Talk to me!
August 4, 2003 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Bill and Liz sit down on a sidewalk in New York City, and put up a sign that asks people to talk to them. No catch, no trick, just conversation. They do this full time, up to 14 hours a day, every day.
posted by majcher (24 comments total)

 
There's a part of me shouting "loons!", but really it's kind of nice, albeit in a slightly ridiculous way (not that that's bad). And you have to admire that dedication. Definately people I want to meet if I ever happen to go to NY (or they do a european tour)

good post, thanks
posted by fvw at 7:37 AM on August 4, 2003


And they're featured in the March 14th episode of This American Life. [real audio]
posted by scarabic at 7:44 AM on August 4, 2003


They look pretty clean and well-groomed for "urban campers" living in NYC on a budget of seven dollars a day.

Do they have a network of people who offer them running water and facilities? Are there enough public places that offer this in NYC for one to stay reasonably fresh and clean? I had received the impression that NYC, like a lot of American metropoli, was pretty hostile to those without a fixed address and ready cash.

This seems like a neat, refreshingly-innocent project, but the logistical problem of clean clothes, hair, and body is nagging at me here.
posted by eyebeam at 7:47 AM on August 4, 2003


I do that sort of things late at night in bars, before the bartender cuts me off
posted by Postroad at 7:49 AM on August 4, 2003


wash or talk?
posted by quonsar at 7:54 AM on August 4, 2003


I can't figure out the motivation. What would I say to Bill and Liz? I could make small talk, but then I'd want to punch myself. I could engage them in a conversation of mutual interest, but that's really what my friends are for because I have a much better sense of what's interesting to them vice versa. I could use them as a confessional, but I don't really have anything to tell them and that's really creepy anyway.

Really, it's harmless and the eccentric nature of it is amusing, but why? I smell a book or something.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:01 AM on August 4, 2003


I had received the impression that NYC, like a lot of American metropoli, was pretty hostile to those without a fixed address and ready cash.

Yes and no. There are many general public services you can get for free, though sometimes it requires a bit of ingenuity (food & water in shelters, restroom facilities at McDonalds). In general, however, $7 a day will get you very, very little. I actually like the fact that they don't mention using shelters on their website, since there are a lot of, let's just say, less-employable people who could really use the spot.

This seems like glorified begging with a hipster-edge to it, a kind of "you people don't take the time to enjoy the simple things in life, like human interaction. Why can't people all talk to each other on the subway? You are missing out, silly ants!" But there's a reason people have the "urban stare" down -- it's not out of inconsiderateness to our fellow man, but because people living in small spaces have developed all kinds of ways to preserve a sense of privacy. But when the situation calls for it, urbanites are able to free themselves from their shell very, very quickly. Especially in New York, which has some of the kindest, most helpful people on Earth (really!). The bad rep. comes from the attitude that when I'm trying to get from point A to point B, I'd like you to be respectful enough to get the fuck out of my way and don't bother me.

There was a study done that tried to evaluate the "pace" of certain areas. They measured the amount of words spoken per minute, the average walking speed of commuters, etc. Then, they correlated this pace-of-life with things like helpfulness by staging fake bystanders dropping papers or books in the middle of a busy street. In every case, the places with the higher pace of life (in the U.S., it's the Northeast) were more likely to go out of their way to help people.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:07 AM on August 4, 2003


I guess I've been around too many people who talk for the sake of hearing their own voice, people who banter on about stuff I don't care about, people who yap endlessly about nothing in particular, to appreciate this "project." In the FAQ they purport to be doing this because the world needs more conversation, but it seems to me all they'd get is a lot of small talk, which doesn't seem to be something lacking in society.

In the sage words of Neal Page:


You know, everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing, or interesting. And by the way, when your telling these little stories, here's a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:23 AM on August 4, 2003


Really, it's harmless and the eccentric nature of it is amusing, but why? I smell a book or something.

did you read the faq linked above? They address this question and deny any ulterior motive. I've met them a couple times at work (subway at 42nd, outside on 14th) and once was walking with someone who happened to know them in some personal capacity. I think they are honestly just having an adventure. They're both extremely good natured (as one would have to be to keep this experiment going so long) and seem to find the project continuously engaging (they've been getting press for more than a year, so this is no momentary gag).

This seems like glorified begging with a hipster-edge to it, a kind of "you people don't take the time to enjoy the simple things in life, like human interaction. Why can't people all talk to each other on the subway? You are missing out, silly ants!"

