There have been a few times in my life where I’ve sat back and marveled about how you rarely know which days, while you’re in the midst of living them, are going to alter the course of your life. Specifically when you look at the people you know. It’s just so amazing to me: today, you may look around yourself and think your life will forever be the same. Tomorrow, you may find some great new people have just entered your life.
Did I mention that I came home from Europe with a terrible case of post-vacation loneliness?
I met Chelsea about two weeks ago. Chelsea works at the Hi-Hat Garage. She is on foursquare like I am, and is one of the few people I know who actually uses it, likes it, and gives me a run for my money on the leaderboard. She’s also the kind of person who I’d feel totally comfortable dropping in on based on a foursquare shout. Two nights ago I saw that she was at Casablanca with a group of people I knew. I thought about joining them, but it was late and I was comfortably socked in at home already. I saw that Barry had gone out with them, though.
I met Barry at around the same time. Barry is from Holland; he and his wife are musicians. Barry plays trombone, works at MYSO, and played a couple gigs at Summerfest this year. I didn’t get to see him there because I really don’t enjoy Summerfest at all, especially on a holiday weekend, but if I did I’d have totally gone to see him play. Ilya went to see him, though, and said he was excellent.
I’ve known Ilya a bit longer, but only by about a week or so. Ilya is from Moscow, and teaches mechanical engineering at UWM. He’s got this accent that immediately burrowed its way into my brain and colors my thoughts at the most random times. “I whonder, vwhere is bess place to poot my sleepers?” Ilya is quite a character, not terribly serious but always, always interesting. He was a patron at Cafe Hollander when I met him. I had just asked Jordan if he’d been to the Highbury for any games, when I saw the lightbulb go on over his head and he turned to Ilya and said, “That’s where we should watch the game tomorrow! You’ve never been there!”
Jordan bartends at Cafe Hollander. He went to high school in West Bend, where I lived for fifteen years. He’s the kind of bartender who talks easily about anything. We had a half hour conversation about the rules of soccer, the American attitude toward it, his experience playing the game as a teenager, the places he grew up … I don’t even remember it all. I just remember I came away impressed by his complete ease of talking with all sorts of people. And by how nice he was to his co-workers, like Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is a sweetheart. She’s very quiet but always good natured, and answers every question asked of her with a sweet, cheery voice. By just sitting and listening, I’ve learned that she’s recently married, her husband is from Mexico, and her hairstyle is new and everyone likes it. She’s got a little dog that she brought by one day, but I must have been in the bathroom so I missed seeing it. Hester told me what kind it is but I’ve forgotten.
Hester works at Cafe Hollander too. She is from the Netherlands and has lived in America for two years. One day a few weeks ago I was eating breakfast and she was there, an hour or so before her shift, and she sat next to me. I asked her if she was watching the Holland game at the Hollander, which at the time made sense to me. She told me she would rather not spend time at work when she’s not working (of course! how could I not have considered that), and she invited me to watch the game with her and her friends at Nomad. I loved how open and accepting she was to new people, so I came along. Jordan was there, and Elizabeth, and the four of us had a really nice time. We started hanging out for all the games after that.
The Sunday before the holiday Hester and Elizabeth and I walked up to the Hi-Hat to kill some time between the morning and afternoon games, and Chelsea waited on us (which is how I met her). When we went back to the Nomad, we went to our usual spot, and there sat Nic, in the seats we had vacated that morning.
I’ve known Nic for almost a year. He bartends at Club Charlie’s, my favorite hangout in Milwaukee because it’s my own “Cheers”, where everybody knows my name. Nic is extremely outgoing but I’ve never known (or even tried to know) him socially. I’ve never really figured out how to turn “professional” contacts into friends. They’re usually quite stubborn about keeping those distinctions between us, so I mostly don’t even try. But at the Nomad, he greeted me with a hug and then looked at Hester, then back at me with astonishment. “You two know each other??” Hester looked at me and said, “You know him??” Turns out the two of them (plus partners) had sat near each other at Hotch-a-do the night before and got to talking. But what never came up in their conversation is the most interesting part: Nic’s boyfriend, Sean, is Dutch, and grew up in the same town that Hester was born in. It took me being the connection between Nic and Hester for them to ever find out.
Once Nic was in our group and the Hester/Sean story started to circulate, all kinds of Dutch people came by and identified themselves. Chelsea joined us after work and then after the game she invited everyone to join her at Barnacle Bud’s. We all met up at Nomad for the Holland game the next day. Nic had even taken off his Brazil jersey and was wearing Orange. Our little orange group had gotten huge. Nic and Sean had a barbecue at their house last week Tuesday. About five people showed up. They had one again last night. There must have been thirty-five people there, and amazingly I knew most of them.
I don’t know what’s going to happen once the final World Cup game is over. I suspect most of the group will drift back into their own lives, with happy memories of a few glorious, carefree weeks of summer. But Hester and I made some sort of deeper connection, and in fact have an art project to discuss once everything calms down. I’m sure I’ll see Chelsea a bunch of times this summer, and probably discover a bunch of new places in the process. Nic and Sean will still have their barbecues. Ilya has places to go and people to see in far away lands, so we will probably lose him in a few weeks. But Barry is thrilled that he’s made so many new friends. He’s lived in America for many years, but until now has never found other people from his homeland to hang out with. He lamented that in America, people have a hard time letting other people “in” their lives past a superficial connection. I have to agree with him. This is the most open, accepting, welcoming group of people I’ve met in a very long time.
And it’s all thanks to an international game.