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Not every stranger Anthony Lacey contacts to share life stories over a meal is creeped out. The meal, after all, is free.
An Englishman who now lives in Columbia Heights, Lacey, 33, has been asking people out since 2008 for his blog Dining With Strangers, for which he interviews people over nonromantic meals and writes about them. He’s conducted more than 50 interviews for the blog, and his muses include everyone from an ANC candidate (Lacy described it, generously, as a “policy wonk’s dream job) to PoPVille blogger Dan Silverman to Burt Young, who played Paulie in the Rocky series. He even snagged a sit-down with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch before his death last year. “The Burt Young interview turned out to be one of the better ones,” Lacey says.
By day, Lacey works for a policy news service—-a job, he says, that doesn’t allow much room for creative writing. He used to travel frequently for work, which inspired him to find a way to meet people in cities where he didn’t know anyone. “It just kind of evolved into the idea of what if I took someone on a platonic dinner date,” says Lacey, who used to write for a local newspaper in London. “That’s why I went into journalism, to meet all different types of people.” Lacey’s only rules are that the subject has to be interesting by some arbitrary standard and the interview has to take place over a meal. (Oh, and he says the meal can’t cost $1,000 a person.)
He doesn’t keep a running list of who he thinks is interesting and comes across most of his subjects randomly, he says. He discovered ANC candidate Matt Abbruzzese through a interaction on Twitter. He contacted Young after watching a compelling YouTube video of him. And he ended up dining with Washington Literacy Council volunteer Kay Cameron because he was curious about the organization and called it up, asking if there was someone there he could interview.
“[Cameron] thought it was the most awful, awkward thing she could do, and she wanted to push herself to do it,” Lacy says.
Others find him. ‘There is a form on the blog where people can actually apply to have dinner with Lacey, explaining to him why they are interesting and worthy of being interviewed. Surprisingly, he says he receives about one to two requests a month from all over the world. (The interviews don’t have to take place in D.C.; if he’s traveling in your area, you could be eligible for a meal!)
After the interview, Lacey will post a lengthy write-up of the dining experience. He’ll sprinkle in his opinion of the restaurant. From his interveew with Abbruzzese at the Fainting Goat: “Hopefully one door he can knock on will be the Fainting Goat, and he can pass on my suggestion that they start using tablecloths for the awkwardly high tables. I say that, because when my entree of medium rare beef came out, blood from the meat was running down the side of the wooden board it was served on.”
He’ll go through the subjects’ resume, sometimes delving into their psyche, and toss in some pop-culture references. (“Apologies for the above misappropriation of the Billy Joel lyric,” for example.)
The site isn’t exactly highly trafficked, averaging about 100 to 150 hits a day, according to Google Analytics, though his “mother hitting ‘refresh’ probably accounts for about 50 percent of those,” Lacey says.
But that could all change soon. Lacey didn’t update the blog too often last year, but hopes to conduct one interview a month in 2014. So, if you want a free meal, hit him up. Or be generous: Lacey says most interview subjects offer to split the check.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Lacey