It took me a few weeks before actually having the nerve to go up to three strangers. I think it was partly because I was subconsciously using symbols to pick and choose whom to ask. I didn’t want to ask people who felt that I would be a nuisance to them. In addition, growing up in New York City showed me that some people could be very hostile or make a fool out of you if you bother them.
Keeping those past experiences in mind, I observed my surroundings on a calm Wednesday at the Jamaica Center bus stop. I bought a small hot coffee from the vendor on the corner. I looked down the road and saw that no bus was coming, perhaps because it wasn’t rush hour. From my peripheral vision, I saw a Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker in the process of eating an orange on the street a few feet away from me. I went up to him and told him that I was a St. John’s University student doing a project about encountering strangers. Then, I told him that I would like him to answer this question, “Who are you?” and that he could be as general as he wished. From my encounter with him, he told me that he was just, “an old man.” I asked him what he meant by that. He told me that he worked many different occupations and working with the MTA is one of them. He also has a nephew that is in the business school at St. John’s and is really familiar with the area. Prior to speaking with him, I believe that I chose to interview him because I saw a prestige symbol – he was wearing an MTA uniform. My virtual social identity of him was that he wasn’t going to be hostile and be mature about this encounter.
My second encounter was when I was at the Chase bank on the corner of Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike. I was behind a lady, probably a year or two older than I am, on the line for the ATM. I decided to interview her because I felt that she wasn’t going anywhere – as in, I wouldn’t be a nuisance to her if I interviewed her – since there were two people ahead of her in line. Also, she had some prestige symbols that made me comfortable to ask her. She wore glasses, had a Jansport book bag, and was on her iPhone, texting. My virtual social identity of her is that she was patient, since she wasn’t making any fidgety movements while having been waiting on the line for a few minutes. Since we were at Chase bank, I asked her, “Do you prefer Chase bank over other banks?” She told me that she did prefer it to other banks. She only has a Chase account and is a resident in Fresh Meadows, Queens.
My third encounter was at my building’s lobby. I stopped and interviewed the security guard. My building is co-op and it is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s in a pretty safe neighborhood and one reason is because of the security guards. They are in charge of signing people in and routinely searching the vicinity for suspicious activities. It was around 8pm and I was going back home from a long day at school. I asked him where he was during Hurricane Sandy. He was very nonchalant while speaking about his response. He told me that he lives in Canarsie, which was one of the areas that was heavily flooded. But he went to his relative’s home in downtown Brooklyn since he heard the warnings. When he went back to his home, his whole basement was flooded and there was a lot of work to be done to reconstruct it. It had been two weeks since Hurricane Sandy struck and he said he would still probably live in his relative’s home for another few weeks. I decided to ask him because, like my first encounter, he was wearing a uniform, which is a prestige symbol. In addition, right when I opened the lobby’s door, he smiled and said, “good night.” Though, many security guards do that, I felt comfortable asking him for those reasons. His virtual social identity was very nice.
I thought that this field observation was very interesting. It wasn’t my intention, but I wounded up asking three different questions to three different people. I also noticed that I chose many people with prestige symbols – uniforms and glasses. I wasn’t comfortable going up to people with sigma symbols because I was just afraid of what might happen if I did. Hey, it’s New York City.