Connecting With Community: Finding Answers And Perspective In Friendly New Faces

It’s easy to forget how profoundly helpful a little chance advice can be. For problems big and small, sometimes reaching out to an everyday stranger is all it takes to prompt an important change in perspective. What should I do about my kid’s bully? How do I ask for a raise? Is it immoral to feed scrambled eggs to chickens? Getting bogged down in these kinds of questions is a day-to-day reality for everyone. The good news is that, so often, the best solutions lie in the communities around us.

These were among the questions that the Old Coots fielded from total strangers when they pitched a stand at their local farmers market in Salt Lake City, Utah. The group of old friends—aging experts on life’s many dilemmas—decided that they had something to offer the world. And besides, what else were they supposed to do?

“We got bored having coffee at Tony’s Market every Saturday,” said Carol Sisco, a proud member of Old Coots. “And so we went across the street and set up an awning and a booth and we watched everybody go by and we thought, ‘Well, we’d better do something.’”

As simple as the idea sounds, the Old Coots quickly became a local phenomenon (not to mention the most popular stand at the market). Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, and the Coots soon found themselves dealing with some truly daunting problems.

But the group, which at any given times consists of six or seven member-participants, manages to offer a balance of opinions to advice-seeking strangers. “People ask us, ‘Are you guys qualified to do this?’ and of course we have to say ‘No,’” said Tony Caputo, whose local deli was where the group used to spend their Saturdays. But, he says, neither was Ann Landers, the most successful advice columnist of the last half-century. Regardless of how “qualified” the Old Coots are to dole out all of this life advice, members of their community line up every Saturday for an earful of it and a chance to share their stories.

BEEN THERE — AND BACK: A Moveable Feast of Seasoned Life Experts.

In our own community-wide search for ways to connect more deeply with each other and our surroundings, we thought the idea was too good to ignore. So we put together our own project: BEEN THERE — AND BACK: A Moveable Feast of Seasoned Life Experts.

Many of our signature Bounce events (including MAM’s First Thursday and the Blue Plate Community Meal) will be attended by this roaming band of devoted opinion-givers and suggestioneers, ready to brainstorm solutions for guests’ daily crises and concerns. In a little twist, we thought that the wisdom of our older Montclairians might benefit from the fresh takes of their junior-Coot counterparts, who certainly have their own perspectives and life experience. After all, what better place to search for optimism and resilience than in the monkey-barring members of our community?

Check back soon for more on when and where you’ll find Been There — And Back during our week of Bounce! In the meantime, head over to the Old Coots podcast, and send all your Coot-related questions to: 

See you at Bounce!

Ryan Mernin