's and Larry David's voices in my head.
There for the grace of A.I. goes I (san diego)
Running is Spiritual....but from what I have heard from guest on the Greg Gutfeld show is Running is now the safest way to get from work to home and be safe along the way....As we Viewer who watch Know that X Trees in the middle of NY City can catch fire all by themselves and whatever causes them out the next day!
J (NY)
@There for the grace of A.I. goes I Wutbot lol
danny k (maryland)
“What are the odds?! Pretty high, actually. We all work in media in New York City. We all went to a play. Hard to imagine a more predictable event." Then the odds are low. High odds come from an unlikely situation stretching predictability. The probability of a run-in after the play in the city where you all work is high. If you were to bet on one occurring, you'd get a low payout. Thus low odds. In an opposite situation -- say in a city you're briefly visiting under rare circumstances -- the probability of a run-in would be low which would get you a high payout, therefore high odds. Low odds that you didn't google this term.
Patricia (Colorado)
@danny k There are “odds in favor of” and “odds against” an event happening. Perhaps you’d like to Google those terms and retract your criticism of the author. It appears the author is discussing the odds in favor of running into another media person at a play, which are described as high, fairly likely. That’s a perfectly appropriate use of the phrase, assuming we are talking about “odds in favor”.
danny k (maryland)
@Patricia Nope. High odds or "the odds are high" has one meaning. Look it up. Probability and odds aren't interchangeable though they are related. Odds actually develop over time through repetition of the same situation in consideration of differing outcomes.
MM (Detroit)
@danny k odds=p/(1-p) As p increases, odds increase. I use this daily as an engineer.
Nathan (Newman)
ehh i duck most people. I find them annoying.
Passion for Peaches (left coast)
I think “weak ties” is, as used in the “hearing about a job” example, is a misnomer. Maybe it depends on the specifics of how one heard about the job? My spouse has found out about numerous career opportunities, over the years, through people he had not kept up with — old colleagues, or people who were once friends. This people may have “nearly forgotten” about him, but they nevertheless took the time to seek him out when something came up. That’s called networking. But are those ties necessarily “weak”? I don’t think so. Pandemic isolation has made me treasure both friends and (loose) acquaintances. Yes, I love it when I have a surprise encounter with someone I know and like (the “like” part is crucial for me, though). What has changed is that I’m engaged in a concerted effort to make real friends of the acquaintances. No half-steps, hesitating or straddling, for me. I’m all in on friendships now. Life is too short to hang back.
mosenblum (Illinois)
Being somewhat of an introvert myself, I have always been uncomfortable with feeling somehow obligated to engage in small talk with people I hardly know. When by chance I would spot a familiar face approaching me on the street, I would often turn my back and look into a store window (feeling grateful that there was a window available at the moment to stare into), feigning interest in whatever the display until the person passed me by. The pandemic had been keeping me safely at home, offering me an excuse not to venture out unless absolutely necessary, reducing the odds that I would come across a person I hardly knew (and who I had little inclination to get to know better), thus sparing me the discomfort of having to deal with chance encounters of this kind. I do not consider myself particularly asocial as much as avoidant in character, as I like people in general but prefer to keep all but my closer friends and acquaintances at a distance. Accordingly, I am neither hurt nor disappointed when not invited to cocktail parties, such "snubs" freeing me from the burden of having to act "sociable" in a room filled with strangers. If my mother were still alive, she would be saddened to read these comments since she had always encouraged me to "stop hanging around the house and "go out and make new friends." But, in the end, I think she would understand.
Passion for Peaches (left coast)
@mosenblum, I am not a naturally social person. I usually decline party invitations because I have never felt at ease navigating the amorphous groups that form in your average cocktail or free-grazing dinner party. What I see is not a crowd of welcoming faces, but a sea of unwelcoming backs. I freeze. However, after two years of limited contact with my (not large, I admit) social group, I am inordinately excited to have been invited to a (small) Christmas party! I’m actually embarrassed to admit how much it means to me.
mosenblum (Illinois)
@Passion for Peaches So happy that you have found a group of friends with whom you can share the holidays. There is no reason to be embarrassed over the joy you are experiencing over having been being invited to join in the celebration. Best wishes for a brighter (and friend-filled) future!
