Making friends in a new town is no easy task, especially as an adult. When you’re in school, it’s much easier – you have a dorm full of built in friends, or everyone is taking the same intro classes, and so the work is practically done for you. Even in my first few jobs, it was pretty obvious how to make friends – everyone was “entry level,” which was code for (1) young and (2) new to DC, so again, my friend group was almost settled before I even started. But, as a “real” adult, it’s not quite as obvious.
Shortly after moving to town, the cultural attaché set the hubs and me up on a double-date with old friends of hers. We’d met them once before very briefly at a concert, and in the warm, fuzzy haze of alcohol, it seemed like we might have a lot in common. Numbers were exchanged and a time to meet for drinks was set. I’ve watched enough romantic comedies and Millionaire Matchmaker over the years to know that an invitation to drinks without a promise of dinner is code for “I’m not really sure this is going to work, so let’s start with something very low commitment, and if I suggest dinner, then you know it’s going well.” The appointed day and time arrived and the hubs and I nervously fussed with our outfits and tried to arrive on time, but, God forbid, not early. We were generally on our best behavior – exuding charm and telling stories to flatter the other. But…there was no suggestion for dinner. Still interested in a second “date,” I sent a casual follow-up email a few days later (hoping to achieve a breezy tone) to say we’d enjoyed drinks and let’s do it again sometime. Crickets. Radio silence. That hint I think we can all interpret no matter how long it has been since we were on the dating scene. So, we did what any girl does after a first date (I can’t speak for the guys) and went to the game tape – analyzing in excruciating detail each bit of the evening to see where we’d gone wrong –what signs we’d missed – all the while wondering why they hadn’t called or texted. All in all, it was pretty neurotic behavior and I’m not proud, but at this point, we really didn’t have any friends in town.
So we went back to the drawing board…. “How did I make friends in school??” Ah ha! Join a club! That’s solid advice that I’d give anyone. We did a bit of research, found a few organizations that fit with our interests, and attended their meetings. Here’s a secret bonus of joining clubs as an adult: most of the “meetings” take place at happy hour. At first this seemed to be going really well – we had built-in topics of conversation, plenty of shared experiences, and future events (ahem, happy hours) on the horizon. So again, cards and phone numbers were exchanged, breezy follow-up emails were sent, and at first…crickets. But, eventually, the emails started flowing in, just maybe not quite in the manner that we’d anticipated. We were now on email distribution lists and the only personal emails we received were requests for volunteer work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about civic engagement, but you know, maybe buy a girl dinner first…or at least try to hide the ulterior motive in such outwardly friendly demeanor and save the “ask” for the third “date.”
Not to worry though – we’d been “slow-playing it” with the infamous neighbors of the gift basket, by which I mean we’d begun subtly stalking them – sending notes, making a point to say hi, trying to get their digits – all standard tactics. I was certain that their gesture had been more than just neighborly – that it had been a tacit invitation to friendship. After the requisite texts and waves in the parking lot, we managed to settle on a time for dinner (already it was off to a better start – as this was a “real date,” not just the “let’s have drinks and see about dinner date”). The conversation, along with the wine, flowed freely. We had a startling amount in common – enough shared interests for many future dinner conversations – and except for that first moment of held breath when you knock on the door and wait for someone to answer, there wasn’t an awkward or tense moment the entire evening. Dinner led to more drinks and before we knew it, it was after midnight. This time, the next-day game tape analysis was much easier. Practically giddy with a heady combination, of relief, excitement, and a mild hangover, we were sure that the feelings had been mutual, and that we’d hit the friend jackpot. Months later, these are still our best friends in Frederick – I guess when it’s right, you just know.
Over the weekend, we ran into the couple of the first failed “date” while at a BBQ and it was just as awkward as you might imagine. In a group of only about 15 people, we managed to avoid each other almost the entire time and I was pretty pleased with our façade of coolness. On the way home, the hubs turned to me and said, “Can you believe them?! Just acting like nothing ever happened!”
“Well,” I replied, “when you think about it, nothing really did happen. We had one date, it didn’t really work out, and we’ve each moved on since then. It’s not like we had some torrid affair that they won’t publicly acknowledge.” ….
“Yeah,” he sighed, with a dejected tone, “I guess you’re right.”
But still, I understood where he was coming from. Even when it’s not meant to be and you have much better friends now, rejection stings, and it’s no lie: making friends is hard to do.
