I had just driven for an hour down a windy mountain road in New York State, very focused, happily singing. It was about 10 a.m. and I decided to stop for some breakfast before hitting the Interstate that would take me home.

The diner looked old-fashioned. So appealing and welcoming. I walked in and sat on a stool at the counter. It was long and empty, so I randomly took the second one from the end. The low-key waitress poured my coffee and handed me a menu.

Once I’d ordered my eggs and toast, an elderly man came in and pointed to the seat next to me.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked cordially.

I moved my handbag from the spot and smiled.

“Of course not,” I said.

There were about a dozen empty seats, so I immediately surmised he was a regular with a favorite seat. I know this feeling well.

“You’re from out of town?” he said.

Yes,” I said. “I was just up the mountain a bit at a Zen Buddhist monastery. But I left early.”

“Why?” he said.

“Well, it wasn’t my thing,” I said. “And, well, I have an issue with mice.

He laughed heartily.

“They don’t believe in killing them,” he said of the Buddhist philosophy.

“No, and I respect that,” I said. “But …”

He chuckled again. Then he pointed to the elderly woman at the grill and told me she was 100 years old. I was astonished. She was filling every order, including making him some massive blueberry pancakes.

“You know, religion these days … well, I probably shouldn’t talk about that,” he said.

I assured him it was OK. He could express himself and I would feel free to respectfully disagree if we weren’t aligned. It turned out that we had a lot in common on the topic. Me at age 52 and him at 85.

“All I know is there is definitely a God because he saved me three times,” he said.

I drew him out and learned of the bee sting that almost killed him. He was unconscious for 45 minutes and while “out” he floated and saw his deceased grandfather. The man was recounting a near-death experience and I was fascinated. He told me a few more stories and then mentioned that he’d recently lost his wife. When I asked when, he told me the date. It was just a few weeks before. I sighed.

“Oh my gosh, that’s very recent,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

He told me the story of how she’d died. It was a painful cancer death. I immediately felt thankful that I’ve become comfortable with talking to others about their grief.

As I finished my breakfast and paid the waitress, the man said. “Have a nice trip. You are a very good listener.”

Everything about him had made my day. And he confirmed what I already knew — meeting people in this way is one of the best things about travel.

By Nancy Colasurdo

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