480 Friends in 480 Days and 45,000 Miles

Welcome to my webpage chronicling an incredible journey.  I took a road trip to visit my Facebook friends in person, seeing 480 friends in 480 days (from June 13, 2011 to October 5, 2012) and driving over 45,000 miles.  From my home base of Los Angeles, I drove to New Hampshire and back again.  I saw people from elementary school, high school, college, grad school.  The longest I’d gone since seeing someone was 25 years.  There were sweet reunions, a few painful breakups, and only one awkward visit.  Sitting down and visiting with people I would only otherwise interact with online changed me.  It changed the way that I use social media, it changed my understanding of humanity and generosity and courage.  In short, it changed my life.

What you’ll find on this blog is a chronicle of about 100 of the 480 visits.  I am working on further reflections to be compiled into a non-fiction book.

I am so grateful to everyone who hosted me, fed me, sponsored me, and visited with me.  This trip is one of the best things I have ever done, and I couldn’t have done it without people to visit.  I was inspired by the everyday courage and vulnerability that my friends showed me.  I’ll never forget it.

 

One. Year.

365 days.
44,995 more miles on my odometer (makes me want to take a little drive today to hit an even 45K).
416 friends.  And still counting.

One year ago today, I headed north on Pacific Coast Highway for the first day of an incredible journey.  One year later, I look back at the beautiful landscape of this country and at the beautiful faces of the people I get the privilege of calling friends.  And not just Facebook friends. Real-life, face-to-face friends.  And I have to tell you, it doesn’t even compare to actually LOL with someone gasping at the same air to refill your lungs as opposed to writing LOL as a comment to a post.

When I log into Facebook (I’m still kicking it old school without timeline), I see my friends listed down the left border of the page and it’s rare to have a friend there whose face I haven’t seen in the past year.  It is incredible the level of community and hospitality and connection I have experienced in that time.  The support I received from near and far, from close friends and those I hadn’t seen in 10, 15, 20, or 25 years, has changed the way I perceive the world and my place in it.

I don’t think we ever know how much other people are willing to do for us until we’re needy.  And it has been so profoundly uncomfortable to be so needy for a year–to need housing and feeding and finances.  I had a lot of practice asking for things, but honestly, I didn’t get any better at it, or at least, I don’t feel any more comfortable doing it now than a year ago.  But I wonder if we’re missing out by being so self-sufficient, if we’re cheapening our human experience by not sharing the load, whether it’s mundane or much bigger.  I have seen a level of compassion and generosity that leaves me speechless (quite a feat for me, you know), and to be on the receiving end of it is so much more poignant.  Thank you, friends, for opening your homes and hearts and lives to me.

I learned so much from the friends I saw about how you were living out community in your lives.  And I’m excited to dig back into my community here in LA.  I will have a consistent address (though it still belongs to someone else) for the next two months. I’m hoping to blog more consistently and finish up visits with my SoCal Facebook friends.  And I’m considering different options and planning for what’s next.  It’s hard to follow up a year like this, but I have a feeling the weeks and months ahead will be a little slower and less mobile, yet more connected.  This past year has probably been the best of my life, rich and thick with the gooey goodness of life.  And I don’t think that what I’ve learned and the ways I’ve changed can help but stick with me in the days to come. Thanks for riding along, friends.

Home: Neighbors of Braumton Court, Friend #154: Carolyn

One of the best parts about spending an extended time at home is being here long enough to bump into and visit with my neighbors.  I grew up in a suburban subdivision with about 200 homes. My family has lived on our court of 15 houses my entire life.  We were one of the original owners who built these homes.  There are 4 of us left on our street.  Even after people move, the house still retains the name of the older families.  Next door will always be the Hong’s house, even though there have been two families who have lived there since and the Hongs have been long gone. (Would you believe that in the course of the trip, a FB friend posted about our visit, which resulted in a reconnection with one of the Hongs?!)  We have an epic sledding hill at the end of our court that was dubbed “King Kong Hill.”  We’ve had our share of bullies and birthday parties over the years, summertime marathons of Ghosts in the Graveyard or Capture the Flag, and caroling at Christmas time.

So I bring you a set of neighbor-inspired posts, based on a day I had last week spent with many of these and the visits I had with many others across the country.

Hail Braumton Court! Click here to read more.

Go St. Louis!

On April 15th, some courageous FB souls undertook the endeavor of running around St. Louis…..for 13 whole miles in the Go St. Louis! Half Marathon.  I am always inspired when I see people run long distances, often to the point of weeping.  It’s amazing what bodies can do.

I knew that my high school friend Courtney was running.  She and I had gotten together about a week earlier at a park with her hubs and adorable kid, and she mentioned it.  Courtney’s husband, Charlie, is an awesomely gifted photographer, and snapped this shot of Courtney, nearly one-year-old Xavi, and me as we were out and about.

