Work has taken me to Atlanta for a couple of days this week. Which is a strange kind of place for me, as I grew up in and around the city, but haven't been back for something approaching 15 years. The conference I'm attending is in the same building as CNN, which is convenient if I want to pop down and pick up my "I heart Wolf Blitzer" mug. It's strange to see so much that's familiar, with so many changes laid over it. You want the Statler & Waldorf to come out in you? Take a slow spin through the neighborhood you grew up in tomorrow.
Still, coming back to my home town, I figured it would be worth looking up somebody I knew. My family all fled the Atlanta area soon after I moved away (which says something, maybe), but I lived here for nearly twenty years, including time at university right in the heart of the city. Since I suck at keeping in touch with people, that adds up to about three people.
So I looked up one of the three and gave her a call. My friend is someone I knew for years, since I was like nine. We had even "gone" together at the ripe old age of thirteen or so, and I had tried to ask her out without success again a few years later. But mostly we had just been friends for a long time, and kept in pseudo-contact through the years. An annual email. Christmas cards, that kind of thing. So when I got here, I gave her a call, asked her if she wanted to get together for dinner or something to catch up. We chatted for a while on the phone, and in some ways it was a little like we had talked just last week, instead of several years ago. During the call, I caught a reference to "we" a number of times. Now I'm slow at times, but I figured I'd better extend the invitation to the "we" as well, and did so. The more the merrier, I figure. This invitation led to a little bit of a stutter and a pause so pregnant it turned from an innie to an outie right there on the phone. Suddenly, I had an inkling where this was going...
Tonight, we all met at a snappy little Italian restaurant downtown. Me, my old friend, her wife, and her wife's 10 year old daughter.
"Potentially awkward, party of 4 - your table's ready."
I got there a bit early and sat at the bar, waiting. My friend saw me first, and went to round up the others while the hostess escorted me to the table. A booth. Hmm. I turned to the hostess and said "Look, I'm about to have dinner with what was my junior high girlfriend, her wife, and their daughter. The former I haven't seen in about fifteen years, and the latter I'll be meeting for the first time in the next five minutes. I'm not sure who's you think is going to slip in next to whom on that booth, but I'm going to tip really well if we can sit at that table over there with the four, nice, safe and neutral sides." If only I had a nickel for every time I had to have that conversation.
She moved us. And brought me another rum & coke on the house.
Fortunately, what might very well have turned out to be a big old bowl of awkward with a side order of crunchy was quite the opposite. We had a wonderful, and completely awkward-free evening. In many ways, it was like my friend and I had just picked up conversations without interruption that we had left off years ago, and her wife was lovely and a good sport about the whole random call from the past thing. The daughter impressed me by fearlessly trying something new and quasi-random off the menu, and then holding her own in the conversation. How often do you see that in a 10 year old? Well done.
And my risotto was excellent. The only unpleasant part of the evening was my bruschetta appetizer. Seriously people. Toast. Olive oil. Tomatoes, garlic and basil. How do you screw that up?