31 October 2014

Black Thursday?

Here it is Halloween, and I'm going to talk about Black Friday. Again. By now you've probably heard that Macy's is planning to open its stores at 6 pm on Thanksgiving, and that yesterday Kohl's announced that their stores will be opening at the same time, and staying open straight through until 10 pm Friday night.

Gee, if that's the case then why close at all? Why not just be open 24/7 all the way through Christmas Eve? Well, there's a Kohl's store in my city, and I just read that the company petitioned the city council for permission to remain open around the clock on up to ten days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (I don't yet know if the city council granted permission.)

I'm here to encourage you to avoid this nonsense. Instead, consider shopping at stores that have enough respect for their employees that they choose to remain closed on Thanksgiving. You may not think spending a holiday with your family is ideal, but thousands of retail workers would like to do so. Nordstrom has been a longstanding adherent to not opening on Thanksgiving, and they are joined by Saks Fifth Avenue, Costco, Marshalls and TJ Maxx, and Dillard's.

I don't expect a reversal of recent Black Friday creep, but you can at least make an effort to support those retailers that are trying to hold the line on this foolishness. At least here in Massachusetts we have things called "blue laws," a vestige of our Puritan founders, that prevent stores from being open on Thanksgiving at all. So that's something.

30 October 2014

Last Minute Treats

Forgetting about, and then putting off, buying Halloween candy ended up paying off: almost everything at CVS was $1.88 a bag, and they still had a decent selection.

29 October 2014

Armchair Critic: Assembly Station

I had occasion to use the new Assembly T station for the first time yesterday. Passing through a subway station for the first time after it has been built or renovated is always an interesting experience. I always find myself wondering how long it will be before it starts to look dingy.

The new station is constructed of mainly concrete and stainless steel, which I guess is easier to maintain than the ceramic tile used elsewhere in the system. Its industrial appearance blends in fairly well with the general character of the area and the other new buildings adjacent to it. (Remembering that the site was originally a Ford automobile plant makes this association more valid.)

When I came out of the station, I was struck by the emptiness around it. The entrance, like that of Wellington, is at the northern end of the Orange Line platform, but the point where riders emerge is still a couple hundred yards south of the buildings that make up the Assembly Row complex (the most likely destination for riders getting off at this stop), and the distance to the row of older stores is about twice as far, across swaths of parking lots and newly built roadways. Neither of those is going to be a fun walk come January. Someday, the rest of this area is going to be filled in with other buildings, like what is gradually happening in the Seaport district downtown, but it's going to be a while before that happens.

Also, as I predicted, there is no sign that the T intends to have its bus routes serve the station directly; as of yesterday, the bus stop is all the way across those parking lots and roadways, in front of the Bed Bath & Beyond store. Now, with the way the bus routes are currently set up, maybe subway riders don't need to connect to those buses, and vice versa. But it still speaks to the T's long-standing habit of negating progress with shortsightedness.

Of course, other things about the T don't change either. Right outside the entrance to the station there were two people puffing away on cigarettes.

27 October 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #13

I was looking back over the cars I've selected for my Fantasy Garage so far, mainly because I'd reached the end of the 1960s and I was feeling like I might have overlooked something. Of course I can always circle back, but my compulsive nature makes me do things like this.