Sylvia Swann (Birmingham Alabama)
Our writing salon finally reconvened last month. We were thrilled to be in the same room instead of on Zoom. It felt amazing to see each other’s faces in 3D again.
Mimi (New York, NY)
All I got from this piece is that extroverts remain exhausting.
Andrew (Chicago)
@Mimi Well put. The article feels utterly foreign to me. For me, there's nothing more awkward than randomly running into people who I barely know and might not even like. If I run into a friend, it's fine but I still don't like the feeling.
Rose Anne (Chicago)
@Mimi And from the comments, I get that New York must be a pretty unpleasant place to live.
Patrick (NYC)
@Mimi I don’t understand what the point might be and started reading it paragraph by paragraph backwards from the end. I didn’t understand Proust’s Swann’s Way either, so maybe it is just me. Both seem ramblingly trivial.
John Virgone (Pennsylvania)
"If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company." --Sartre
reid (WI)
Maybe for some, certainly NOT all. I have little spare time for those who I still choose not to associate with.
Gwen Murdock (Barcelona)
I was living in Joplin MO during the 2011 E-5 tornado. I was unaffected. But, to get to my gym, I had to drive through the tornado zone. In the immediate aftermath, it seemed too self centered to go workout, when driving past people sifting through the ruble for small momentos of their previous lives. When I finally did show up at the gym 2 months later, I was greeted so graciously by other patrons who never gave me the time if day, before. I think it is a similar phenomenon, the relief that one’s world hasn’t completely collapsed.
Sky (Hawaii)
I absolutely loved this piece. As a preschool teacher, being around three year olds all day, while wonderful and my passion... they are the only people I interacted with. Chatting with parents during pick up was lovely, and I could tell they appreciated the lighthearted conversation too as many of them were essential workers. I grew to love the head nods from folks I would start to recognize on our daily running paths. and trying SO HARD to smile with you eyes. Little moments of human connection carried us through... the earlier months of the pandemic I think many of us savored them more. Now seeing old friends out and about reminds us of a different world, and I think in the monotony of the last 20 months we forget about the daily encounters. Beautiful piece
deano (Pennsylvania)
Maybe we just learn to live with Covid? Seriously, it isn't getting any better. We go out when we do, we get boosters when we can, people still party, dance and everything else. Forget the rest, if run-ins are annoying, just wave and life goes on...
And it’s ALL due to China starting this pandemic! Will we just pretend it didn’t happen? Why bother making sure those involved in the January 6 are punished? Because we have a history of pursuing justice. We were dealt a tremendous wrong in allowing China to start this pandemic and they have gotten away with the crime of the century. Why?
James (New Jersey)
@GHM did we "allow" China to start this pandemic? That implies we could have stopped them. That of course assumes they started.
W.B. (WA)
@GHM Sounds like you needed to get out of the house and meet people like, 15 years ago dude.
@James Yes bad choice of word on my part! I meant allowing to have zero consequences for starting this dumpster fire. We cannot control that they started it but the world seems determined to Look the other way and they have gotten away with it
Kristin Nord (Baddeck, NS)
"graduated high school"--please stop this atrocity!
will b (upper left edge)
@Kristin Nord Give up. It's everywhere. Out West is my bailiwick, & it's thick out here. I think it's a type of old-timey 'fokesiness', which doesn't leave room for more formal (& even *more* old-fashioned) formulations that hark to more original English construction.
Milton Lewis (Hamilton Ontario)
Nothing more frustrating than bumping into a long time friend or acquaintance that you have not seen in almost two years. Do you hug? Do you elbow bump? Do you seek confirmation of vaccination status? Once? Twice? Three times? Conscientious objector? Fully recovered from COVID? Or do you cross the street and avoid the whole discussion?
Jay Orchard (Miami Beach, FL)
Accidentally meeting an acquaintance from the past can still be annoying. As Larry David might say, when faced with that awkward scenario, the best advice is to quickly execute the sidewalk version of the bump and run.
Demosthenes (NY)
Just imagine what the people you have zero contact with can do for you!
