I was sitting in the cafe where I work one afternoon when, as my boss was leaving for the day, she caught my attention – waving and saying “Goodbye, Joe” as she walked out the door. I looked up from my work, responding with my own “goodbye” before resuming my work and thinking nothing about the man on my right; The college kid who was impeccably dressed, and who looked absorbed in his own work. I stared instead at the charging symbol on my phone, willing it to download faster than it was. I had a lot of work to do.

I heard a laugh come from his direction, and I reflexively turned to face him. I noticed he wore glasses with black rims.

“My name is Joe, too,” he said, smiling. “When she said your name, I thought she was talking to me and I was confused as to how she knew me.”

I laughed and extended my hand for a shake, which he gripped with his own. “Nice to meet you,” I said. “People always ask me if it’s my real name because I work in a coffee shop.”

He gave me a quizzical look.

“Y’know,” I said, rolling my eyes. “The whole ‘cup of Joe’ thing?”

“Well, I guess it’s a pretty common name.”

“Definitely,” I said. “What, were you born in the 80’s or 90’s?”

He smiled and tilted his head as if wondering how I knew. “It was in ’92. And, you?”

I shrugged. “It was the 80’s, man. I had to deal with G.I. Joe – that type of thing. Got it all the time.”

He laughed. “Well, occasionally I have been referred to as Joe Black.”

“Well,” I shrugged, “At least you’re associated with Brad Pitt.”

He laughed again, this time for longer. “Yes,” he said, pointing out his brown skin. “You can definitely see the resemblance.”

Over the next forty-five minutes, we held a great conversation. He explained to me that he was born in Sudan, and then ended up moving successively to Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, and then a few other places before settling here in America. He was very curious about my writing and editing (which I explained to him was what I was doing), and asked me lots of questions about the creative process, and whether or not I might travel to teach English abroad. I returned by asking him what he likes about mechanical engineering and bio-chemistry – two things I know virtually nothing about, but which he said he was going to school for. There were a few awkward pauses as I scrunched up my face, trying to understand the complexities of the subjects and failing. Finally, I asked him where he wanted to go to grad school. He thought for a long while and then told me he wasn’t sure and was still looking into several. When we were finished talking, we shook hands once more and thanked the other for the conversation.

“It was very nice to meet you,” he said, turning back to his scientific study.

“Likewise,” I replied. “Thanks for the conversation.” My phone was finally done charging.

With the conversation ended, we both sat in comfortable silence and worked on our respective projects.

Sometimes all you need is one thing in common, even if it’s just a really common birth name – and any other differences can become conversation points instead of fundamental differences. We’re all just a bunch of average Joes when you really get down to it, because “Joe” is just a name – and as such, it was a tenuous connection at best which bridged communication between us that otherwise would likely never have happened.