Once upon a time I accepted that that thing my mom always does, where she exchanges life stories with a stranger she accidentally bumped into on aisle 6—I do that thing. It once led to an unlikely and delightful experience in Hawaii with my friend, Tracie, poet and blogger extraordinaire.
Honestly, Tracie and I weren’t much more than strangers before the trip. We’d been in school together for a couple of years, but we never really hung out outside of school. We still can’t figure out what moved us to think we could spend a week together, but it worked out beautifully. By the time we got back, she was my sister. We haven’t seen each other since then, but we’ve come to embrace that we’re pen pals of the 21st century variety.
The trip came about because of a wonderful couple I became friends with during my time at the diner, John and Katherine. They would come in every Sunday after mass. Katherine was a recent convert, and John and I shared an unabashed love for Ireland. They had seen me struggle through a decade of college, so when I got my degree, they were over the moon. John had given all of his nieces and nephews a trip to Hawaii when they graduated college, so he did the same for me. I could bring a friend, all we needed were plane tickets and money for food and fun. It was amazing.
And it was a proper vacation—we didn’t do anything. We bought 2 copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, went to the beach, and ate at the same Italian restaurant every night. We went snorkeling, twice, and hiked a mountain, but mostly we read between talking about everything under the sun.
After an afternoon of singing Disney songs, we were sick of swimming; we wanted microphones. And like the old saying goes, “karaoke is never a bad idea.”
I was waiting for Tracie on a picnic bench outside of the hotel, and that’s how I met Kazuma and Naomi, a couple in their 30s from Japan. I don’t know Japanese, and they didn’t speak much English, so we opened Google Translate, and started up a conversation. We tripped through each other’s names, trying to perfect our pronunciation. We bonded over a love of cats, and immediately exchanged pictures. I cooed over theirs, and they made the “huge” gesture when they saw Walt. I attempted to demonstrate his evil Bugs Bunnyesque nature through a series of hand gestures and teeth baring. We were getting along really well.
Tracie popped out of the door, and joined in. We talked about where we were from, what we were doing on the island. We exchanged more pictures of family and pets, and then decided the next obvious step was to invite them out to karaoke with us.
Off we went. An unlikely crew, but willing and able with the help of WiFi and Google Translate. We got a room, some beers, and started flipping through the selections.
Kazuma and Naomi sang Japanese love ballads and rock songs, and then requested Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”. We took SnapChats, we danced, we cheered each other on. Free strangers. Tracie came out of the blue with Blu Cattrel’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” and “You Were Meant for Me,” by Jewel. How were we to know we were about to stumble upon the greatest collection of karaoke songs ever seen, and in two languages?? They had the Once More with Feeling soundtrack from Buffy, and you better believe I channeled my inner slayer and sang “Every Single Night.”
On our way out, we asked the door guy to take our photo. When he found out we had just met, he couldn’t believe it.
“I thought you were old friends.”
It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language. There was zero awkwardness. Karaoke is universally embarrassing anyways. If anything, it provided one of those rare times in life where patience doesn’t have to be excavated. We walked back to the hotel. They taught us about the messaging app, Line; our group photo became Kazuma’s first post on Instagram.
Okay, there was one awkward moment. One second of an awkward moment. We were saying our goodbyes, and Naomi leaned into the mic. Tracie and I looked down at the iPad, and there it was:
“The dark horse is forever.”
They saw the confusion on our faces; we shook our heads to say, “nope, that can’t be right.” We didn’t stop laughing until we got back to the hotel. Graceful, foreign words, tumbling out, all of us beaming into the night we created.