If you ever spend months driving alone around the country, it is imperative that you reach out to anyone you can think of anywhere to see if they want to meet up. Not just friends. Not just family. No matter how tangential the acquaintance-hood or how long it's been since you shared adjoining cubicles, it will be worth it to invite them to lunch.
As reluctant as I was to say goodbye to my friends in Atlanta, I found nearly as many in the strangers who let me stay on their couches and in the familiar faces of those I knew, but not well enough, before they left Atlanta for greener pastures years ago.
One such old acquaintance/new friend was living in Buffalo and reached out to me just before I left Rochester for Niagara Falls.
We met at Public Espresso in the swanky Hotel "at sign" Lafayette. I can't bring myself engage in the Digital Age incorporation of "@" into their name. Though I suppose Lafayette could be considered a domain.
No further comment.
Over a bowl of damn fine granola, I wasted no time pressing her about the merits of Buffalo.
At this point in the trip, everything was on my radar as a new place to land -- one day. Buffalo has a notoriously rough edge to it, but is also a newer bastion for those in search of cheap housing and in possession of a homesteading spirit (read: me).
I'd heard for years of the economic struggle northwest New York was facing long before George Dubya's...oh, we'll call it an administration, why not? Rochester and Buffalo both took a pummeling in more recent years. Driving past the largely-defunct Kodak plant in Rochester was stomach-turning. Some areas of Buffalo were reminiscent of Baltimore. That's never a good thing.
Buffalo appears to be a pioneer city for the younglings seeking to bend it to their optimistic wills. It doesn't hurt that folk-punk artist Ani DiFranco lives, breathes, and breeds Buffalo, either. She chose her hometown to establish Righteous Babe Records and two Babeville music venues.
Buffalo still seemed like a slow ghost-town gelled in a post-"Recession" torpor, from what I could tell, and I suppose I expected Ms. DiFranco to just walk in the door, chin-nod at my friend (they're locals, after all), and grab a latte.
It never happened. Maybe Buffalo's bigger than I thought.
As is inevitable when two women meet over a beverage, we talked/complained about relationships. I asked her what it was like dating both women and men. She confirmed my suspicion, which can be best summed up with a paraphrase of the old George Carlin bit: Women are crazy. But men are stupid. And that's why women are crazy.
It seems the older we get, the more complicated and severe the neuroses of our jettisoned mates are. Conversations about dating start to resemble poker games with disheartening antes: You've got a narcissistic sociopath? Well, I'll see you and raise you a bipolar substance abuser.
We never reached a draw.
Her coffee hour away from work was drawing to a close long before our conversation did. As we stood to gather our things, we both realized that we were forced to walk away from what would otherwise immediately become a much deeper friendship if I plunked myself down in Buffalo and refused to budge.
It was with this mingling sense of missing out and excitement for rekindling the friendship once again that we said our goodbyes and went on with our lives.
I walked to my car and promptly bled through my pants for the second time that day. Walking back into the hotel to clean myself up in their gorgeous antique bathroom, I glanced at the now-empty table we had just occupied and wondered if we'd meet here again.
Then I drove on to Canada, feeling like I was in the act of perpetually getting further away from, rather than closer to.