Day 60: Cedric

Bus #10, DTLA, Morning

I'm sitting in the back of the bus on the right side. An older, tall black man, dressed business casual, with a short goatie, bald head, and rectangular glasses boards the bus and sits in the window seat in front of me. This is my man. I wait for a while, then move one seat over, so now I'm on his left side and behind him. I lean forward and

Me: "Excuse me."

"I have a request."

"Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"

His brow furrows, he looks away and then back at me.

Him: "What?"

"No one's ever asked me this before."

"Is this for something?"

Me: "Yeah, it's a project."


Him: "Why?"

Me: "I'll tell you after."

Him: "This is strange."

He decides to do it anyway.

He turns in his seat to face me more directly and I start the timer.

I like his eye contact. But we only make it about five seconds when he looks away and says

Him: "I can't do it."

Me: "That's OK." I smile. "Want to try again?"

Him: "Nah."

Me: "No problem."

"Thanks for giving it a try."

"I'm going to give you this for doing it with me."

I hand him a card. He takes it and looks closely at the card.

Me: "That's my eye."

He looks closely at me. I smile.

Me: "Doing this gets me out of my comfort zone. It gets me to talk with people who I otherwise wouldn't know what to say to them. It's an unusual thing. Making eye contact is vulnerable and intimate, especially with strangers. It's unusual and people aren't used to it. Many people don't even do this with their significant others for 60 seconds without talking. I like to see, just, how people react, if they'll do it. And, surprisingly, most people do it!"

"I'm Josh."

Him: "Cedric."

Me: "May I use your first name and photograph on my blog where I write about this?"

Cedric: "No."

Me: "Not even first name?"

Cedric: "Well... First name is OK."

Me: "OK."

"Would the photograph make you uncomfortable?"

Cedric: "Yeah, I think so."

Me: "OK, no problem."

I ask him what he's up to today. He's going to see his doctor. We talk for a little while about flu shots. He asks me what I do, and I tell him I'm a programmer. I tell him that I'm often in front of the computer all day, not talking to anyone, and this practice gets me talking to people. He smiles and seems to like that. He asks me if my supervisor knows that I take time from work to do this. I tell him that I am my own boss, so, "Yes, my supervisor knows. He's sitting right here." We both think that's funny.

My stop is coming up. I pick up my backpack and wish Cedric a happy and healthy day as I exit the bus.


Here are some tweaks I am thinking about making to the practice moving forward:


I want to have more unique conversations with people. Most interactions involve the participant asking why I do this, and I give the same-ish answer every time. And the conversations I have with people usually cover topics that branch off from my explanation of why I do this. Both of these these facts are to be expected. However, there are two aspects of these conversations I'd like to change:

  1. To have the answer for "why do you do this?" be more clearly articulated. I'll probably write a Why? post in which I polish up that response.
  2. To do a better job of engaging participants. I want to take more an authentic interest in them and learn about them. This feels like small talk practice, but I want it to be different because I want to actively engage with the other person, to be excited to have the conversation instead of seeing it as an annoying drag. I think asking them questions (that I actually care to hear the answers to) is the way to do this. Questions like:
    1. Why did you agree to do this?
    2. Have you ever done anything like this before?
    3. What is your experience making eye contact with people? Do you do it often? Do you enjoy it?
    4. How did this experience make you feel?


I want to push myself to approach people in more unusual interaction scenarios, where I suspect the likelihood of rejection is higher.

My to-do list includes:

  • bus
  • bus stop
  • table of 2 at a bar
  • table of 3 at a bar
  • table of 4 at a bar
  • people in my office (never introduced, and already introduced)
  • street corner (while waiting to cross street)
  • someone who's in the middle of walking somewhere
  • someone waiting outside of restaurant to be seated
  • someone hanging out in Little Tokyo plaza
  • house party
  • grocery store shopper
  • motorcycle shop customer

Upcoming Changes: Revisited

Here's a look at how the intentions set forth in the Upcoming Changes post have worked out:


I briefly experimented with composing the photos with the participant on the left side of the frame, but it feels awkward and unnatural, so I abandoned it. I still place the participant on the right side of the frame.



I don't say this is an experiment anymore.

