#169: Dining with Strangers

May 27th, 2013

Cannibals, I kept thinking. They have to be cannibals.

The lady was worried our dinner companions would be boring or might give us food poisoning, but I knew better. They planned to feed us of the longpig.

These are the thoughts as you walk to a house to eat with a total stranger.

One of my lady’s most appealing traits is her adventurousness. We met at an event where we both went stag, she globe-hops like she’s chasing Carmen Sandiego and she’s always on the prowl for new urban destinations in town.

Beer tastings, radio station tours, our upcoming trip to Scandinavia — they’re all in her wheelhouse. And so now is Meal Sharing.

Meal Sharing is a site that connects travelers abroad with a place where they can get a home-cooked meal in the local style. You make connections online, size each other up digitally and, if each side likes what it sees, enjoy a cultural experience that makes haggling for cardamon at a far-flung bazaar seem like a trip to Euro Disney.

Or sometimes the far-flung destination is in Logan Square and you enjoy homemade pizzas made by a web guy named John, who — and I cannot state this strongly enough — did not turn out to be a cannibal.

I don’t like to blur the line between this project and my social life too much. It makes every fun night a thing I have to document and chart and make observations on and try to remember the exact wording of quotes people said. Some blurring does occur, of course, but I try not to play into it.

I don’t want to look back and realize I analyzed my life instead of living it.

So I’ll leave the conversation and names and pizzas and blue-haired stand-up comic guests to the realm of great memory instead of Hecht-inspired Chicago story. I’ll give you your money back if you’re disappointed, but Meal Sharing was too much fun to write down.

I will leave you with one touching Chicago moment, where the cousin of one of John’s roommates and I were sitting around the kitchen counter, gabbing over red wine for me and terrible, terrible macrobrew beer for him as the pizzas baked and the ‘Hawks lost to the Redwings on the flat-screen behind us.

Our conversation turned to how odd it is that this joking, raucous dinner party came together from strangers online.

“I thought it would be weird,” he said. “But I feel comfortable with you already.”

He gave me the suspicious eye. I gave it back. Then we both started laughing.

And that’s sort of the point.

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