Where no one knows your name
How many times is a person meant to make new friends?
When I moved into an apartment in DC with an absolutely iconic girl from Craigslist, I wrote in my journal, “you never know when you’ll meet your next bridesmaid.” Charmingly juvenile, as I was 24 years old. Ironic, as I never had any bridesmaids. And embarrassing, knowing I wrote something that’s surely been embroidered on a bachelorette party t-shirt by now.
My point was: you can meet people you fall in love with anywhere, anytime, assuming your heart (and calendar) are open.
Now my heart and calendar are open and I am one of Elizabeth Bennet’s sad sisters, cloying and desperate for attention while everyone at the ball ignores me.
Meeting people here is unnerving and hapless and eye-clawingly vulnerable. My first new friend told me she was moving away in a few months. Do you invest deeply in hopes of another faraway friendship? Do you just go back to waving as you pass on the street? I like this girl! What an embarrassing thing to have to say to someone! Do you just invite people to every and anything like a lunatic? I can’t even remember to call the people I am forever-and-ever in cahoots with.
I’m also deeply bound by what I’ll call the Movie Trap: say it’s 3pm during not-a-pandemic, and you get the urge to see a movie. You look at the showings, and there’s one you really want to see at 7:15. You think to yourself, “I should make an effort,” and you text a friend.
“Hey, you wanna go see This Cool Movie at 7:15 tonight?”
No one ever says yes. Don’t give me an example of when someone has, because it’s always one of these answers:
“Oooh, I’m actually seeing it with Kate tomorrow - wanna come?”
“Can we go to the 9pm showing? Stuck at work.”
“Yeah but let’s see Movie You’ll Fucking Hate instead.”
Now maybe I’m just lighting flares guiding you to the worst parts of my personality, but this drives me nuts. No, Liz, I don’t want to go tomorrow. I want to go tonight. At 7:15. So I can be in bed by 10. And you’d have to drag my dead body and prop open my eyes to get me to see something like Marriage Story in theaters.
The Movie Trap is a big reason I usually hang out by myself, or I make plans weeks in advance. (Don't I sound like a blast.) Just the idea of being like, “I like you! Wanna hang out in October?” makes me want to collapse into a puddle of sad adulthood. Which is why on Friday at 4:30pm, when a girl I’d met a week prior asked if I wanted to grab a drink, I just said yes. I put on a pretty dress, did my makeup, put stuff in a purse, and drove the 25 minutes to town.
It was really fun! And how novel to have new contacts in my phone like “Maggie blue house” and “Jess concert friend” — a throwback to the days of “Greg guy on L train” and “Devon ad party.” The very concept of not knowing someone’s last name or even needing it, and a year from now updating their contact info and smiling at your origin story.
But for the most part, no one is in our phones. In terms of phone numbers collected, here is the list:
Two friends we knew prior who thank god you guys exist.
New friend who is moving away.
New friend who is game to drink tequila and ride mountain bikes.
Neighbor-not-yet-friend who I really fucking like and am not sure how to cross hang-out threshold with.
Not to say there aren’t any other prospects or people I’m platonically gaga over, but I don’t have their phone numbers. There are honestly a lot of people like this because when you live in a small town (and you’re from the Midwest) you say “oop, sorry” to every person/object you bump into, and you say “hi :)” to every person you see. These are the rules. If I drive by you and don’t wave, it’s because I was so deep in a daydream I probably shouldn’t have been driving in the first place. This isn’t acceptable, because in our urgency to tattoo our vaccination status on our foreheads so we can make friends, it turns out just driving by someone can be a viable strategy.
A few days ago, a man was driving by our kitchen window and then our driveway, and then he reversed back up to the kitchen window and started waving.
Ben went outside — it was that kind of wave. The man had seen from his car a smokejumper emblem on the back of a truck in our driveway.
“Hey, are you a smokejumper?”
We aren’t. But my dad was, and he was in town visiting, accompanied by the emblem on the back of his truck. The guy said we should drink sometime. Numbers were not exchanged. We’ll call that a node, because it’s not quite a connection. And it’s mainly nodes, waiting to be connected, to have relevance.
But first, no matter who you’re trying to befriend, you have to answer everyone else’s Do I Care Quiz. The quiz is employed by 93% of locals to determine how they feel about you existing within their personal 50-mile radius. The first question is non negotiable:
1- Are you visiting?
