Some people have songs (“Oh that’s my jam!”). Other people have teams (“Did you see my team crush it last night?”). Others even have bars or restaurants (“You guys had dinner at my spot?”). As for me, well, I have an entire season. That’s right. Summer is my season. I say this confidently because I was born in the summertime and because I love the heat. In addition, each year when the temperature rises, I take advantage of almost every summer event available:
* Fake beach set up in the city? – check… and bringing my sunscreen.
* Outdoor movie festival? – my hands are holding popcorn and my ass is sitting on a blanket.
* Streets closed to cars so I can walk or bike freely? – I am in, lacing up my sneakers.
* Food festivals? – sign me up and start feeding me an assortment of foods.
It was in this spirit of participating in summer activities that I joined Meetup.com last year. Meetup.com essentially is a website for people to connect in real life about any given topic. Their tagline is FIND YOUR PEOPLE. This ranges from practicing Spanish language skills in a group to walking your Italian greyhound dogs together. When I first saw the website, I thought, “This site could be called adults without friends.” But then I read further and got sucked into a vortex that is nyc and its subcultures.
There are endless meet up groups here. Meet up Origami Enthusiasts (total # of members: 735), No Pill, No Problem…Natural Birth Control meet up (total # of members: 2) and NYC Gay Craft Beer Lovers (total # of members: 612). If you have a hobby (NY UFO Meeting Group, total # of members: 206) or even a small interest, Meet up.com likely has a group for you (NYC Backgammon meet up total # of members: 752).
So I was tired of online dating. Saddened by being a bunch of pixels on a screen, trying to meet other pixelated guys scrolling by. I wanted to join something with real guys and activity. So I joined Hudson Valley Hikers on meetup.com (total # of members: 9,894) Tagline: Challenge Yourself! Hudson Valley Hikers made me think, “I might’ve found my people.” I’d be outdoors. I’d be active. I’d be in the woods, hiking with others. I’d be challenging myself. I joined the group, received at least 2 emails a week and then I never went on a hike. Ever. The hikes were held on weekdays or early mornings. Whatever the reason/excuse, I never went.
And then one day, this popped up in my inbox from Hudson Valley Hikers: FREE BASIC MAP AND COMPASS WORKSHOP. It was for a class in the city on a Monday night. I signed up. I was going to meet my people in one week.
When I signed up I thought, “It’ll be good to learn something new.” I really have no sense of direction, so learning to use a compass sounded like a good idea. My true underlying thought was, “Maybe there’ll be cute guys there.” Everyone in my life had been suggesting that I do something different, walk in a different direction, in order to meet new guys. This felt like I was finally listening to them. You never know, right?
I walked into Tents and Trails a few minutes before the class started. Tents and Trails is not only an outdoor shop, it is a nyc institution. Imagine a small two-story apartment. Now imagine that an outdoorsy hoarder lived in that apartment. The hoarder crammed backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, travel cups, hiking shoes, fleece vests, sun blocking hats and every other possible piece of outdoor gear in there. This is what Tents and Trails is like. Moving single file is the only option to get around the shop. So I shimmied my way past the wool socks and made it up the creaky wooden steps.
I climbed upstairs, sized up my people and thought, “Um, okay. My people are angry.” The room was packed. My people were grumbling: upset about the lack of space, the fleece jackets above them brushing their hair and the delayed start (it was only 2 minutes past the start time). I politely walked across a row and sat in one of the last open seats on a nylon, fold out bench. My people were prompt. I was happy because as I made my way over, I glanced little bags of pretzels and mini water bottles available for the taking. I love snack size anything.
Once seated, I took in my surroundings. My people were seniors, newly retired couples, lesbian couples, assorted other assorted single ladies and two scrappy guys in suits. I thought, “Maybe all the cute guys just go on the actual hikes.” Then I met the instructor (I long ago forgot his name) and my neighbor Maggie (a former girl scout leader, 10 years ago). The instructor was wearing a North face fleece vest even though it was nearing the end of summer. He looked very tired and was slowly handing out blurry photocopies of a topographic map. Maggie, I quickly learned, was one of the angry people. She didn’t like that there was nowhere clean to place her backpack. So much for the idea of outdoorsy people being able to rough it.
I did not need a compass, a sign, a trailblazer or any map to realize that I would not be meeting any new guys in class. When the initial sadness of this washed over me, I sighed and I turned to my mini snack bags and munched away, defeated (emotional eating, I know). Then I simply got into class. I really got into it. I learned about true north and magnetic north. I oriented to the map. Every interaction struck me as so funny that I started writing things down on one of the photocopied papers. In the margin, I wrote Maggie’s name, along with any and all of the following quotes:
*Instructor man: (something to the effect of) ‘Okay I’m going to ask some questions, please do not call out the answers. Talk to your neighbor and then we’ll go over them as a group.’ Instructor man then asks a question.
Senior couple (immediately calling out) “The answer is 13 degrees!”
—————————————————————————————————————————- *Maggie: (getting agitated that our group got an answer wrong): “Well, the map is crooked. See. The map is crooked, that’s why I’m not right” (she couldn’t even say the word WRONG).
*Instructor man: “When you are hiking and aligning your compass, pick out a point, like a tree in the forest.”
Girl sitting in front of Maggie: “But when you’re in a forest, there are trees all over the place.”
*One of the scrappy suit guys: “I am true north. Do you hear me? I am true north.” I still don’t know if this guy was joking or out of his mind.
The class ended with someone from the adjacent group taking out his iPhone and showing everyone the compass App. Instead of pointing your compass, adjusting it and following your path, you could simply bust out your iPhone, throw it down on the table and follow the needle on the digital compass pointing you in the right direction. Now it was time for instructor man to be defeated. He tried to say that iPhones might not work in the woods. And he eeked out that there was often nowhere flat to place your iPhone to get an accurate reading. He resigned to the fact, that “yes you could just use the app.” He was DONE and profusely sweating by the end of class.
My experience at the end of class was this: Maggie generously offered me the giant, grainy topographic map we had been working on. She asked me three times, “Do you want the map?” and each time I replied, “no thanks” or “no thank you” or “no, it’s all yours!” She changed up her offer and then said, “Are you sure you don’t want it? It will look nice on your bedroom wall, next to the poster of Brad Pitt.” And with that, I thought, “I gotta get out of here.” I grabbed a tiny granola bar from the snack basket and literally ran down the stairs and out the rickety front door.
The summer heat hit my face and I kept my pace for a block or two. I turned the wrong way of course and realized I had gotten lost in a 3-block radius. I slowed down and turned towards the subway, thinking about Brad Pitt and true north. Luckily, this was my season, so there was still time to find some new guys and maybe my people.
Thanks, as always, for reading this post. Extra special thanks to Chris G. – you made me stop eating lunch last week and dedicate myself to something. Thanks for this. And thanks for always listening and inspiring me more than you know. We must continue to develop our platform ideas. Here’s to our next meet up.
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