Chance Meetings: Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Surrounded by the unfamiliar language of another country, the constant buzz of sounds and words that don't compute, our human ear-radar has a remarkable ability to discern from great distances the mother tongue of home.

We were in a crowded Tokyo cafe when we all heard from the far side of the room English being spoken—and not just English, but American English! We slowly circled their encampment, scouting them out. And then we made our move, albeit somewhat clumsily.

"Hello... my name... George," as I pointed to my chest and pronounced each syllable with dramatic flair. "I... from... America."

They looked at me as if I was showing the advanced stages of leprosy, curious but ready to bolt for safety. Carefully one of them spoke, and soon we were back on familiar ground, language skills were returning, and fast friendships forming.

They were a trade group from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, back from a visit to their sister city in Japan and ready to head home. After a few days in Japan we were starved for English, and within minutes we were sharing our innermost secrets, nearly offering our PINs, spilling our guts about past injustices, favorite college classes, our mother's recipes for beef stew.... anything to keep talking in a normal, conversational way.

David Decker (hey, David, if you're out there reading this, please give me some slack for my penchant for hyperbole—it's only a story) is the Publisher of the Sheboygan Press. Unfortunately, in one of the many subsequent moves across the planet we managed to lose most of their calling cards. But with David was his wife, John A. Maclean IV, an inventor and his wife, and the Sheboygan mayor and his wife.

Within minutes we'd formed a lasting friendship and connection with these people who we would no doubt never see again (although we have been swapping e-mail).

Traveling is like that. Friendships form fast and then flicker, leaving warm but unrequited memories. Perhaps you will cross paths again, most likely you won't. But the result is a special sense that the connectedness of the world, the shared brotherhood of all peoples is much bigger than you ever knew.

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