Introduction / Pitch

This has changed a lot. I usually greet the person and get their attention with something like "hi" or "hey" or "excuse me" (sometimes I skip this altogether) and then go straight into "will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?" No more "I have an unusual request" or "I'm doing an experiment in which..." lead-ins. I like this new, succinct pitch. My experience shows that people are willing to do this even when it isn't explicitly framed as an experiment.

Name + Photo Ask

I haven't changed this ask, at least, I don't think I have. I've been having trouble remembering the conversations I have with people and can't recall if I have a usual way of asking this. Sometimes I think I say "[something|another thing] I ask participants is if I can use their first name and photograph on my blog where I write about this. [May|Can] I take your photo?" and sometimes I think I say "may I use your name and photograph on my blog where I write about this?" That request feels discontinuous to me. I still want a better segue but haven't given it much thought.


The new leave-behind cards have been working great!

A few changes in the next batch:

  1. Make the text larger so people with poorer eyesight can read it easier.
  2. Change the paper type so the cards more readily accept pen ink. (I can't write on the current batch.)
  3. Consider adding the http:// prefix to the URL to make it clear that it's a website. (Not sure this is an issue.)
  4. Consider adding my email to the card instead of just having it on the site.
  5. Consider changing to a full-sized business card instead of a mini card.

Day 59: Albert

Wolf & Crane, 10:55 PM

It's quiet when I enter. It is, after all, Monday night. I sit at the bar with my laptop, order two pours of Japanese whisky, and set to work on blog posts for Bushido Brewery. This is the spot where I intend to initiate eye contact today.

I look around to see who's here. There are three groups of people in the place, each group is a couple or a group of three. And there's a 40-something Asian guy sitting at the end of the bar. I consider approaching one of the groups or asking the Asian guy (I haven't asked many Asian guys yet) but choose to wait and work for now.

A little while passes and a large group of Asian friends comes in. For a while they are to my left, the girls sitting at the bar and the rest standing. We're sitting close, and the girl to my immediate left keeps grazing my left arm with her arm or with her back when she's facing away from me. I consider asking her to make eye contact, but don't. Eventually the group grows larger and moves to a table. Later, another girl from the group comes up to the bar to order shots. I greet her and consider asking her to make eye contact, but again, don't.

During this time another solo Asian guy - about my age? - entered the bar, sat a few seats to my right, and has been ordering whiskey drinks. He seems friendly, and talks with the bartender about whiskey selection and cocktails. When he's not doing that he's keeping to himself and using his phone. This is my guy.

I am leaving soon to catch the bus, which only comes once per hour at this time of night, so this interaction needs to happen now.

"Hey. Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"


He orders a glass of water. I pull out the timer and start it. Just as we begin it's clear he has the hiccups. D'oh! Oh well, we're going for it.

He hiccups throughout our eye contact. It's kind of funny. I smile, he smiles. He has a friendly, kind energy about him. He makes it all the way through the 60 seconds, hiccuping regularly. What a trooper.

I give him a card and learn that his name is Albert. He says that he knew this was for some kind of project when I asked him. He tells me that he often finds himself in awkward situations, so this - making eye contact while having hiccups - is not a big deal. I ask him if he makes those awkward situations or stumbles into them, and he says "both." I think that's funny, and am interested to know more about him and the kinds of situations he gets into.

It's time to run for he bus. I snap his photo and invite him to email me if he wants to get a drink sometime.

Day 58: Jenelle

Blacktop Coffee, 5:40 PM

"Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"

My introductions are getting shorter. Breaking the ice probably doesn't get more succinct or direct than this.


Excellent! I've found another participant who jumps into LMEC with great enthusiasm.

I was preparing to sit in the chair across from her, but I move to the chair next to her. This is LA, and there is a shoot happening outside of the coffee shop where we're sitting. Despite it being dark outside, the whole street is lit up with very bright lights, and I don't want her to strain by looking into the lights.

I give her the run down: one the timer starts, no talking and no looking away. You can blink, smile, laugh, and breathe. You can take a drink of your coffee if you want.

She takes a sip of her coffee twice during our session.

After our eye contact I give her a leave-behind card, ask her name (Jenelle), and if I may take her photograph for this blog.


