SideWalk Ghosts: Introducing 365 Strangers in 365 Days

Slava, 61 – Professional Chauffeur

I ask him to share a hobby, after a moment of thought he said in a deep dialect, “guitar.”

I ask him to tell me his favorite tune, he laughs and is silent.

A few moments pass, then he says, “A Russian song.”

I let it go at that, and take his photo over the front seat. My camera battery dies, as I’m reloading new power he says, “Song about friend, shall we take a photo outside the car.”

I agree, two more frames and its time for us to go.


September 9, 2011, sitting at thirty thousand feet, or there about, courtesy of US Airways flight 711 – Philly to LA. Sort of a patriotic and emotional day with it being so close to the 10 year anniversary of 911, a subtext that forces me to truly look at life’s priorities and my regard for the world around me.

There is something about flying that is meditative. And surely being crammed into a plane is powerful motivation to understanding fellow-man. Sitting across the aisle is the smelly sock traveler (sans shoes). I force myself to think beyond the nasal discomfort, and digging deep into my compassion, choose to re-examine the humanity of the situation.

My findings… the stranger across the row from me is just as uncomfortable as I with the situation. My ruling (partially derived from the Swedish language he speaks in doing his best to communicate to the woman seated several rows in front of him) is that he has been traveling for many hours and has not been seated next to his wife as they share a very crowded flight. I’m sure he is aware of the smell of his feet, but the pain of being in tight shoes for endless hours has gotten to him (I’m guessing they are on a last leg transfer from an international flight).

Now, this whole exchange occurs in nanoseconds, and my frustration has hit its highest beat. But, being the self-disciplined man who I am (or think I am) I force myself to take pause, redirecting my pointing finger away from unleashing the cabin attendant furry of call button red… and simply decide to redirect it to twist open air vent seat number one. “No harm, no foul,” I chant to myself. So what, a little re-circulated virus air never hurt anyone… right?

The watering in my eyes subsides, the rising foot vapor dissipates, and more beautifully, my mind clears in self-examination, looking ahead to the next five hours of air time I must spend with not only the unknown man, now reclining to my right, but the entire company of strangers I am sharing airspace with.

My beverage arrives, I take a sip, wash down the salted almonds, and refocus my considerations towards all of the other strangers whom have no choice but to co-exist with me in this five-hundred miles an hour airspace. It hit me like a ton of bricks, “We are all in this thing together.”

From that point, it takes only a moment for me to realize that it’s time for me to procrastinate no longer in committing to a grand blog commitment; one that has been rolling around in my head for years, and one that I have been slightly frightened to begin.  Yet empowered, with clarity the likes of a man awakened under the influence of smelling salt, I boldly commit to meet 365 strangers in 365 days.

The goal, every day for the next year, approach one stranger, photograph them and promptly blog the experience.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, healthy or ill, no days missed.

I’ll do my best to create interesting photos, and for the sake of entertainment, work to get myself into a sticky situation from time to time. It’s a huge commitment, I know. I’m sure there will be some hero photographs and some not so magnificent ones.

Let’s just see what happens!

Slava migrated with his family from the Ukraine to the United States in 1989. A mechanical engineer by trade he is now a very kind and entertaining chauffeur in Philadelphia. Asked him a few questions. A very reserved man, I did not want to force him to deeply into telling his story. Plus, we were both on tight schedules, he having other fares, and I with a plane to catch. The photos are taken in a dead-end road just to the side of Philadelphia airport. Shot only four frames due to limited time.

Nice to meet you Slava. Thanks for helping me start 365!