One omission that became obvious right away is the lack of any station wagons. This is interesting because I've always liked wagons and have a couple in mind for later installments. Last year I wrote about my appreciation for a 1960 Chrysler Town & Country, which led to the first car in my Fantasy Garage, the 1960 Chrysler 300F convertible. There must be other wagons from the '60s that I'd want to include, right?
1964 Plymouth Valiant wagon (Old Car Brochures)
Sure, and I especially like smaller station wagons, from that period in roughly the first half of the '60s when carmakers were offering a range of models in different sizes, trying to have something in their lineups for everyone. Chevrolet had the Chevy II/Nova; Chrysler had the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant; and Ford had the Falcon and Mercury Comet.
1965 Dodge Dart 270 wagon (Love to Accelerate)
The small wagons didn't last, though. The Chevy II/Nova was gone after 1967, the Valiant/Dart after '66. The Comet moved up to become Mercury's midsize model in '66, and the Falcon wagon from that year on was just a variant of the midsize Fairlane wagon with a Falcon front clip, so it could no longer be considered a compact. (It is interesting that the car companies returned to smaller wagons in the '70s, but I think I'll discuss those another time.)
1965 Ford Falcon Futura wagon (Old Car Brochures)
That leaves the period from 1960-65 when all three compact models were available as wagons. But of course, this is where things get a little tricky. In 1960 Chevrolet's compact wagon was the rear-engined Corvair, but I never thought it was all that attractive. The 1960-62 Plymouth Valiant was a curious beast, somewhere between compact and midsize, and hobbled with peculiar styling. There was a Dodge variant for '61 and '62 only called the Lancer, with a slightly better-looking front end. (When I was a very young child, around four or five, we had a next-door neighbor who had a Lancer wagon.)
1962 Oldsmobile F-85 wagons (Love to Accelerate)
The Dart was also an oddball, the lower-priced and less attractive of Dodge's two full-size car lines. It wasn't until '63 that the Valiant and Dart became platform mates and true compacts. Meanwhile, for 1962 Chevrolet introduced the Chevy II as a more mainstream alternative to the Corvair. The Falcon and Comet got a restyle for '64-65 that improved their looks considerably. So those are my semifinalists, along with a couple of GM's other compacts, the 1961-62 Pontiac Tempest and Oldsmobile F-85. (Those got enlarged for '63 and, in my opinion, were made less attractive in the process.)
1961 Pontiac Tempest wagon (History of Cars)
These cars, with six-cylinder engines, offered the best combination of economy and utility available at the time. Anecdotally, I've heard that Falcons and, to a lesser extent, Valiants and Darts have become the preferred transportation of hipsters in certain cities, so that lowers the likelihood that I would choose one of them, though the renowned durability of Chrysler's Slant Six engine might nudge those cars back into contention.
A 1963 Chevy II wagon in a season four episode of Mad Men
Really, any of these wagons would be a fun addition to the FG, but for me I guess it ends up in a three-way tie between the various GM models. I'll stipulate that if I chose a Nova, it would be a 1965, only because I prefer some of the small details like the grille and tail lights.

24 October 2014

More Shameless Self-Promotion

I've been selling stuff on eBay for a while now. I've been a member of eBay for 15 years, but originally that was just as a buyer. But along the way I accumulated a lot of clothes, shoes, watches, and other stuff, and not all of it worked out for various reasons, so about ten years ago I started selling things sporadically.

I've got another batch of items for sale, both to clear out stuff that I can't use and to bring in some fundage. At the moment most of it is shoes and sneakers in sizes 10.5 and 11; there's also a nice vintage Burberry raincoat in size 40 regular, and I've been culling my collection of watches and selling some of them. I do have some additional outerwear and other clothing items to get to, and I add an item or two every few days, so if you find any of it interesting, you may want to bookmark my items for sale page and keep checking it. (And if for any reason that link doesn't work, please get in touch and I'll figure out why.)

22 October 2014

Dubious Fashion Choice

Waiting for a subway train today at North Station, I saw a guy wearing what I would have to describe as "skinny sweatpants." Naturally I think it's bad enough that someone thinks it's okay to wear sweatpants out in public (and by "out in public" I mean "anywhere beyond one's front porch or yard"), but it's even worse that he'd chosen to wear something in public that looked like he'd swiped it from his middle-school-age brother, or possibly his girlfriend.

Didn't guys learn anything from the skinny jeans fad? You are not Mick Jagger. You have not earned the right to dress like him. And now our favorite cozy, indoor lazy pants are being subjected to the same stylistic missteps, which obviously at least one guy thinks is okay.

I'm blaming the designers for this one. They've been meddling with our sweats; I've noticed a recent boomlet of sweatpant offerings from various fashionable brands and labels, with accompanyingly inflated prices. Todd Snyder's collaboration with Champion: $118. (I will admit I like the contrast waistband on those, but...) Acne: $220! (Wow, zippered pockets.) Club Monaco: $389!! (At least they're cashmere. Yup, cashmere sweatpants.) Band of Outsiders: $575!!! (A mostly wool/cotton blend, with cargo pockets. When you put it that way, who could resist?) Even damn Gap sweats are $50 $40. (Anyone who pays full retail for any item at Gap deserves to be ripped off.)

