Sunday, March 02, 2008

Just Seven Years Ago.

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” - Nelson Mandela

One night last week I snuck away from the rigors of small biz life to pay a short visit to my old life. I nearly spent more time in my truck than the actual rekindling part with my buddies, but the trip was worth its weight in gold (or gas if you will). To explain the significance of my little drinking buddy reunion, I should first paint a little picture of the lives we all shared just seven years ago. Hard to encapsulate in a couple sentences, but in the interest of blog attention span, I'll give it my best shot.

We were all working at big companies, ala the old days of multi-year big company employment and something now reserved for history books called ‘pensions’. We mountain-biked after work. We drank a beer or two on a Friday night at places with names that sound like drinking buddies…Rosi O'Shea's, Michael's, The Grog. We used to sit around our buddy Mark’s downtown apartment and listen to David Gray and Talk-Talk and talk-talk about life. This was a tasty slice of life for all of us, like the covered bridge you walk into on one side, travel through shielded from elements that might do you harm, and emerge on the other side in a new place, with a fresh resolve, and a new direction. The time in that bridge was a blast. Healing. Safe. Comfortable. At some point, though, comfort started feeling like complacent. It was nice to have the steady paycheck and be settled into a predictable routine, but an air of change began to blanket us like morning fog. I was first to shake things up. I jettisoned myself from the mother ship for a high powered job at a startup. Shortly after that, my buddy Mark jumped to a similar startup scenario and pointed his loaded-up jeep for New Brunswick, New Jersey. Next was Ken. He and his wife grabbed early retirement packages, sold their big old farmhouse in Newburyport, and were off to live in Spain for a year. Our German buddy, Joerg, bought a cool house near the beach, and more significantly, became an American citizen. Finally, our other drinking bud, Caroline, the ink still drying on her new MBA, liquidated most of her illiquid assets, packed what was left into her Honda, and moved to San Francisco.

It seems once the key to the engine of change has been put into the ignition, you never know where you may end up. For me, it was one failed start-up, two amazing years of wanderlust through the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, culminating in the conception, birth, and rearing of one small ice cream shop in western Massachusetts. Kenny would spend one life-altering year in Spain with his family and enjoy countless adventures through Europe. Caroline would settle into a sweet downtown flat in San Fran and enjoy four years of fun and new friendships before returning to her roots in Boston. Mark would meet his mate in Jersey, get married in Key West, become father to two beautiful little girls, and move into a killer house in an upscale family neighborhood in the burbs of Atlanta.

So here we were, sitting around a long oak table at one of the favorite old watering holes. Seven years later. We’d met each other under similar circumstances, hung out and grew up a little bit, then sailed off into our own new horizons. We laughed and kidded each other like there'd only been a week since the last time we’d all been together. That’s how it felt. We caught each other up on each other’s new lives. We collectively soaked in the hot tub of change that had brought us each to very different places. It left me soothed, relaxed, and satisfied.

Over burgers and beers, talk of our new lives quickly dissolved into that of the old, finally settling comfortably into just the moment. As we each savored that moment, the nearly forgotten pace of banter spiced with hearty laughter we had enjoyed on a regular basis returned. Mark talked about what it’s like to be a father. I shared snippets of life as a small-biz owner in a cool small town. Ken talked about the post and beam he’s building out here in Sunderland. The conversation fluttered between our old lives and the new. To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot of what we talked about. What I do remember vividly is one moment while sitting in my buddy Joerg’s living room after our makeshift pub crawl. We’re listening to tunes from Mark’s Ipod, lounging around, sipping a good local Porter, just talking. Mid-conversation I blurt out, ‘this is what I miss the most’. Just sitting around with people you’re totally comfortable with, the one’s you know you can count on for a beer to bail money and everything in between. Friends like that are four-leaf clovers, hard to find, and meant to be kept for a long time. Five hours of driving was just a trip around the block for a fresh taste of that.

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