Richard (Douglass Commonwealth)
My English is good. I read the first two paragraphs and don’t have a clue as to what the author is saying. The boss is judged, everyone turned around. She didn’t care. Someone please explain this event to me.
Richard (Douglass Commonwealth)
@Richard Nudged, not judged. Darn the spell checking.
Catherine (Victoria, BC)
@Richard this made me pause as well. Maybe she was embarrassed at nudging a boss, which implies a strong fear of upsetting the social hierarchy. Or maybe she was embarrassed that she interrupted a conversation so that everyone turned around to look at her, which implies shyness. Full disclosure: I assumed the author is a woman but did a search on the name Reyhan and found that it is usually a male name, which implies I have a fear of getting gender wrong.
Richard (Douglass Commonwealth)
@Catherine Nudging “a boss” It was her acquaintance’s boss. I looked for the reaction to this action but didn’t find it. I now think I did not miss the point. The point was not made, although I believe the writer knew exactly what he/she or should I say they meant, just didn’t share it. I assume the author thought it was obvious. Also, the uses of the phrase run in was clumsy. We all know the difference between running into someone and having a run in. The author used the latter to refer to encounters, the former meaning.
Kennedy (Chapeaux)
A peerless work of creative nonfiction from an unparalleled writer of tremendous literary talent. I am simply floored by this piece.
Wordsworth from Wadsworth (New Wye, Appalachia)
It's great to run into old friends. Now after isolation, acquaintances can be edifying. But with social media, are not serendipitous encounters moot or at least attenuated? (I don't use social media, therefore I am a newfangled anchorite). I guess for most of us there is the potentiality of running into a Trump supporter or someone who refuses vaccination. Call me elitist or a snob, I cannot brook pernicious irrationality.
Native lady (USA)
Top notch service and writing as per the usual customer experience with the runnings in! I takes great minds for such a piece as this. I am grateful to the Time’s update.
C.A. Scozzari (Matawan, NJ)
How grumpy are you that you actually comment on having to make "small talk" with old and new acquaintances? With online shopping and the must-be planned meetings that dictate your social calendars, the lack of the non-consequential unplanned social gatherings are a thing of the past. An entire generation will never understand the small social gatherings on the 3rd floor of a Macy's at the local mall with security cameras everywhere while you contemplate the required home essentials that after the family gatherings you now know you don't have. The times they are a changing.
Jerrold (New York, NY)
A side issue: Language changes, all right. A "run-in" used to mean an argument with somebody. So now it means a chance meeting? I had not known that until I saw this piece.
Karen Lee (Washington, DC area)
@Jerrold, that was my initial impression, too! I might call these "run-intos" :) Despite tending towards introversion, I enjoy running into people I know. Just don't enjoy large gatherings [like parties] without somthing to do [like attending a musical performance, taking a tour, going to a lecture, watching a steeplechase ...]
Dana (Northern Colorado)
@Jerrold I don't think the general meaning has changed. In Britain it might be called a "set-to". And then depending how things went you could have a scrum, a dust-up, and even a donnybrook.
Lover Dudley (New York)
I'm an introvert. Take away the dying part and the hospitalizations, but leave everything else as it was, and 2020 was THE BEST year of my life. I will never forget the first gloriously sunny and mild late April morning I ventured into a totally locked-down Manhattan beginning at Times Square's very own NY Times building, and walked northeast through Rock Center and all the way up Madison to 86th, down Park to 45th, and then back home. No one to run into. Anywhere. As in, not a person in sight for hundreds of yards for most of those few hours. Bliss.
Demosthenes (NY)
@Lover Dudley nothing like your own private avenue at rush hour.
Sandy (Brooklyn)
@Lover Dudley I'm a face-blind introvert, and I second the motion! Running into people who have to identify themselves to me is just a nightmare.
Lawyermom (Washington DC)
@Sandy It’s been great to tell masked people who apparently recognize me “I am sorry, I don’t recognize you with the mask.” Much less embarrassing than “I forgot your name.”
Zoobie (Zoo)
What an original and beautifully written story about this author and her acquaintances comes to town! I enjoy very much to read such high quality and imaginative prose. Many thanks to you, New York Times.