I have two or three of pairs of sweatpants that I wear around the house when it's cold. I'm sure I didn't pay over $12 for any of them, and they aren't crappy polyester blends either. I either got them in cheap stores like Old Navy or I found them on clearance in other, moderately priced stores.

The worst part of when designers get hold of a simple, utilitarian, everyday item isn't the obscene markup itself, it's that there are people who see such an item and think "I need to have a pair of those." And when someone drops $200 on a pair of sweatpants, he thinks he needs to wear them everywhere to justify the expense. What's the next step, designerified thermal underwear?

21 October 2014

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

Normally I get our air conditioners out and stored away for the winter by early October, but the temperatures hadn't been that cold, and I had a feeling the warm weather wasn't finished yet. It seemed like each week we were having a couple of days with temps peaking at around 72, and then last week we had a five-day run of that, with Wednesday approaching 80 and oppressive humidity for almost the entire time.

We ended up running the AC Wednesday, overnight, and Thursday, which was the day it rained buckets and felt tropical. But then, as is typical, Sunday night and Monday morning we had an abrupt cooldown, with a low around 35 yesterday morning, so I figured it was finally time to put away the AC units.

It's supposed to rain again for much of this week and I was kind of busy yesterday. It's supposed to rain for much of this week but today was mostly dry, so I decided I'd rather get the units out now, otherwise I'd have to wait for them to dry out again. Back in June I purchased a hand truck to make this task easier, but today I learned its limitations.

I had previously borrowed a hand truck with air-filled tires and had intended to purchase one like it, but I ended up opting to save a few dollars by getting one with solid rubber tires. That wasn't such a big deal when pulling the hand truck up the steps from the basement to outside (all the houses around here have both internal and external basement access), but going down the steps was a different story.

The air-filled tires are mounted on larger wheels and are offset a bit more from the frame, so negotiating steps either up or down is much less jarring. Banging down the steps jarred our oldest unit, one with knobs instead of a touch panel, enough to break off the on/off knob. I tried to put it back on but bouncing down the steps had also dislodged something inside, so there was nothing there for the knob to attach to. It must be still inside, but getting at it will require opening up the unit. Worst-case, we'll have to replace that unit.

I decided to defer dealing with it until next year, when it's likely I will also rectify my mistake by buying another hand truck, this time one with pneumatic tires. If anyone local can make use of a hard-tired one, I'll sell it to you cheap.

20 October 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #31

Random Sighting was supposed to appear last week, but I guess I got confused...
This is a 1987-90 Chevrolet Caprice, a car that I first spotted in my neighborhood almost a year ago. In fact, the first photo goes all the way back to April, but I had first seen the car in January and taken a few shots of it, then I had a problem with my phone and lost some pictures that I hadn't bothered to back up, so when I saw it again in April I took another pic. Then in June I saw the car on the street again and took a couple more shots.
I'm not sure why I sometimes see it on the street, then I'll pass the same spot and not see it again for months at a time. Maybe it's usually garaged, or maybe it's just visiting. It's certainly well kept and cared for. I've featured a Caprice before and other GM full-size cars from this period, but this may be the nicest one of them, or at least the top three.
This design first appeared for 1977, saw its only significant revisions for 1980, and continued through 1990 before its replacement, sometimes referred to as the "bathtub Caprice," was introduced for '91. The script badge on the trunk is causing me a bit of trouble in pinpointing the year of this one: as far as I'd always known, all of these cars had block-letter badges, so it's possible the owner switched it out for one of these, which I think came off an older (1960s or '70s) model.

I always liked these cars. It may not be exciting looking, but the lines and proportions just look right to me and, as this car demonstrates, they were pretty durable if properly cared for.

19 October 2014

This Week in Awesome (10/18/14)

I didn't forget, honest...

Robert Plant performed on The Colbert Report last week, and while I was never much of a Led Zeppelin fan while they were active, I came to appreciate their music later, and what he's doing now is pretty cool. I'd love to hear Florence Welch singing this particular song, or how about a duet?

We haven't had a time-lapse in a while, so I'm pleased it's of Boston. (Vimeo via Universal Hub)

Warren Elsmore is a clever guy who LEGOized a supercut of a bunch of movies. (The A.V. Club)

The World Series is again upon us, and the New York Times used facebook likes to create a map of how team loyalties are divided geographically.

