A group of nature enthusiasts walk into a crowded bar. The bartender says, “We’re at capacity. We don’t have anymore seating here inside.” The nature enthusiasts say, “that’s okay, we prefer the outdoors.”
Did you guys think that was funny? I wrote it myself. Okay, I’m not a comedienne, but I recently had an interesting bar experience and was itching to lead with a joke.
Yesterday evening, I attended a social meetup for an outdoors club that I recently became affiliated with. This is a large group that puts on events such as hikes and ski trips in New England. While there are probably over a thousand members, the events usually turn out to be small gatherings. The bar social event, however, had around sixty signups. As I was on my way over to the event, I became nervous about mingling with a large group of strangers. The bar had a big red door that shielded the inside from the street. I slowly opened the door and cautiously looked around the bar for… my group of strangers? I became nervous that I would have to awkwardly interrupt random people to find my new clique, however, my preoccupations were quickly halted when someone waved me over. I guess looking totally lost was the best course of action. When I looked over at the group, I was surprised to see that there were but two individuals in attendance, a man and a woman.
The guy was friendly and outgoing and the woman nice but reserved. The guy was the organizer of the event, so I’ll call him Leader. The woman, I will call Newbie, as this was her first event with the outdoors group. Leader, Newbie, and I sat stretched across three tables. We guarded our territory for the latecomers in the group and awkwardly tried to make conversation even though we had very little in common. Leader is an experienced hiker and has been in the group for a few years, Newbie has skied and hiked, but did not say much to carry the conversation, and I, the least experienced, stuck to asking questions. Group members began to trickle in over the next hour. The group was relatively young with the oldest members in their mid-thirties.
With a group of loosely affiliated strangers, conversation can be quite fragile. For example, we began small talk about cross-country skiing and were interrupted by a new arrival, which killed the conversation in its ski tracks. It was as if we were grasping at small threads of conversation. We try to talk as much as we can about the thing that we know and then when the subject dies out, we try our best to propose new topics to avoid an awkward silence. A few others I met included Bro 1 and Bro 2, who were friends. The two were avid hikers and were eager to share their experiences and tips with the group. I also met a man I will call Dunkin, because he excitedly told us about his new job at the Dunkin Donuts office in Canton, MA. This fellow wore a light-gray suit jacket over a t-shirt and started handing out business cards, unsolicited, of course. Also, I met a woman I will call Ally, who was friendly, seemingly comfortable in her surroundings, and lighthearted.
Meeting new groups of people is an interesting experience. First impressions are delicate things. In the first 30 seconds of meeting Leader, I could tell that he was, well, a leader. In our first interaction, he told me about organizing the event, his experience as a leader within the group, and that he has his own website (promoting what, I’m unsure). With Newbie, it was clear that she was keen on making friends in the area. I spent most of the evening chatting with Newbie, Dunkin, and Ally. We had all ordered drinks; however, the server came over and sternly informed us that everyone at the table must order something to eat or we would have to relocate to the already very crowded bar. In a hail Mary attempt to save our table, each of us pretended to peruse the menu, but ultimately only ordered a side of fries.
It takes a while to get to know people. Our relationships are a combination of all our little interactions and our emotional proximity towards the individuals. At the social, I observed others fondly reconnect after a previous outing, as well as a few tentatively start their sentences with, “didn’t I meet you at…?” When we meet someone, we mentally file that interaction away in our brains and unconsciously store it until the memory fades or is reactivated by another encounter. Last night, we all logged another memory that we will carry with us to the next meetup. Because we now swim in the same circle, it will be interesting to see when again I will run into Leader, Newbie, the Bros, Dunkin, or Ally. We came together because of our love for the outdoors but stayed together because of the fries.
When a group of nature enthusiasts enter a bar, don’t try to kick them outdoors 😉