Except they're not begging, and generally refuse donations. They began by spending their savings to do this. And I don't think they have a condescending attitude toward people living more conventionally. They just chose to try something different for a while.

eyebeam, I'm fairly sure they have friends and family who let them shower here and there - they aren't homeless or destitute; they made an active choice. Of course, they can't depend on people to meet all their needs like that, so they've probably also become familiar with available facilities in town too.
posted by mdn at 8:45 AM on August 4, 2003


Does their $7/day include the costs of web design and hosting?
posted by rocketman at 9:01 AM on August 4, 2003


As a former Boy Scout, I think I'm nit-picking at their description of themselves in the FAQ as "urban campers". If you're going indoors to use plumbing to clean up, you're not camping, imho.

But I recognize that I'm splitting hairs in regards to a minor issue, and sort of missing the point here, which is to live unconventionally and talk to people, not to fit some preconcieved definition of a particular lifestyle.

I smell a book too, though.
posted by eyebeam at 9:03 AM on August 4, 2003


I saw them downtown once. I was vaguely interested, but I was afraid they were Scientologists or marketers or something and didn't talk.
posted by jonmc at 9:16 AM on August 4, 2003


"I smell a book"?

First they want to talk, then they want to write a book? Shame on them.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:26 AM on August 4, 2003


Bill and Liz are friends of mine. I met them a year ago when they first came here. I was doubtful that they would last through the winter - they seemed really nice, and their project seemed cool, but it seemed impossible. They did it - and they're still here. I can't imagine they would be using any social services - they really wouldn't need to.

Since they've been in NYC they've developed a network of people (aka friends) that they can call when they need to stay indoors or take a shower. They could call me (although they haven't).

i think a lot of the reason people talk to them is that they are anonymous. You can tell them your thoughts on something, and it's kind of like telling it to the wind, except that you get a compassionate response. I think they probably serve the function that a confessional was supposed to serve. They're really open and non judgemental.

It's really easy to live in NYC for under 7 dollars a day. They ride bikes, they dumpster, they do all sorts of things that people who don't want to spend a lot of money do. There's lots of free stuff here - there's probably a free movie every night this month.
posted by goneill at 9:42 AM on August 4, 2003


Goneill--

it isn't any sort of religious thing, right? Not in the sense of, "must evangelize," but more in the sense of a spiritual awakening. Because the first thing I thought of was St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscans, who when they started out gave up all their belongings and lived on the streets. I know they aren't begging for alms, exactly, but is it something similar?
posted by thecaddy at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2003


i'm sure it's quasi religious in that it's some sort of quest, or seemingly weird path to take. and we often associate bizarre journeys with religious people.

it's probably less of a spiritual awakening than it is a sociological awakening. i think think they probably wanted to meet lots of people from different places, and different experiences. for all that we claim this society is a melting pot, or a patch-work quilt, not many of us meet people outside of our own 'class'. bill and liz do, regularly.

i don't think they feel like martyrs, i don't think their lives are necessarily hard. i think they probably chose 7 dollars a day because they wanted to be able to do this as long as possible, and that was their budget. they might spend more money if they had more money. i think they are genuinely enjoying doing this. it's really fun for them to meet the interesting people that they meet every day. i guess, in answer to your question, i don't really think it's religious. religious people who give up their earthly goods are kind of miserable about it. bill and liz are really having a good time.

i can't stress enough how easy it is to spend very little money in nyc. there's a free wine tasting 5 times almost every day. there are free boatrides, concerts, and picnics.
posted by goneill at 10:29 AM on August 4, 2003


And by the way, when your telling these little stories, here's a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!

You're no saint. You get a free cab, you get a free room... and someone who'll listen to you're boring stories. Didn't you notice when you got on plane and started talking, eventually i started reading the vomit bag? Didn't that give you some sort of clue, like, 'Hey, maybe this guy's not enjoying himself?' You have to discriminate... you choose things which are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You're a miracle. Your stories have none of that. There not even amusing accidentally. 'Hey honey, I'd like you to meet Dale Griffith, you know, the shower curtain ring guy. He's got got some amusing anecdotes for you. Oh, here's a gun so you'll blow you're brains out... you thank me for it.'
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:49 AM on August 4, 2003


that movie makes me cry every time. Too bad they kill the best part with that stupid Paul Young song.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:36 AM on August 4, 2003


just fyi the bottom of this thread is very confusing to me.
posted by goneill at 11:52 AM on August 4, 2003


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Movie Quote.
posted by jopreacher at 12:05 PM on August 4, 2003


thanks
posted by goneill at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2003


Sorry, goneill, I honestly could not resist. It's one of my all time favorite comedies. At least in the top 5, perhaps top 3. John Candy and Steve Martin are in the top of their form. Apologies for the derailment.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:05 PM on August 4, 2003


You can tell them your thoughts on something, and it's kind of like telling it to the wind, except that you get a compassionate response. I think they probably serve the function that a confessional was supposed to serve. They're really open and non judgemental.

I like this explanation.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:52 PM on August 4, 2003


This sounds great. I think I'll offer them my sofabed for a night or two.
posted by Vidiot at 7:54 PM on August 4, 2003


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