And finally this week, some of these are kind of funny, but some of them are pretty disturbing. (@Midnight)

18 October 2014

Retro Video Unit (10/17/14)

Another Friday slipped by with me forgetting about this. Oh well, I had some stuff to do yesterday.

This one will be quick: I've posted videos by The Church before, and this is a performance clip so it isn't even really all that interesting in the ways other music videos can be, but this song has been in my head so I'm using that as an excuse to post the song "Reptile."

Hm, can't seem to find the original video as I remember it. This is a good version of the song, but the quality of the video is terrible. Apologies...

17 October 2014

Season's Donuts

Recently Boston magazine named Medford Square's Donuts with a Difference to this year's Best of Boston list. We already knew, because we've been going there for years.

This afternoon I was in the Square and decided to stop by for a snack. We'd been in a couple of weeks ago and they had a couple of seasonal flavors, maple frosted and an apple cake donut that's very similar to the blueberry cake that they already offer, except with apple instead of blueberries (duh). I'd tried both and liked them a lot, so I ordered both again and stood on the sidewalk eating them, grinning like a fool because they're so damn good.

We know donuts are not healthy, so we don't eat them that often, maybe once every couple of weeks. But if you're going to enjoy something bad for you, it might as well be at least a good rendition of that bad thing, yes?

15 October 2014

Stand-In City

I've been working my way through the CW series Arrow via Netflix. It's based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, a lesser known member of the stable that includes Batman and Superman.

Arrow premiered two years ago, and by the time I noticed last fall that its first season was available to stream on Netflix, season two had already started. Last year it got compared to ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., another comic book-based series and one that had an up-and-down first season. More than once I read that someone thought Arrow was better than S.H.I.E.L.D., and I was already watching that, so it made sense for me to investigate Arrow.

Knowing that the third season of Arrow would start airing in early October, I started watching season one in August. It took longer than I expected, but even if I'd finished it more quickly, Netflix and CW decided to delay streaming of season two until last Wednesday, the day of the season three premiere. As it happened, I finished season one and started season two over the weekend, so I still have at least a couple of weeks to go before I'm caught up. Meanwhile I'm recording the new episodes and holding them on my DVR.

The point of all this is that, while watching an episode last night, I noticed something curious. In the between-scene skyline shots of the fictitious Starling City, where Arrow lives, there were some very familiar-looking elements:
Does anything look familiar?
How about this? (Someone is supposed to be using an abandoned clock tower as a hideout, so this one was followed by a shot of a set built to appear how the inside of this might look.)
Or this?

What I thought was strange was that I'd already watched more than 25 episodes of the show, and this was the first time I could remember recognizing any shots as being of the Boston skyline. The show films in Vancouver, and I had assumed that they were using that city's skyline for the sake of simplicity. But according to IMDB, the skyline shots include footage from a number of cities including Philadelphia; Frankfurt, Germany; Boston; Tokyo; and Singapore.

That's an interesting approach, but it seems like the show would want to mix shots from different cities, instead of all the shots in an episode being of one city, as this one was. I don't know who makes such decisions in a TV production—the editors, perhaps?

Plenty of shows have been set in Boston, with production based elsewhere but using shots like these (Fringe is a recent example that comes to mind). Of course, some shows have been filmed here too (well, maybe Banacek was only partially on location). But while I don't recall seeing Boston used as a stand-in for another place, it's probably happened before.
Here's one more from Arrow, of the distinctive Zakim Bridge from the north.

14 October 2014

Unseasonably Warm

75 degrees in October: the kind of thing some people long for, and others dread. Well, maybe "dread" is too strong a word. But it is October, and it isn't supposed to be this warm and humid.

I was ready to start putting away my summer clothing and shoes/sneakers in the basement, until I saw the forecast for this week. No point in doing it yet. The air conditioners are still in too, though we haven't needed them in a month. I just figured I'd wait until I was sure the warm weather was gone for good before taking them out and storing them.

Today wasn't that bad, but it was rather sticky. I had to head downtown to take care of a couple of errands. The bus driver was one I see semi-frequently, and when I got on the bus she said, "Got the shorts back on, huh?"

