My name is Steph Thompson. I live in Brooklyn, and I talk to strangers. On subways, in parks, in cafes, and bars. Wherever I travel, there are those people I learn to trust immediately, because they trust me. And we connect. 

Talking to Strangers is a window onto those connections, a view into those conversations and relationships that get formed when hearts and minds meet. 

Join me in making friends out of strangers. 

  • Talking to Strangers

Meet Joe Hertenstein

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

This stranger's talent and enthusiasm caught my eye. And then we were friends.

"Music brings people brought us together!" - Joe Hertenstein

We met for the first time at Bar LunAtico, in Bed-Stuy last November, Joe and I. He was drumming for Ourida, a dynamic French-Algerian singer. I had come to see friends who were playing on bass and guitar. I sat right up front, and was wowed by all of the performances.

I told Joe, afterward, how much I had enjoyed him, how great he was. I do that now, as much as possible, give feedback to the musicians. It is what I love most about going to listen to music in small venues, that I can interact with the people I just saw onstage. I can introduce myself and share in some way in the energy of the night. I am not just a bystander, I am a participant. I can engage and discuss and learn from the musicians after they play.

Joe was super friendly, and we became Facebook friends, but it wasn’t until I went back to Bar LunAtico, almost a year later, to see Ourida again, that I encountered him in real time once more.

I was struck this time, as the first, with the many sounds emanating from Joe’s corner, from steel drums to shakers. I couldn’t even tell half the time what he was doing to drive the rhythms he was emitting. But I was impressed.

I told him so over Mezcal, at the long bar. I drank mine on the rocks, and he drank the house special: Liquid Love. His deep smile lines deepened, and his baritone German-accented voice boomed over the music from the loudspeakers: “Thank you.”

It was, as usual with people who entrance me, his enthusiasm that won me over. He spoke with another jazz musician excitedly of friends he had heard play, among them friends of mine. He looked at me when I said I knew a musician he knew, a deep stare that said somehow, ‘we are no longer strangers.’ Friends in common, especially musician friends among musicians, can often build trust. It is one of the things I love about knowing a variety of musicians, that I am part of a community just from going to see the many bands I go to see, people from all over the world who have come together here in New York, to play.

I was curious about Joe and wanted to know more. I told him I was a writer, and he was intrigued. He reached out shortly after that evening to suggest a walk and talk, but we settled on a chat in his studio/living room in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. I love the artist’s lair he shares with his wife Daisy, who recognized me as a regular at Nublu, a fabulous little club on the Lower East Side where she’d worked.

Beyond the drums, and the guitars and the keyboards were paintings – street finds and Daisy’s own beautiful work. There was a collection of beautiful teacups, and a naked bust clad only in beautiful florettes around the neck and shoulders. Everywhere the eye fell was beauty.

Joe showed me the various books he was reading, and we spoke of how he came here, on a German government exchange grant for artists.

He is a fascinating man. Watch and listen to hear more about this former stranger/now friend. Check out more about Joe on his websites,, and

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