You know those signs that you’ll pass sometimes while cruising down the highway that read “speed photo enforced?” As it turns out, those are for real – they’re not a joke or an idle threat. Captain obvious here again, in possession of her first ticket issued by the state of Maryland, to tell you what you already know: they really are using the cameras to enforce your speed. Oops.
I can tell you exactly why I didn’t take the signs seriously – I thought they were crying wolf. There are a plethora of signs about speeding/speeding enforcement, and most of the time, they’re a bluff or one just doesn’t get caught. Let me provide an illustration from personal experience. I used to spend a lot of time driving between Indiana and Kansas on I-70 and often saw signs that said “speed limit enforced by aircraft.” Oh really? Out here in a cornfield in southern Illinois you’re sending stealth aircraft to monitor my speed, take a picture, and bill me later? Or perhaps your resident crop dusters just weren’t having a banner year and lobbied for a source of supplemental income? Either way, I wasn’t buying it. You might as well have informed me that fairies were planning to pop out of the median and flag me over whereupon a unicorn would issue me a ticket for all that I believed in them. So I sped drove carefully past those signs with complete disdain and ne’er a ticket was issued.
So for my first several trips on I-270, I was sure the same thing was happening. I saw the signs (cue up Ace of Base). But, I never spotted a camera and I noticed that my fellow travelers were all still driving merrily along, far exceeding the speed limit, and thus came to the conclusion that these speed warning signs were a hoax. “Ahh Interstate 70 and your auxiliary roads,” I chuckled, “thank you for yet another clever notice, you really are just too much!” I kept on chuckling too until I received an interesting piece of mail from the state of Maryland. (I’m confident you know where this is going). Sure enough, plain as day, there was our car, buzzing happily down a country road, and there was my fee due. I was no longer laughing.
In fairness, they did warn me, pretty clearly, with rather large signs, so in the end I guess all I can say is this: congratulations Montgomery County, you got me, now please just put my check to good use. And, uhm, just to be on the safe side, if there do happen to be aircraft that monitor speed, please go easy on me – nobody wants a scene from Top Gun.
If you should ever come to visit our house, please don’t be alarmed. We’re not doomsday planners or prepping for the zombie apocalypse, we’re just very pleased, and perhaps a bit overeager, new Costco members.
There was a time when I bemoaned the fact that we couldn’t find toilet paper in 4-packs – just the household economy 18 or 36-packs. “Where am I supposed to store all this toilet paper?! Who do these people think we are?! This is downtown – NOBODY has the space for this!” I would wail these exclamations to no one in particular while pacing the aisles of Safeway. That was a time when I lived in a 700 square-foot apartment with very limited closet space.
With very similar exasperation, when we first moved into our little row house, I wandered around, looking at our basement, attic and 1,400 square feet of living space, exclaiming, “what am I supposed to do with all this space?! Why does our furniture look so small?! What are with doing with BOTH a basement AND an attic?!”
As it turns out, the solution for both filling up a home and reconciling one’s self to the idea of buying a 48-pack of TP can be found in one simple act – becoming a Costco member.
At first, I thought this was a ridiculous concept. What on earth would two people do with the pallets of items that Costco sells? I held out. I put my foot down and presented my version of mathematical evidence (which is essentially making up numbers that sound reasonable) to explain how much we’d have to save on each purchase to justify the membership fee and how we, a simple family of two, would never ever make our money back. Finally, the hubs, sick of listening to my (obviously) sound logic, took matters into his own hands and snuck off to Costco where he signed us up for a family membership.
My maiden voyage to Costco was an otherworldly experience, full of awe. I naively thought they were a grocery store that just sold large quantities of food. Oh no! As anyone who has visited knows, it holds a cornucopia of delights. Of course there is food (and free samples!!!), but there are also sections for household furnishings, clothes, books, electronics…really, who knows what all is lurking there –I’ve yet to traverse the entirety of every seemingly endless, tunnel-like aisle. However, as the trip went on, I began to feel a sense of panic and nausea – it was all too much for my eyes to absorb – they swirled from sign to sign unable to focus on any specific item. Was it hot in here? Where was the exit?! Yes, I’d made the rookie mistake trying to see all the sights on my first trip. I got over it.
The change that overcame us and overtook our house was gradual. Ironically, it started with the very rolls of toilet paper and paper towels that I used to curse in Safeway. They are, perhaps, the gateway drug of buying in bulk. Then we moved onto non-perishable food items. It’s true, I rarely drink Diet Coke, but it’s not like it’s going to go bad, so we might as well buy a few cases and maybe a pallet of water bottles too – after all, you never know when you’ll lose power and need fresh drinking water. Gradually, we’ve moved on to other items. Why buy just a pint of blueberries when you can buy a quart – even in the middle of winter? It just makes good business sense. Eventually, the hubs even bought an additional fridge – between our membership and the Energy Star discount, they were practically paying us to take it.
