Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The People Who Brought Us Together

Dear San Francisco, 

With my face glued to the window of Southwest flight #837 from SFO to PHL, I could barely see you through the blur of tears swelling in my eyes, and that good-old marine layer which, I've come to know, is as much a part of who you are as the Golden Gate Bridge. I came to you hoping to do some soul searching, but never could I have anticipated the degree of personal enlightenment I'd find in you. Your places, your people, and your energy are unlike anything I've ever experienced. Everywhere I turned I found friendly, smiling faces engaging me in real, genuine conversation, inviting me to drinks or dinner, pointing me in the direction of another adventure, welcoming me with unspeakable warmth, offering me rides to places too far for walking or your impressive transit system, or simply wanting to know my story and where I'm from. Each destination offered some of the most delectable comestibles, unique urban fascinations, and natural wonders beyond my wildest imagination. 

I've never felt so in love. Philly will be jealous. Brotherly Love has a tendency to be possessive from time to time. People will pass it it off as puppy love or a honeymoon romance. You & I both know it's bigger than that. We have so much more in common and understand each other in a way some people spend a lifetime looking for without ever finding. I know you'll think this sounds cheesy, but even a writer brimming with literary talent would have an insurmountable task in penning a verse to appropriately capture our perfection for each other. 

Since you were so good to me, and we had such a lovely time together, I thought I might tell you about some people who had an important role in our pairing, some of whom you already know.

You've yet to meet my parents, but I assure you they're great people. I'm sure you overheard me talking about how much they've done for me, fostering my adventurous spirit and encouraging me to follow my heart, and how grateful I am to have them, but I don't know if I mentioned how instrumental they were in sending me your way, by honoring my request to contribute finances to my journey to see you rather than provide me with any more material items at Christmastime. Without their help, I would have had a difficult time making the most of our time together.

You already know Chris. Were Chris not part of this story, we still may have met, but I don't know we'd have had such an enriching courtship. Chris was generous enough to offer me his couch, agree to what seemed like an extensive length of stay, and point me in the right direction when needed. I don't know if you know the whole story, but the basic gist is that Chris and I are connected through our mothers having been high school friends, and a reflection I wrote about my first marathon. Before we talked about me coming to see you, Chris & I had exchanged several lengthy emails, but had met in person for maybe a cumulative fifteen minutes and talked on the phone only two or three times, yet Chris did not hesitate to open his doors. Within a week of my stay, we could have passed for brothers or long-time friends on the strength of inside jokes, shared experiences, and lots of common ground. No one else will ever properly understand the significance of Alge Crumpler, the mastery of Dick Winn, what it means to be high maintenance, or how to find the Yin to your Yang on I know you know he's a good dude, but I just thought you'd like to know how pivotal he was in our crossing paths. Keep a good, safe eye on him. 

Myself & Chris

It would be criminal to tell you so much about Chris and not spare a few words for Colleen & Tomás, my other temporary room mates while visiting you. It was so cool of Colleen to go along with the plan Chris & I worked out, don't you think? As if that weren't enough, she went out of her way to be extra-hospitable and accommodating, while also being good company on some of my mini-adventures. She gets a gold star, for sure. And Tomás...what can I say about Tomás? Not enough, really. I'll let the whole "picture is worth a thousand words" idea do the talking here...

I mentioned a marathon a minute ago. That wasn't your marathon. I'm still writing to you about that, but I think you already know how profound that experience was for me. I could, already have, and will continue to go on for hours about it, but I know you don't want me to do that twice, so I'll spare you the time here. Since I'm talking about the marathon though, that beckoning mistress that was the initial basis of our plans to meet, I might as well tell you about some people who helped make that part of my time with you so much more fulfilling. 

As you have well learned by now, I participated in the Runner's World Challenge while preparing to take on 26.2 miles of your hills & scenic landscape. Thanks to some really incredible people at Runner's World, I got way more than I bargained for. Do you remember Jennifer Van Allen? She visited you for the first time last weekend, and I could tell she really liked you. Well, she was an amazing help throughout my training, and I really think you and I had a better time together because of her. 

Myself & Jen
And of course, you know Bart. He's been hanging out with you for years and still can't get enough. Bart was not only a tremendous help in getting me ready for your tough love, he was also one of the first people I ever talked to about you. The look in his eyes when I mentioned your name, for he too looked like a man in love, was enough to tell me that I had to meet you. I owe Bart more thanks than I can squeeze into this letter, so just know that he's an important part of our story, in case anyone ever asks.

Bart & I
As you can see, the list of people I want to tell you about is quite long - and it's not even nearly as thorough as it should be. There were lots of Challenge participants with whom I chatted online for several months - namely Amy, Gretchen, and Meleah - and finally got to meet in person while I was with you. 

Jen, Meleah, Myself, Jeff Dengate
Myself & Amy
Then there's all those awesome friends from Twitter. There's Linda, who doesn't care much for your baseball team, but still likes you and is an all-around great buddy. There's Andrea, who came to see you a second time last weekend. I'm sure you remember her - she's pretty awesome. 

Myself & Andrea
You know Suann and Peter. They both have spent a lot of time with you, and Peter even stopped by to run your marathon this year as well. Both of those tremendous people gave me a lot of priceless advice on how to find your sweet spots and make the most of our time together. I won't burden you with too many more names here - I've already given you quite a few to remember - but it was so great to finally meet people like Danica, Aron, Blake, and all of the other nifty folks at both the Royal Exchange and at the Expo.

Danica & I
Myself & Aron
Blake & I
You're probably wondering when I'm going to stop telling you about all these awesome people. I'm almost done, I promise. Who would have thought there'd be such a plethora?

How could I tell you about so many people I met for the first time and leave out Runner's World's Susan Rinkunas, who was kind enough to include me in her Muir Woods and Dipsea Trail plans the day after the marathon? Leaving her our of this would be tragic.

Susan checks out a scenic view atop one section of the Dipsea Trail
Or fellow Challenger, Christina. I know you already know Christina - you see her almost every day - but did you know how generous she was to me - a relative stranger - throughout my stay with you? She included me in pre-race dinner plans, showed me some good bars and sweet eats, and even took me to see your most beautiful neighbor, Sonoma. She's a good gal. Do keep an eye on her.

Myself & Christina
Finally, I have to tell you about Derrick & Marissa, who made our parting just a little bit more bearable. I met them on the plane back to Philly after it stopped in Vegas. The three of us immediately hit it off, partied with free-drinks-o-plenty in row 11, and have ourselves quite an interesting story to tell our friends. I don't want to keep any secrets from you, but I have to pull the "What happens on the plane from Vegas stays on the plane from Vegas" card here. Don't worry. Next time I see you I will whisper it in your ear if you promise not to tell anyone else.

Derrick, Marissa, and Myself

There are others, for sure, deserving of your attention, but it might take me another week to send this letter to you if I were to comb the reaches of my memory trying to recall all their names and their part in my story, so I will leave you with these for now in hopes that you'll show them a little extra kindness next time you see them. 

As I'm sure you figured, I made it "home" safely, but home is such a relative term right now. If, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is, then I'm about 3,000 miles away - homesick in my hometown. I promised you I'd be back, and I don't make promises I don't intend to keep. I know deep down that, some day, we'll be together forever. Until then, I will continue to write to you and share with you some of my fondest memories of the times we shared. 

Missing you terribly.

Always Yours,