Visiting The Lincolns

April 14-15 marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth during a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. But you probably know that factoid, so what’s the connection between that tragedy and Dining With Strangers?

Back in February 2011 I had dinner in the District with Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller. They tour the country performing as Honest Abe and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln in a production called “Visiting the Lincolns.” Their two-person performance imagines the couple at the White House talking about all their lives, politics, triumphs and tragedies, in the hours before their fateful trip to the theater.

Michael is easy to imagine as Lincoln, as he towers over most people at 6 foot 4 inches and also has an impressive presidential beard. Both he and Debra were great company during the dinner interview and I highly recommend watching their show if possible.

In Christy’s Shoes

Jacki Barnett never intended to be a fashionable fundraiser. But after her best friend Christy passed away from brain cancer at age 33, Jacki and two other friends launched a fashion-focused charitable organization in Christy’s honor.

In Christy’s Shoes hosts shoe fashion shows to raise money that the group then donates to charities helping women and families in need. The idea stemmed from outgoing and generous Christy’s love of shoes, as I learned during dinner with Jacki.

We met at the fancy Bourbon Steak restaurant at the Four Seasons in Washington, DC’s, equally fancy Georgetown neighborhood. I had a blast during the almost three hours I spent with Jacki, who is a very fun, friendly person.

Click on this link or on the picture of Jacki and me above to read about my lavish dinner with her — and meeting Bourbon Steak’s executive chef.

Next Step Realty: NYC

Great news for former dinner interviewee Matt Bauman — the New Yorker will be appearing in an upcoming ABC reality television show about Next Step Realty, a firm that works with college graduates moving to New York City to pair them with realtors.

Matt was one of the founding real estate brokers at the company, and the natural energy he showed during our meal is bound to make for some fun viewing.

Variety has more details on the show, which will be called “Next Step Realty: NYC,” and their article even features Matt in the main picture.

I interviewed him in New York City last July, over a great Italian meal at Locanda Verde. In addition to his work in the real estate industry, Matt is an experienced actor and also launched a website to connect acting and other entertainment industry coaches with students. Click here to read about my dinner with Matt.

Searching For Louise

Maryland resident Dr. David Sherer has fond memories of the African American maid Louise that helped raise him as a child. But the two lost contact in the 1980s. A few decades later, David decided that he needed closure and wanted to reunite with Louise — and to chronicle his efforts in a book.

That’s how he ended up writing his autobiographical tale The House of Black and White, as he told me during a dinner interview at Le Chat Noir restaurant in Washington, DC. It’s the second book he’s written, following a guide for patients on how to deal with hospital visits. And he hopes it won’t be his last.

In addition to talking about his love of writing, David also talked about his lengthy career as an anesthesiologist, and his plans for his looming retirement.

Click on this link or on David’s picture above to read about my dinner with the doctor.

Ukulele Joy

Ukulele-playing singer-songwriter Louisa Hall — dinner stranger #57 — was on stage at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center recently playing her instrument, singing her songs, and generally appearing to have a great time.

You can watch her performance by clicking here. She starts out with her cover of The Decemberists’ “Shankhill Butchers,” a song about the Irish paramilitary gang of the same name. It’s also the song she played for me during our meal.

The video gives a great example of Louisa’s effortlessly upbeat nature and quirky sense of humor, which was also on show when she and I got dinner at DC’s Big Bear Cafe last May. Click here for my interview with Louisa.

The Battle For Modern New Orleans

Gary Krist is a New York Times best-selling author whose latest book, Empire of Sin, is a work of historical non-fiction chronicling New Orleans in the early 1900s.

It’s a fascinating story about the battle for the modern city, played out mostly in the notorious Storyville district where prostitution and other debauchery ran rife.

During a dinner interview at the Southern-themed Acadiana restaurant in Washington, DC, Gary told me how he first got the idea for the book and the extensive research that went into it. And he chronicled the tough task of bringing an impartial voice to tell both sides of the story in his book, which is an excellent read.

Click on Gary’s picture above or on this link to read the interview.

Happy New Year

Happy new year!

The first dining interview of 2015 is scheduled to take place later this month in Washington, DC, so look for that article early in February.

In the meantime, if you came here via a mention on the Today show of “dining with strangers” I’m sorry to say you’re looking for the wrong site. Their piece was not about my project interviewing strangers over dinner, but instead was about a pretty fun project called EatWith. They put groups of strangers together to share meals at someone’s house. You can check it out at EatWith’s Facebook page.

However, if you came here looking for Dining With Strangers and my interviews with randoms, then welcome back!

I realize I’m using a lot of exclamation marks in this post, so I could sum up quickly. I’ve recently updated my page of travel plans for this year, which includes stops in New York City, Florida, Italy, California and Mexico. If you live in any of those places and are interested in being interviewed about your life by a stranger (me) over dinner at a place of your choosing (I pay), click on this link.

Another Year Of Dining

As 2014 draws to a close, here’s a recap of the strangers I met during the year.

Early in the year I was interviewed by Perry Stein of the Washington City Paper for an article about Dining With Strangers. I had a fun time talking with the reporter, and it was unusual to be the one getting interrogated.