I also discovered (via FB) another high school friend Linda, who I visited in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, would be coming to town to run.  I’d been noticing she’d been doing training runs (in all kinds of less-than-ideal Ottawan weather), but had no idea it was to train for the St. Louis race.  I am not a runner.  Never have been.  But I’m an awesome cheer-er.  So I figured it would be the least I could do to lend my voice and percussive clap to my beloved friends as they traversed the miles.

As I pulled myself out of bed the morning of the race and checked FB on my phone (a habit that I’ll break one of these days), I saw that two friends from Los Angeles were also preparing for an early morning race.  I thought, “That’s funny.  Does LA have a race today too?  But it’s 4:30 in the morning there.  That’s really early for a race.  Wait!!  Are they in St. Louis?!?!?!?!”  I usually don’t text before 9am, and certainly not before 7am, but I knew LA friend Jess was up from the pictures she posted on trusty FB, so confirmed that indeed she and grad school friend Adrian were in town, and we agreed to meet up and cheer together.

I love most any place early on Sunday morning.  It was true of campus in Ann Arbor.  It’s true of Los Angeles.  There’s a quiet stillness that pervades places in the sleepy hours of Sunday morning that is unique.  And as I wove through the side streets of my home city to get around the race route, I relished in it.

Mile 6 of the race was fairly close to the finish, so that’s where I planted myself for cheering.  The elite (i.e. superfast Olympic-style) runners had just started going by.  The friendly midwestern St. Louisans cheered on each runner as they passed.  “I love my city, and I love the people here!  We’re so nice and encouraging!” I thought.  It was also the beginning of the race.  I walked a little further down and saw this:

A priest was sprinkling (presumably holy) water on each runner as he/she went by and exclaiming, “Great job!”  And later, when he grew tired of that, “Blessings!”  There was a church adjacent to the race route.  Googlemaps informed me later that it’s the downtown Episcopal cathedral.  One of the hardest parts of being away from Los Angeles is being away from my own community of people, many of whom are from an Episcopal community called Thad’s (though we’re a little funkier–not in a church building, not robe-wearing, folk band singing, with a discussion after the sermon during the service among the whole congregation every week).  And as I thought about it, this priest could have been in his office, doing last minute preparations for his sermon, begrudging what was sure to be a low turnout for services due to blocked-off streets.  Instead, he was engaging and supporting what was happening in his community, literally right outside his front door, and he was doing so with such joy and positivity.  Beautiful.  Tears.  In my eyes.  Again.

It was from this spot, that I discovered Jess and her sister-in-law had literally camped out across the street.  How wonderful it was to have my LA world collide with my beloved hometown in the face of this dear friend.  Jess is someone with whom I can instantly feel at home, and catching up with her over the next few hours, cheering and talking, was a deep breath for my soul.  From our curb, I spotted Courtney running by and ran alongside her for a little bit.  St. Louisans, I really don’t think you have an idea of how hilly downtown is until you run it.  Insanity.  I only made it a block and a half.

Jess was getting updates on grad school friend Adrian’s progress from phone calls and text messages.  Here’s how he and his brother Cort looked at Mile 6.  We ran alongside them for a bit, too.  Poor Jess was running in striped galoshes (it was supposed to dump buckets of rain on the race, but ended up being cloudy and dry).

Sadly, for all my efforts of face-scanning and standing up on a stop light at the finish for an hour, I did not see Linda running the race.  Ironically, her husband (who I had not met) and daughter and parents (who I had met) were standing adjacent to the priest and cheering, as well.  Thankfully, we got together later in the week for lunch with Courtney, too.

I think running is often a way that people connect with each other and build community.  Facebook friend Michele was also involved with the St. Louis race, volunteering as a human road block as the wind whipped around Mile 25.  She and her boyfriend Michele have trained with the behemoth Team in Training.  When they came out to San Diego for the Rock ‘n Roll marathon last year, they had dinner with 5,000 other people.  Courtney’s closest friends from grad school were those she ran with.  I always entertain visions of myself as a runner and thought about uniting as many of my Facebook friends as possible for the half marathon in St. Louis in October, but that would mean I’d have to run…..we’ll see.

In the meantime, I am so proud of Facebook friends #70 Courtney, #137 Adrian, and #238 Linda and Adrian’s brother Cort for completing the half marathon!  And grateful to cheerers and volunteers, Facebook friends #59 Michele and #141 Jess and Jess’s sister-in-law Kristin for the company.  Go St. Louis!

Home: With Family

Hello, friends.  Greetings from the Gateway to the West:  St. Louis!  And a welcome back to you and to me.  I know it’s been awhile.  Here’s what I’ve been up to:

I returned to Los Angeles and saw 50 people in 30 days while living in 4 different locations (hence the lack of writing), hit some milestones (to be described in a future post), and then drove (yes, drove. why not?) back to St. Louis for my dad’s wedding on April 1st.  Since then, I have remained in St. Louis to make some headway on the gargantuan task of sorting through our house to get it ready to go on the market.  I’ll be here another couple weeks before landing again (and for good?) in the City of Angels, hitting up a few more Facebook friends along the way and bringing the cross country traveling portion of Connecting Cross Country to a close.

