Strange Encounters: London

Trafalgar Lions
Getting friendly in Trafalgar Square.

Traveling alone was one of the best things I ever did – I met lots of people, made decisions independently, and learned how to stand on my own two feet. It also meant that I commonly wandered the streets of European cities by myself, soaking it all in.

This is what I was doing one chilly afternoon in Notting Hill, my new London neighborhood. I had just moved into a shared studio apartment with a girl from Oregon. We had met and signed the lease on the same afternoon, both desperate for accommodation. Paige was at work, so I was exploring the area.

I was walking aimlessly down the sidewalk when a man approached from the other direction. Usually I avoid interactions by speeding up my walk and fixing my gaze at some distant point on the horizon. This white-haired man looked pretty safe. He reminded me of Anthony Hopkins, in a non-cannabalistic kind of way. Before we were close enough to be in the ‘smile zone,’ he gave me a serene smile.

I figured he was just extra-friendly and smiled back.

When we got within 5 feet of each other, he stopped.

“Do you remember?” he asked.

Not Do you remember me, but Do you remember?

His voice was calm, almost melodic.

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights, so he said it again.

“Do you remember?”

Then, “Shelly.”

Anthony Hopkins
More like this. Happy, not hungry.

I started to shake my head, to protest. He gestured at himself, as if to say that he was Shelly. Maybe it was his last name?

In a state of total confusion, I said, “No, I’m not Shelly.”

He kept smiling. “Are you sure?” he said. “Are you sure you’re not Shelly?”

He said it in a way that made me second guess even myself.  For a fleeting moment, the thought crossed my mind – Wait a minute – am I Shelly?

“Maybe Shelly is my long-lost European twin,” I said.

“Where are you from?” he asked. It was the least weird thing he’d said so far.


“What are you doing in London?”

“Working and traveling,” I said. But it was as if he already knew. Like he was from the future.

He nodded and touched the brim of his hat. Of course he was wearing a hat. “Have a good day.”

He strolled off, leaving me stunned in his wake. There was no explanation. No, “Sorry, you look just like someone I know.” It was as if he knew this secret, that I was Shelly, but he was going to leave it up to me to figure it out.

I continued my walk, extremely weirded out.

After 8 more years of travel experience, I think this guy was named Shelly. He was just so amused by my confusion that it was more fun not to tell me what was going on. And I walked right into it.

Have you had any strange encounters while traveling?


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  1. You do know that people like to mess with strangers for a kick right? I mean, I’ve even done it.

    A common one is to chuckle as you pass someone in the street. Like you’ve noticed something odd about them. Like their fly is undone. It really messes with peoples heads.

    Or, just look at them all confused… like “you’re wearing that?” kinda look.

    My friends used to wind the window down and cluck like a chicken to pedestrians. Just another “WTF?” moment.

    Now I just sound nasty. But yeah, whatever this blokes game was, it worked on you. You retold the story to the world. He was mysterious, and he’s kept you guessing all this time. Game. Set. Match.

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