Car Stuff: The Getaway

I spotted this in early August, outside Staples in the Fresh Pond Shopping Center:
There are very few Volkswagen Beetles still around here, at least compared to places like Santa Cruz or Eugene, Oregon, and surely even fewer of the existing cars are convertibles. This one appears to be from the mid-to-late 1970s, based on the bumpers and the orange turn signal sections at the top of the tail lights. That would make it a Super Beetle (and according to Wikipedia, the single tailpipe identifies it as a fuel-injected model, which means it can't be any older than a 1975).

This car was already driving away as we pulled into a parking space, and I was very lucky to get a decent shot of it.

12 October 2014

This Week in Awesome (10/11/14)

Hey, what happened to Friday's post? For that matter, what happened to Friday, and Saturday? And last weekend's theoretical TWiA? Sheesh...

Intended for last weekend: nice piece about the legacy of The Replacements and their album Let It Be. (The A.V. Club)

The Daily Show's Jessica Williams takes on sexism and street harassment.

This week's rabbit hole: a most curious video archive. (@Midnight)

I've referenced this topic several times in the past: car paint colors and the extremely boring phase we are currently in. (Consumerist)

And finally this week, this thing goes on for five minutes so you certainly don't have to watch all of it, but I will understand completely if you do.

09 October 2014

Moonrise Over Medford

I think it's pretty obvious that I took this from a moving car, but it's still pretty cool:
Maybe it's more accurate to say "moonrise over Malden," since we were heading north on the Fellsway, so I'm facing east and the road is the dividing line between the cities. But then again, the moon is technically "over" everything, right?

08 October 2014

Streaming Blues

The streaming-TV site Hulu has been around for six years or so, and for a while I used it as a way to catch up on episodes I'd missed of certain shows. Generally a certain number of episodes of a show are available at a time, and if you don't keep up while a show is airing, the ability to view an entire season requires a subscription to Hulu Plus. I don't subscribe because I don't need to, and also because for your $8 a month, you still have to endure ads.

Lately I've been watching only one show via Hulu, a period drama about the scientists working on the atomic bomb project during World War II called Manhattan. The show airs on an obscure channel called WGN America that is not carried by Comcast, and WGN doesn't stream the episodes on their website, so I figured I wouldn't be able to see it. It wasn't until maybe three weeks after the show premiered during the summer that I even thought to look for it on Hulu, and didn't expect to find it but it was there (possibly because WGNA doesn't have the availability of some other channels).

New episodes are delayed three days after they originally air on WGNA before appearing on Hulu, which is no big deal (some Fox shows are delayed eight days). But my viewing experience with Hulu's streaming player has been atrocious. I've used all the TV channels' online players, and most of them work as they're supposed to. With Hulu, playback itself is fine; it's the transitions between ad blocks and show segments that's the problem.

Hulu shows blocks of ads that run between 90 and 120 seconds. When the blocks are finished the next segment of the show is supposed to play, but often nothing happens. The only way to restart the show is to refresh the browser, and then I have to watch another ad that's between 15 and 30 seconds, and then I wait to see if the show will start playing again. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't and I have to refresh two, three, or four more times, not knowing if it will work and enduring another ad each time. There are five or six ad breaks in each episode of Manhattan.

I assumed this was a nefarious ploy on the part of Hulu to subject viewers to more ads in each show they watch. Then it occurred to me to try a different browser. I already have to watch Netflix content in Safari because of some bug in Firefox that prevents proper playback, so I used Hulu in Safari and the show played flawlessly. I even got to forgo three ad breaks by watching a movie trailer, which Hulu does at random.

There are comments on Hulu from other users complaining of the same issue, so I have to think it's a browser-related bug. And there are only two episodes left in the first season of Manhattan, so I may not need to use Hulu again for a while.

06 October 2014

Car Stuff: Out from Under Cover

I've gotten better at catching cars in traffic, and I scan parking lots looking for unusual stuff parked out along the far edges. But sometimes elusive cars have to be stalked, like this one. It lives in my general area but is about 15 minutes' walk from my house. I first became aware of it while poking around on Google Street View back in the spring, but when I went to check it out in person it was parked in the driveway with a cover over it.