In addition to the publicity from the subsequent article, I’m also grateful to the piece because I said I was planning on doing at least one interview a month throughout the entire year. I’m happy to say that I’ve stuck to that minimum and in several months exceeded it by one or two, meaning I got to meet plenty of people.

From a zydeco dancer down in New Orleans to the manager of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and from a jazz musician to a two-part breakfast in Los Angeles with actor Stephen Tobolowsky, I had a blast with these 19 strangers:

  • Stranger #52 (January 30): The first interview of the year took place in Washington, DC, with local jazz musician Aaron L. Myers II. Getting serenaded at dinner was a great way to start off 2014.
  • Stranger #53 (February 19): Matt Abbruzzesse told me about his campaign for a slot on a local DC municipal board known as an Advisory Neighborhood Commission — a race that he eventually did not win.
  • Stranger #54 (March 6): Dinner in DC with Jeffrey Johnson, also known as Special Agent Galactica, his musical alter-ego who sings songs and tells stories about traveling through time and space.
  • Stranger #55 (April 21): Elizabeth Moore, a DC resident, told me during dinner about how she came to adopt a philosophy of saying “yes’ to as much as possible — and how it’s helped her life.
  • Stranger #56 (May 6): Costume technician Edwin Schiff told me about his career working backstage in theater.
  • Stranger #57 (May 8): Serenaded once again at dinner, this time by ukelele-playing singer-songwriter Louisa Hall from Washington, DC.
  • Stranger #58 (May 24): The first-ever two part interview on Dining With Strangers, and that’s because New Orleans resident Mary Burns had so much to say. In part one she talked about her experiences growing up in the Big Easy and working as a Catholic school teacher. In part two she detailed her experiences in Hurricane Katrina and her new love of zydeco dancing.
  • Stranger #59 (May 25): Another interview in the Big Easy, this time with Daniel Lelchuk, who is the assistant principal cello for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • Stranger #60 (June 30): Brendan Kelleher and I ate pizza and enjoyed several beers as he told me about his website, Behind The Craft, where he interviews the owners of craft breweries.
  • Stranger #61 (July 21): Off to New York City for a dinner interview with Matt Bauman, a man of many trades. He’s an actor, real estate agent, and owner of a website for theatrical coaches.
  • Stranger #62 (July 22): I spent an enjoyable afternoon touring the Jim Henson Creature Shop and learning the art of making puppets from the company’s Production Manager Melissa Creighton.
  • Stranger #63 (August 12): The first time I’ve interviewed the sibling of a prior stranger. I got fish and chips in Virginia with Louisa Hall’s sister Marlene Hall, who works with veterans organizations.
  • Stranger #64 (September 16): During a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, married couple Jesse and Sarah Smith told me about their discovery of omnist religious beliefs and how that changed their lives.
  • Stranger #65 (October 11): Actor Michael Hitchcock, recognizable from Glee, Best In Show and a million other films and television shows, reminisced about his work and talked about his future projects.
  • Stranger #66 (October 13): Another two-part interview, this time in Los Angeles with actor/writer Stephen Tobolowsky. In the first part, Stephen told me about how he got into acting and his experiences in that career. In part two of the interview, he explained how he got into writing and why he now considers that to be a greater passion than the thespian life.
  • Stranger #67 (October 31): Perhaps the most lavish meal with a stranger of 2014, I spent almost three raucous hours at Galatoire’s restaurant in New Orleans with long-time French Quarter resident Dr. Brobson Lutz.
  • Stranger #68 (November 28): Single mother Caecilia Kay told me about her struggles balancing her dreams of developing a career in social media and public relations with making sure her children have everything they need.
  • Stranger #69 (December 22): Lunch in Hull, a city in northern England, with Jean Bishop, also known in her town as the Bee Lady. For years she’s dressed up in a bumblebee costume as an eye-catching fundraising effort for Age UK, England’s largest charity offering support to older people.

The Bee Lady

For more than 30 years, Jean Bishop has dressed up in an eye-catching bumblebee costume as a way to gain attention for her fundraising efforts for Age UK, a British charity that offers a host of services to the country’s elderly.

Her sunny demeanor and energetic, award-winning fundraising efforts — she’s raised more than £100,000 ($155,000) for Age UK and received a Pride of Britain award — help explain why Jean is known in her area as “The Bee Lady.”

Last week, I sat down to lunch with Jean in her hometown of Hull, northeast England. She told me about the first time she stepped in to the costume, and her many experiences over the years — as well as why she’s so dedicated to Age UK.

Click here or on the picture above to read my interview with Jean, the Bee Lady.

The Stranger Before Christmas

Heading back to England tomorrow for a two-week trip to the home country. While there, I’m hoping to do one more interview before Christmas Day. That’ll help me hit my self-imposed goal of doing at least one interview a month in 2014.

That interview is meant to take place on Monday. So in the meantime, get in the festive mood by reading over my interview from 2011 with Ed Downey. For three decades he’s lived a double life as Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, whatever you prefer).

Ed explained how he got involved in dressing up as jolly old Saint Nick, and some of the experiences he’s had in what has apparently been an incredibly successful career.

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