We sit and talk for a while. During our conversation I articulate a new thought: that I sometimes become grouchy at the prospect of making small talk with people and this practice is proving to be an effective way for me to get around that and engage people, especially strangers. It immediately provides us with something meaningful to talk about other than "where are you from?" and "what do you do?"

I also articulate my desire to engage a diverse selection of people with this project and my desire to push myself into more vulnerable situations (asking people who appear to be busy or on-the-go, asking people in new environments, approaching more groups). I am doing a pretty good job of hitting diversity here in LA, where it's easier because it's more culturally and ethnically diverse than the Pacific Northwest, but I think I can push the vulnerable situations more.

After a very pleasant conversation I snap her photograph and head out to meet a friend for dinner.

Nice to meet you, Jenelle!

Day 57: Elinor

go get em tiger, 3:45 PM

"Hey. Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"

She takes off her sunglasses.


"Awesome! I have a timer set for 60 seconds and when I start it, no talking and no looking away."

"OK! Tell me when."



Our eye contact is dynamic. At times our connection is playful and lighthearted. There's a slight smile. A silent laugh. Then it's serious, contemplative, bearing more weight. Straight lips, penetrating eyes. A subtle nostril flare. Then a bigger smile, a quick glance to the left.


I give her a leave-behind card and tell her how pleased and surprised I am that she agreed to participate.

She introduces herself as Elinor.

I chose Elinor specifically because of her sunglasses. I wanted to know if the sunglasses were indicative of an unwillingness to have this kind of interaction. I wanted to know if they were an intentional disinterest in a vulnerable interaction. I had a suspicion that the likelihood of a rejection would be higher from her because of the sunglasses, because of what I thought she might be communicating by wearing them. I thought her big, dark glasses communicated a "please leave me alone" message. I wanted to test that assumption. To my surprise I found a more enthusiastic participate in her obscured eyes than I've found in the uncovered eyes of many other people.

We have a great conversation that touches on many topics.

She tells me how she was able to participate in this vulnerable interaction because of it's limited duration. It's only for 60 seconds. It's a safe space in which to be vulnerable for a limited, bounded period of time. It similar to how she can let herself be vulnerable in the recording studio for the duration of a song. She knows that an end to the vulnerable time is coming. Same with our interaction.

I tell her how I've been doing this practice in other cities (Victoria BC, Portland) and how, so far, in Los Angeles I get more responses of the "What? Uhhh... This is weird."-type. Yet, despite that, Angelinos are participating. No one has yet rejected me in LA.

Elinor is from New York City. Hah! Here I am in Los Angeles making eye contact with another New Yorker. She tells me how eye contact is common in NYC and how a New Yorker can tell if you're trying to front or pretend to be someone you're not. A New Yorker uses eye contact to see if you're being authentic or not.

She tells me about her experience singing blues to prison inmates, and how being authentic with them is key to connecting with them. Elinor makes eye contact with the inmates, sees the person in each of them, and allows herself to be vulnerable so that they can see her. By doing this she can establish a connection with them. The inmates don't have people who make eye contact with them and see the person; just the prisoner, the criminal.

She says that I must have many interesting actions, and postulates that the most interesting are the "no's" - right? "Actually, the "no's" are usually not that interesting. They're usually short, straight-forward interactions," I tell her. There's usually not much conversation when confronted with a "no." The "yes's" on the other hand can be very interesting. Some aren't. Some interactions are as minimal as possible while still being a "yes" - merely responses to my prompts and nothing else asked or shared. The bare minimum. Other times a LMEC interaction is the beginning of a friendship.

We talk about the difference between creating boundaries and walls. It takes a lot of energy to be open to making eye contact with everyone all the time when out and about. I am often like this, open to making eye contact, actively seeking it out, in fact. It doesn't seem to be possible to do it all the time, even if everyone else were to be open to it. It takes a lot of energy to do this, and sometimes you have to stop to recharge, to keep some energy to yourself, to take care of yourself, and create a personal space for yourself even whenn, especially when, surrounded by other people.

She wants to send me a picture instead of taking one now, and I'm on board with that.

We hug, and she leaves the shop, bound for an acupuncture session.