Variations on this question include “how long are you in town?” or “what brings y’all to town?” or my least favorite and most insulting, “did you just finish Jeeping?” I know I have blonde hair and say y’all, but how dare you. (Also, to be clear, you can own a Jeep, customize your Jeep, mod out your Jeep, and love your Jeep, but you’re not Jeeping until you drive too fast through a tiny town so you can hurl your Jeep over a mountain pass without ever getting out of it.)
So the answer to “are you visiting” is “no, I live here.” Which brings us to the next question, my favorite for how loaded the gun, kneeling in the grass, scope on, target locked it is.
2 - Are you part-time or full-time?
The first time I answered this question, I didn’t realize it was essentially like asking how someone voted in the 2020 election. The judgment was cocked and ready and the palpable relief/joy/or at the very least, tolerance, exuded by answering “full-time” was like when the sun comes out from behind the clouds on a 40 degree day. I was fine, but wow that does feel better.
The third question though does not have a standard hoped-for answer. This is where nodes turn to connections turn to phone numbers.
3 - What brings you here?
It seems like the best possible answer would be saying you work in town, and you’re going to begin construction on displaced-worker housing to ensure the people who run this town can actually live in it. We’d have everyone’s phone number. Saying you’re a writer who works remotely and bought a house from a legendary and beloved local who could no longer afford it is really something you keep to yourself.
But in the interest of making friends, I just word vomit my entire history. We might as well find out at the onset if I make your eyes roll back into your skull. Not at all threatening that all it takes is a single social signal misinterpreted to be the absolute death knell of my ability to make friends in a town of some 1400 adults.
In fact, I’ll share one such interaction. I was hiking with Cooper, about 5 miles by foot away from my house. I was on a trail, crossing a sloped meadow, and a group was traversing up the hillside to the trail. I said hi, where y’all coming from. One girl answered and we talked about the trail. She eyed me up and down.
“Did you just move here?”
“I served your family last week,” she said.
“Oh,” that phrasing. “Must have been my in-laws.”
“Heard you bought Jack’s house. Such a bummer when locals like that are forced out.”
“We didn’t even know about his house,” I said. “We were looking at another house and he asked his realtor if he could get us to come see his house. We just loved it, and him!” She had no emotional reaction to this.
“You moved from California?” she asked. (Dangerous question.)
“Yeah, got these sea level lungs, haha,” attempting to disarm with humor was a failure, “but couldn’t be happier to be out of California.”
“It’s not like this all year. Winter’s really hard here, you’re in for a rude awakening.”
“Well California’s the last place I lived, but I’m not from there. I’ve lived in brutal winters. At least Colorado gets sun!” I laugh with cloaked loathing.
“It’s different when you live at altitude,” she said, like no human aside from her had ever been literally anywhere. “Are you trying to go around?” She indicated the path behind her.
“No, y’all go ahead, just gonna wait to give you your space. I’m sure you’re faster than me.”
“K, good luck making it to the lake."
Maybe she was thirsty. Maybe she was hungover. Maybe she just has vicious delivery, but it felt like every blade of grass was leaning against the wind to listen. She was with four other people and not one of them said a word. I left that interaction not wanting to see another human ever again.
But that interaction, and her intimate knowledge of exactly which house I lived in, made me want to decorate like we lived in a gingerbread house, all candy canes and plum drops, screaming to any passerby that we’re friendly. One of the mayor’s first questions to me was “what are you going to do to the house?” There are rules here about what your house can look like, and I kept emphasizing we bought the house because we loved it, not because we wanted to change everything about it. And now, instead of wanting to decorate the interior, I want to put up shades so we don’t contribute to light pollution, I want to hang a sign by the water spigot saying “grab some if you need” for hikers and mountain bikers, I want to paint a sign for the wild mint by our door that says, “I mint to tell you to take some,” because our neighbors were openly panicked they wouldn’t be able to just grab mint from the cabin’s garden anymore.
Without question, COVID makes things harder. Dinner parties feel like dares. Dropping cookies off at someone’s house feels invasive. Grabbing a drink feels like the ultimate sign of trust. But at least we have nodes who can connect who can think to invite us and who can see that despite having lived in California, we’re not all that bad.
In the meantime, I’ll be painting signs about water and mint, hoping to garner the benefit of the doubt from the so beautifully, earnestly, and waiting-to-see-if-you’re-worth-it doubtful.
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Follow our journey of high-altitude relocation and renovation at @shangrilogs.
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