I checked back about a month later, and it was in the same place but still covered. I knew as the weather got nicer it would come out from hiding eventually; Google had given me evidence of that. So I waited a while longer and went back again. It was on that third try, in June, that I finally found it uncovered.
It's a 1962 Ford Thunderbird in a lovely shade of burgundy. At this point Ford was giving the T-Bird a redesigned body every three model years, but made enough small yearly changes so individual years can be distinguished. These are mainly confined to pieces of side trim, grille texture, and other such details. This body style was new for 1961, and the trim that changed is at the rear of the car and hard to see from this angle, but the grille is unique to this year. (The '63s are the easiest of this design to identify at a glance, because Ford added a character line to the sheetmetal of the front fenders and doors.)

I wish I could've spotted this car out on the street in front of its home, or in the parking lot of the Stop & Shop that's just a couple of streets over, to get some additional pictures, but I suspect the owner avoids taking this car into parking lots as much as possible. It may not have indoor storage, but it is otherwise very well looked after (though in need of some wheel covers).

04 October 2014

Retro Video Unit (10/3/14)

I thought of this yesterday, then... right out the back of the brain. To be fair, I was busy with some other stuff.

In the early years of music videos there was quite a bit of genuine artistry put forth. As the form grew and became more popular, much of that artistry was replaced by... cheese. Not literal cheese, schlock cheese. Back in the 1980s I remember thinking on occasion about how music videos of that period would be viewed by people in our current time. If nothing else, many are curious little cultural artifacts (a phrase I admit I'm guilty of overusing) like this one, "The Metro" by Berlin.

02 October 2014

Beer Math

Normally I buy a case of Narragansett "tallboys" about once a month, but funds are tight so I've had to look to less expensive alternatives. However, I still have standards. I can't stand PBR and I'd rather drink tap water than anything from Anheuser-Busch (and Bud's not that cheap around here anyway). I used to like Rolling Rock but since A-B bought them, I drifted away. (I seem to recall that it's kind of sweet compared to most other beers.)

I will drink Miller High Life, though I hadn't had one in probably 20 years. The first bar I frequented with any regularity in college sold bottles of Miller for $1.10 each in the mid-'80s. As long as it's cold enough, it tastes fine.

When you get into the lower-priced beers there's some strange math at work. There are standard cases, but there also things like 18-packs of 12-ounce bottles and 30-packs of 12-ounce cans. (I think the idea is that the people who buy these block-packs of beer will consume all of it with their friends within a few hours, but who really knows?) I also noticed that brands that offer 16-ounce cans tend to package them only in six-packs and not in any of these other quantities.

We have two large liquor stores in town that devote significant floor space to beer and carry many different permutations of packaging from the major brands, so I spent some time reading signs. I discovered that I could get an 18-pack of Miller for $12 plus deposit, compared to $20 plus deposit for the case of 'Gansett. But those are 16-ounce cans, which is where this gets really fuzzy. I decided I just needed to think of a single can or bottle of beer as a serving regardless of its size.

Then I went to the other big store and saw that I could get the 18-pack of Miller for $10 plus deposit, but only in bottles. After having had High Life in both cans and bottles, I think it tastes better in bottles. Canned beer doesn't taste metallic like it used to thanks to the modern advance of can lining, but something about canned Miller doesn't taste quite right. (This is not true of 'Gansett, so maybe their cans are lined with something different.)

01 October 2014

Stranger on a Train

I had an interesting encounter on the subway this afternoon. This doesn't usually happen: I typically try to avoid talking to others on public transit as much as possible, like the obviously disturbed guy I'd seen earlier who was sitting in the corner spouting some vague, rambling, quite racist stuff just loud enough to see if anyone nearby would engage with him. (No one did.)

It was just after 5 pm and the train was unsurprisingly quite crowded. I happened to be standing next to a woman with a large amount of reddish-blonde hair. It was piled up and gathered behind her head, and there was a blue ballpoint pen stuck through it. I've seen other women do this, and I find it rather charming.

I kind of couldn't resist, so when she happened to look toward me I said, "You have a pen in your hair." She smiled and responded, "I know, I put it there." I said, "I figured." She said, "I do it on purpose, so I know where it is. When I get home I take it out, and I have a cup full of them." I asked, "When you're leaving in the morning do you stick one in there?" She smiled again and said, "Yes, sometimes." And that was the end of it.

Sometimes it's unwise to initiate a conversation with a stranger, especially when there's no real justification for doing so. But other times, it adds a moment of color to an otherwise ordinary day.