In the fall of 2011, I arrived at the U.S. Air Force Academy for a semester exchange. I remember the first time I met my roommates. These people were wholly foreign to me. I had almost forgotten how it felt to meet new people. These two young men would become very good friends over the next five months, and it is a shame that I have not spoken to them hardly at all since my departure. That transition from stranger to friend is always a curious one, and it tends to happen differently with each person.
I’m not sure how it happened this time, but the people I met tonight seemed to transcend that process. I won’t be so presumptuous as to say that we are now friends, but I spent an evening with a few groups of people with whom I was as comfortable as I am with friends I have known for years.
Jon is a world-famous paragliding/basejumping/hanggliding fiend who hosts wary travelers on their adventures that take them through Pittsburgh. When I arrived, I had no plans. Maybe it was a bit unfair, but I was depending upon my host or other guests to be able to show me how to experience Pittsburgh. In the end, I had a good book and a comfortable couch if I couldn’t find anything to do, but they made sure that did not happen. Sorry Mr. Updike, but your Olinger stories must wait.
Jon and a couple other guests, Michael and John, invited me to the dog park to slackline while Luther (the dog) ran out his energy. In just an hour out in the cold, with a fat piece of cloth and a couple trees, I made some friends who I will remember forever. I may never speak to Michael and John again, but I connected with them in a way that I seldom do with strangers. I believe that it was the similar approach to life that brought us to a common understanding.
Michael is already a traveler of our expansive country, and he has plans to journey through South America when he finishes college. With a youthful optimism, he jumps right into the next adventure to come along. Attending school in New York City, he drove out to Pittsburgh with his brother for the simple reason of checking it out before going on to meet up with his brother’s girlfriend in Buffalo. That’s even more circuitous than my creative journey home! It is this longing to experience a new and unknown world that I think I connected with.
I spent the rest of the evening with Jon (my host) at a local bar playing pool and enjoying some improv comedy over a couple fantastic craft brews. I met this man literally nine hours ago (as I’m writing), yet I have had the same enjoyment tonight as if I were spending a night out with my friends from high school or college.
This may not seem like much such an astounding event, but my readers who knew me well will understand that I did not socialize well in my previous life. I didn’t play well with others. I was focused. I was driven by my goals. I put work first, and friends second. I valued the tangible over the intangible.
A days’ long escapade across America, this journey has been the culmination of my full transition. A result of the contemplation of the past several months, this trip as solidified my transition from a technocrat, stalwart in his obsession with inanimate books and factual knowledge, to a human being, susceptible to the experiences and emotions of mortal people. Formerly trained as an engineer, I have opened my eyes to the wonder and glory of the human mind and human interaction. It is here that I can fully appreciate the relationships that make important the lives of average citizens. It is from this perspective can I understand the reasons institutions of entertainment and leisure exist. It is from this vantage can I fully know what it is to truly enjoy the presence of another person.