So, since I’ve been home, it’s been busy.  My brother and sister-in-law and nieces came to town for the wedding, and we went to the circus!  I’ve never been to a 3-ring circus before, and the kids loved it, and we got to spend time with my brother’s good friend and his family (FB friends #57 and 58, Matt and Jen).  There were elephants, which my brother’s family rode, and tight-rope walkers and tigers who walked tight-ropes too. Oh my!

Then we had the wedding, which was decidedly NOT a circus.  It was a lovely ceremony and fun reception.  In preparation, I think I tried on about every dress in my size along Interstate 40, but landed on this little black dress at Nordstrom’s at the St. Louis Galleria.  It was a lovely experience shopping there.  The saleswoman traversed the entire upper floor for every dress she could find (including a few with a $1000 price tag which I tried on!) until we landed on this one.  She even emailed me the day after the wedding to see how it all went.  Incredible customer service.

Then there’s this pretty lady: my Grandma.

I spent her 92nd birthday with her on April 5th.  We had dinner with her “birthday group,” a conglomeration of colleagues from the days my grandpa was working who gather each month to celebrate the birthdays of those born that month.  Over the years, the group has dwindled from 15 to 8 (two were too ill to come that night and one was wintering in Florida), but they keep this 30-some-odd-year tradition going strong.  They go to the same restaurant and have the same waitress.  Whomever has the previous birthday plans the next outing.  It’s a beautiful manifestation of committed community.

Grandma always tells the story of the day she was born…her older brother and sister remember walking along a snow drift as high as the fence.  This year, you would have been comfortable in a tank top and shorts.  It’s not that I didn’t believe grandma about the weather on her DOB, but I have often thought, “Maybe the snow wasn’t really that high,” or “Surely it couldn’t have been that cold.”  Then she and I were watching the evening news before bed, and the weather forecast comes on.  Sure enough.  The record low on April 5th was recorded in 1920, the day my grandma was born, at a whopping 15 degrees.  I’m a believer.

It was a good first week at home spending time with family.  More stories to come!

A Different Puppy?

I’ve been back in Los Angeles for a few weeks now and have commenced with seeing my Los Angeles Facebook friends.  In many ways, the journey I had on the road is continuing in a more local context.  In other ways, it’s a completely different beast.  But a beast that I love, so maybe it’s a different puppy?  I’m staying with an adorable boxer right now (a dog, not a man who boxes, though staying with an adorable boxing man could be quite the adventure!).  Maybe I have dogs on the brain.  Perhaps a horse of a different color?  Same journey.  Different nuances.

Click here to read more.

Back but not Done

I have been back in Southern California for a little over a week and back in Los Angeles since Monday.  I’m not finished with the trip yet:  I still have a jaunt to San Diego and a jaunt up north to take care of before I can say the travel part is finished.  Being done, but not done is somewhat unsettling.  It’s not quite time to process through the “Wow, I just finished this really big thing” emotions yet, but I’ve also completed the majority of the travel, so those emotions are present.

I knew something was amiss on my drive from Arizona into California when I wasn’t speeding.  For a variety of reasons on the trip (often tardiness), I would find my speedometer needle residing above the posted limit on any number of miles of this trip.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time above 80 mph as I have these past weeks (don’t tell my grandma).  But as I drove through the desert, I was meandering, moseying even.  I didn’t want to be finished with the trip, so I was trying to delay the inevitable, the impending uncertainty of what’s next.

I’ve had a drastically different daily life the past four months.  My routine included sending emails, driving, exploring, and reuniting with long lost friends.  I haven’t stayed in the same place for more than 2 weeks since September.  But it felt normal.  After months of going and going, I found that the movement of the trip gave me a lot of life and emotional momentum.  I consider myself to be pretty adaptable.  Honestly, if I had kept traveling, I think I could have sustained that lifestyle a good deal longer.  Now I find myself in a familiar setting, staying in the same geographic region for the foreseeable future, but not quite “home.”

Even grocery shopping is cause for confusion.  I love being able to buy groceries and cook again.  I see a vegetable other than a French fry nearly every day, which was not the case on the road.  But wouldn’t you know, the cashier asked me a simple question that completely threw me for a loop. “Are you working today?” she asked.  I had no clue how to respond.  Am I working today?  I’m going to write a blog and send some emails.  Is that working?  It would have been a week ago.  After too long a pause, I answered “No.”  Were I on the road, I would light up and immediately start talking about the cool thing I was doing traveling to see all my Facebook friends.  That was my job.  But now, I’m not so sure.

I think part of me fears what the static nature of staying in one place will do, AND I simultaneously long for that stability and simplicity.  I’ll be living with people the next several weeks, which mimics my on-the-road life.  There are still about 200 Facebook friends to see in Los Angeles and Orange County, so there are still quite a number of visits to be had.  So I’m done, but I’m not done.  I stave off stability a little while longer and live a little discombobulatedly.

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