I met a good friend of mine in New York the other day. Ok, so that might not sound particularly noteworthy if it wasn’t for a couple of facts: firstly, I don’t live in New York (or in the United States, as it happens) and secondly, we had never met before.
But let’s start at the beginning.
I got to know Amy on Twitter some 16 months ago. She was introduced to me by another Twitter friend (Hi Lisa!) and I started to follow her on Twitter and on her blog*. She turned out to be funny, intelligent, quirky and kind. Over time I got to know her well, and nowadays we email, text, tweet, Facebook and/or blog post comment each other 10 times a day or more.
We’ve been sending each other packets with stuff from our respective countries. After the house fire, Amy sent me some American sweets and a bunch of CDs with music for when I was driving across Europe during the move from Isle of Man to Finland. In turn, I’ve sent her Finnish chocolate, European music and a few Swedish films (no, not that kind of Swedish films – don’t be silly). I also sent her some salty liquorice (a.k.a. salmiakki), which she bravely tried:
Go to 3:30 if you’re in a hurry and want to cut to the chase. But you’ll miss a lot of awesome Amy-talk though.
We’ve always joked about the possibility to meet in real life some day. Amy wrote an open letter to some rich people with a proposition to sponsor her trip to Europe. And I’ve always wanted to go to New York, which isn’t that far from where Amy lives. But with a family and two small children it didn’t really seem plausible.
But then, an opportunity presented itself. The company I work for regularly send people on courses and conferences to help their employees to expand their knowledge and improve themselves in their field of expertise. So, whilst home on paternity leave a while back, one of my colleagues contacted me and said he and another of my colleagues were going to a web development conference in New York, and wondered if I would be interested to come along? Now, the WebVisions conference looked really interesting, with lots of talks and workshops on what we’re currently working on, so I was really eager to go. Plus, it was taking place in Manhattan, which was very cool. What if I would be able to meet up with Amy for a few hours? Wouldn’t that be the best?
The trip got approved and planned and I contacted Amy regarding the possibility to meet up on Saturday. She got really excited and was not at all worried that I’d be some kind of psychopath or serial killer. Or even a female truck driver**. Imagine that. So she decided she would take the train down to New York City on Saturday morning and then the train back late in the evening. That way, we’d get a full 12 hours of New Yorking together.
The weeks flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to get on the plane to New York. Only, we wouldn’t go directly to New York. First stop was Helsinki, to pick up the third member of our little group. Then on to Frankfurt for transfer to New York JFK. So the trip turned out to be truly multi-lingual, starting in Swedish, then turning Finnish, then German and finally American English.
It was a long journey. Starting early Tuesday morning, we were on the go for 25 hours before finally arriving at our hotel in Manhattan late Tuesday evening. As we got there, we were tired and hungry and I’m not too proud to admit it – we McDonalded. *hangs head in shame*
New York is a big city. Now, I’ve been in big cities before. London is pretty big and Kuala Lumpur is even bigger. But New York is bigger still; its metropolitan area is home to some 18 million people, way more than the combined population of Sweden and Finland.
New York City has a buzz, a pulse that’s very energetic. That’s not only down to the amount of traffic (which is substantial). It’s something to do with the attitude of the people living there. They are always in a hurry, always on their way somewhere else. But New Yorkers are still friendly people and will help you if you’re lost or have problems with your Metrocard, which is kind of impressive.
We stayed at the hotel Eventi, which was very fancy, with big rooms and great views. In the mornings, we had breakfast in a diner and then took the subway to the conference in Lower Manhattan. It made me feel very metropolitan.
The days in New York flew by, the conference ended and suddenly it was Saturday. Amy’s train was due in at Penn Station 9:30 in the morning, and then we were to meet in the lobby of my hotel, which was just a couple of blocks away from the station.
At 9:30 sharp I got a text from Amy: “Am here!!! On my way, maybe 5, 10 minutes?” I told her was going down to the lobby and wait for here there. So there I sat, waiting. I was getting nervous. What if we didn’t have anything to talk about? What if it was going to be all awkward? What if she didn’t like me in real life? Perhaps this was actually a really bad idea? But then suddenly there she was! We smiled, hugged and talked and everything was just fine. No awkwardness at all. So she dropped her stuff off in my room, and out we went to do some New Yorking.
Now, I’m not going to describe the whole day in this post. Suffice to say that we went to the Central Park Zoo. We had lunch. We did some shopping. We walked all over the place. And we talked and talked and talked. (If you’re interested in a more in-depth account of the day, I’ll refer you to Amy’s posts (yes, that’s ‘posts’ as in plural, because there are several) on the subject: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5. She goes into plenty of details on what we did and where we went. Also, she describes it much better than I ever could, being a published author and everything. I whole-heartedly recommend you read them if you haven’t already.)
As I mentioned in the beginning, we’ve been friends for some 16 months. We’ve tweeted a lot. We’ve blogged and commented on each others posts. We’ve even Skyped a couple of times. We just had never met in real life. But as it turned out, that wasn’t really an issue. Real life-Amy is just like online-Amy: funny, quirky, intelligent and kind. She’s generous and friendly and always excited about learning new things. She also seem to genuinely enjoy discussing even the most abstract and odd of subjects. In short: she’s just like the Amy I already knew and loved from the Internet.
No, not ‘online friends’…
So yes, we met online. We’ve got to know each other online. We almost exclusively communicate online. And, until that day in New York at the beginning of March, we’d never met. All of that is true, but I don’t see that as much of a problem. Ok, it’s of course preferable to be able to meet in real life. But who are we to dictate how we’re supposed to meet? Finding friends is a rare thing and finding really good friends is even rarer. I would feel very ungrateful complaining about the medium of our friendship.
And actually? The time difference is more of a problem than the online thing. Me being in Finland (GMT+2) and Amy being in USA (GMT-5) means that we’re only awake at the same time for short periods of time each day. This is rather annoying. But it does have the benefit of always having someone to talk to if Baby Boy wakes me up in the middle of the night.
In the end, the simple truth is this: I’m so very lucky to know Amy. And luckier still to be able to call her my friend. Because that’s what we are: good friends.
Plain and simple.
* This might sound stalkery, but I can assure you that this is normal online behaviour and not nefarious at all.
** Amy’s dad is convinced that everyone on the internet are cat-fishing female truck drivers.