The Hunt for Plain Bagels
"I'd like a plain bagel, toasted, with some political extremism"

Do I want to go to New York?

A woman I've known through AOL for over 10 years got married in the last couple of weeks. She invited a bunch of friends to New York City in December for a celebration. I've never been to NYC, so it'd be fun for that reason alone, and since I'm sure will involve at least one night of drunken debauchery (see below), that's two points in favor.

I think.

This acquaintance is part of a small circle of friends I met years ago on AOL, back in the days when that service's membership totaled about 250,000. I did a stint working for them as one of their unpaid volunteer chat moderators (the Guides), and met a slew of folks from all walks of life across the country, first (and for most, only) online and later in person. A few of them became good friends in person in addition to behind the chat environment, but most faded out of my life as quickly as they faded in.

Because of this group of friends, I've been several places I wouldn't have gone otherwise, or wouldn't have visited to those points in my life, anyway: New Orleans in 1995, Austin in 1998 and 2000, Sint Maarten in 2002, now possibly New York in December. Had some great times, some other times I don't remember (damned alcohol!), met more people I don't remember and saw things I would've missed.

So here's my thinking.

I'm an outsider in this group, for a couple of reasons. First, there's the physical separation. The AOL group people see each other far more often than I see any of them. My most common interaction with them is—always has been—by chat or instant message. That wasn't even all that often in the first few years, because (the second reason) when I was in the thickest part of my acquaintanceship with the AOLers, my life revolved around another, much closer, group of friends in Salt Lake City. I spent the huge majority of my time with my Salt Lake friends and wasn't around computers that much.

Over the years as the chances grew for these two circles of friends to meet and interact, I kept them separate from each other for a few reasons. Easiest, none of the AOL folk was particularly inclined to travel to Salt Lake for fun. And with the Salt Lake friends, I shared a connection the likes of which I've never experienced with anyone else. I didn't want the two groups to mix, because in some ways I was two different people depending upon which group I was with at any moment.

Those days are gone now. I live in Seattle. My friends from Salt Lake friends still live in Salt Lake for the most part, a few other places as well. We talk on the phone occasionally, email now and then, catch each other on IM once in a blue moon, once a year or so get together when I'm in Salt Lake. (Although I was in SLC over the weekend and didn't let anyone know I'd be in town.) These are the people I consider to be my close friends, the people who come to mind when I talk about my "best friends" or my longest friendships. Even though we aren't in the same city and we don't talk all that often, we don't have to see one another more than once every year or two to keep the bonds alive. They're too strong to fade away over time.

But the people in the other group—these, in many ways, I can take or leave. I enjoy their company much more via chat window or instant message than I do in person, because while our personalities and senses of humor are quite similar in a text world, most of us are very different in person. Sure, the differences can be just as much fun as similarities would be, but for me they prove a divide as well, one I'm not sure I want to cross.

Already I've made five sets of travel plans, canceled four of them. For while I would love to spend a weekend in New York, more and more I realise I don't want to do so with those people for this specific reason. I don't want the timing of it decided by important events in others' lives, because those events aren't as important to me in mine.

I've found myself turning over the decision based almost solely on the fact that the bride's parents have arranged a block of hotel rooms for attendees, and my lodging costs would thus be covered, leaving only airfare and incidentals to me.

And the idea of traveling to see casual friends largely because it works out to be a bargain trip doesn't appeal to me.

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I pondered posting this at all, since this is a freely available web site attached to my name and thus could be discovered by the people I'm talking about, and the thought of offending them by my somewhat dismissive tone made me uneasy. But I can't deny what I think, and if they find it and want to know about it, they can ask me.