Just don't make eye contact, and you'll be fine.As a kid, I didn’t much heed cautionary stranger danger tales, but now I take them to very much to heart.

It probably has everything to do with my days in Chicago. From the time I left my apartment to when I arrived at school, it was like my very own game of Frogger. But instead of trying to avoid cars and trucks – and for the record, drivers are trying to run you over – I was doing my best to miss the weirdos and creepers on the street.

Not to say that Chicago isn’t awesome. It is. In many ways, Chicago is like a big bag of jellybeans. Most of it you can devour and enjoy without worrying, except for those icky licorice ones. And if you happen to like licorice, that’s on you. Weirdo.

I’m sure this is no secret to anyone who has lived in a city, but the trick to avoiding oddballs is pretending they’re not there no matter how eccentric their behavior. There’s a fellow having an argument with himself on the bus? Keep your eyes on your book. There’s a lady petting an imaginary dog on the sidewalk? Check your voicemail like it’s an ordinary day. Because the moment you make eye contact, it’s over.

Now a Los Angeles resident, I’m not nearly as vigilant when roaming the streets of this great city. Probably because I never roam. No one does. We drive, which is highly effective at eliminating most instances of unwanted contact. It’s really nice. Not to say that LA doesn’t have its own oddballs. They hang out in Starbucks and Whole Foods.

But you can’t avoid all the people all the time, right?

So the other day, I was doing my weekly grocery shopping. (For the record, I’m a Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s gal. If I shopped at Whole Foods, I’d probably be hanging out there all day, too, because I no longer would be able to afford rent.) Now when I frequent Trader Joe’s, I prepare myself. First, you have the eager-eyed petitioners outside. Does anyone actually stop and talk to them? Then there are the uber-friendly workers, whom I used to think were oddly cool until someone told me that they’re required to be nice. It makes a whole lot more sense, though. But even the other shoppers will throw a smile your way if you accidentally look at them. However, today I was in Ralph’s, which is normally a contact-free zone. You can then imagine my surprise when I was accosted in the refrigerated cookie section.

Upon assessing the situation, I noticed that the dude in question had a kid, so I relaxed a bit. Though children do not automatically rule out the possibility of being weird, you can usually downgrade the terror alert level from red to a solid yellow. Plus, he had a package of sugar cookie dough in his hand. My initial instincts told me that this was simply a clueless dad.

“Excuse me, but could you help me with something?”

I noticed that this guy had a British accent, which put me into an internal tailspin. Normally I don’t think twice about being brusque with strangers, but this guy was a foreigner. And we all know the bad rap that America gets abroad. Time to turn on the charm.

“Sure! What can I help you with?”

As his little daughter looked on, British man proceeded to ask me about what type of dough would be best for molding into shapes. I enthusiastically indicated that he had already found the best kind for his needs.

“But can you dye this dough?”

The truth is that I had no idea. I was leaning toward no, but given that he had no intention or aptitude to actually make dough, and his daughter was listening to every word we were saying…

“Sure! I mean, you’ll probably have to work it in, but I think you can do it.”

This answer satisfied him. He thanked me with his British accent and quickly went on his way before his daughter could question the purchase. For my part, I felt very pleased with myself as a smug American would. I then inadvertently smiled at a woman examining packages of cream cheese. She immediately averted her eyes.

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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