Day 56: Casey

Cafecito Organico, 9:30 AM

Today is a brew day and I know I won't be going out much. While at the coffee shop this morning I intend to make eye contact with someone and get it done.

I look around before and during my drink and spy a few potentials. One is a middle-aged man, scruffy short beard and glasses, sitting with his friend, another guy of about the same age with long straight brown hair, talking about jury duty, sounds like. He swears a lot when he speaks, which is interesting, I don't hear people talk like that often.

The idea of interrupting his conversation gives me pause and I hesitate to go over to him. On the other hand, I am quite interested to know how he'll react to my proposal. But not quite interested enough, because I delay going over to him, and eventually he and his friend leave.

Now I'm heading out, and it's "do or die" as I survey the scene. I discount people engaged with books or study, and see a guy sitting by himself amongst the chairs along the side of the street. I approach him and sit down in the chair next to him.

"Pardon my interruption. Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"

"Who are you?"

I smile. "It doesn't matter."

"Are you a journalist or a reporter?"

Still smiling. "No."

He's wary.


"I tell you after we do it."




Great. His interest outweighs his suspicions.

Our eye contact is relaxed, focused, and easy. I think about sending him energy for him to have a great day.

After the timer beeps I give him a card and explain my motivations. He has a smile on his face now, his conversation is animated, and his caution is gone. I suspect he won't consent to the use of his photograph, but I ask anyway. "Sorry," he says. He's not comfortable with me using his photograph. "There's nothing to apologize for," I tell him. This is about what he's comfortable with, and if he doesn't consent, we don't do it, end of story. He seems pleased and relieved at how I've handled this.

His name is Casey.

Day 55

Today I choose not to make eye contact with anyone.

I'm interested in doing it, but I just don't prioritize it.

Day 54: Jeffrey

Far Bar, 10:15 PM

The fellow sitting to my left has been there for a while (15 minutes? 30 minutes?), has been drinking his beer veeeerry slowly, and has been on his phone the whole time.

I'm done with my beers and my dinner and I'm ready to leave. Before leaving I sit back down in my seat and turn to him.

"Excuse me. Do you have a moment to do something unusual with me? Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"


"I'll tell you afterwards."


I explain the timer and ask if he's ready. When he is, I set the timer on the bar and start it. This way I'm not holding it in my hands and thinking about it during our session.

Our eye contact is easy and pleasant.

I give him a card. We talk. His name is Jeffrey. I share the answer to his "why?" I tell him that I'm interested to see how people respond to this experiment now that I'm in Los Angeles. I expect that they will be more suspicious, less willing participants. Turns Jeffrey is from NYC, not from LA, and is only here for a few days. He thinks that people in NYC may be surprisingly willing participants because people in NYC encounter odd (unusual) behavior all the time, and perhaps LA will be similar to NYC in that way. I am not sure. I guess we will find out!

After a pleasant chat I get Jeffrey's permission to use his name and photo for the blog.

After a pleasant conversation I leave the bar. We both have a smile on our face.

Day 53: Vince

Wolf & Crane Bar, 7 PM

Hanging out and having drinks with my coworkers, I notice a tall, good-looking black guy wearing a baseball cap down the bar from me. He's talking to some people I know and while he looks really friendly, I also have no idea how he'll react if I ask him to make eye contact with me. So I approach him and do it.

At first he says "no." I push him a bit, though, and he agrees to do it. He wants to know why, like most people do, and I tell him I'll explain it after. I walk back to my seat to get my timer. He doesn't know how to react! He thinks it's weird, but he's going to do it anyway. We begin, and he starts to say something, then remembers the no talking rule. Making eye contact with him is so easy! He's a natural. 60 seconds goes by like that. *snaps fingers*

After the beep we talk about the experiment and I introduce myself. His name is Vince. I give him a card. He seems to be at the bar with Danelle, who watched out eye contact session, and we all talk for a bit. He doesn't want me to use his photograph, but his name is OK. Before I return to my friends I give him a hug.

What an interesting interaction! This feels "very LA" to me. I anticipate that people here in LA will be less open to the eye contact experiment. Yet, even though Vince didn't know what to think about it, and was very vocally unsure about it, he did it anyway.

LA is going to be interesting.