Now I look at our basement with a real, but different, sense of concern. Where are we going to put all of our treasures – all of these things that we need? Yes, of course we needed the 150 pack of AA batteries – do you have any idea how much money we’re saving?! (Approximately $5.50 over the course of our lifetimes). So we refurbished some rickety shelves and put them back into service. Then we cleared out quite a bit of floor space and lined the walls with our crates of goodies. This hasn’t quite resolved all of my concerns. Sometimes, I’ll go down into the basement and find myself startled at its appearance. Are we hoarders? Will our friends from DC come to visit us one weekend and by the next we’ll find ourselves on a reality TV show? Nah….I’ve decided I just won’t show them the space – they wouldn’t understand.
What other people think is, of course, not all that important – the really source of my worry is far more grave – we’re out of shelf space and places on the floor that aren’t susceptible to flooding. I’ve given this some serious thought and decided that we’re left with two clear courses of action that must be pursued posthaste: first, buy another fridge (from Costco); second, find a bigger house. Hey, wait a minute, do the sell those at Costco too?
Yelp! I need somebody! Not just anybody….but a good dry cleaner. It used to be that I turned to Yelp for every recommendation. But when I checked out the results for Frederick, I was slightly dismayed to discover that there were precisely 9 reviews of 6 different dry cleaning establishments – it’s not exactly a wealth of information on which to base a decision. So, dearest reader (maybe even, with any luck, “reader” is actually plural) I turn to you for assistance. Where can I find a great dry cleaner that also does very minor alterations – I’m talking a hem on my fanciest day – for a reasonable price? I’m willing to get in the car – to the distance – but bonus points to a comment that suggests someplace close to downtown. Thanks for the suggestions!
When I was a little girl, we lived in Paraguay for a year. My Dad’s work had taken him there, and my folks, who are delightfully adventurous, decided that their 8 year old daughter could learn more living in Paraguay for a year than sitting in her 2nd grade classroom in Topeka, KS, so they took me along. Now, given that I was a mere child, some of my recollections of that time might be a bit fuzzy, or a result of not fully understanding the adult world, or just flat out wrong and completely made up. But, here’s something I do remember with a crispness that can only indicate it’s likely false – a story I’ve played out in my mind numerous times, embellishing it with details that served my fantasy a bit better. What I remember is that as part of this exchange program, my parents were invited by the American Embassy to meet other Americans and to become a part of the community living in Asunción and that, better yet, there was a man employed by the Embassy whose sole job was to host parties and facilitate introductions – to help people acclimate and make friends. In my childhood imagination, he threw lavish parties in an exquisitely appointed home, with an unlimited budget – all very Gatsby-equse – and one fact I do know for sure is that he had a “bird boy,” or a member of his staff dedicated to caring for the exotic birds in his home. This mysterious Gatsby fellow was what the Embassy, or at least my parents, called a “cultural attaché,” and what, for many years, I’d tell people I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m sure that was not precocious in the least.
I bring all this up to tell you that our very own Frederick, MD has a cultural attaché. I’m not one to name drop, so for now we’ll just leave her as my anonymous coworker who first suggested we explore Frederick for our new home. When we first moved here, I was in near constant contact with her – begging for tips on where to get my hair done, telling her about our neighbors and adventures in living in a real house, listing every restaurant we tried – but most of all, asking if she was free to go out with us, because, as you might recall, we moved here without knowing anyone, and making friends can take some time.
At long last, she scheduled a trip to Frederick and made time go out with us. We started by showing off our newly painted home and giving her the tour, pointing out interesting features like the box spring in the dining room, and then went out to hear her friends’ band that was playing downtown. We started at a table to grab some dinner, during which friends would stop by to exchange hugs with her and introduce themselves to us. In retrospect, it might appear a bit Godfather-like, but by the end of the evening, we had an invitation to a perfect stranger’s home for a Christmas party.
The next time we hung out also began with dinner. We entered the restaurant and, not seeing our friend, mentioned her name to the maître d and were instantly escorted to our table. The evening then moved down the street to another bar where she knew of a band playing. She set us up close to the stage, next to a couple she knew and once we were safely ensconced in conversation, she made the rounds saying hello to half the patrons there and catching up. The hubs and I chatted with our new caretakers, as much as one can 5 feet away from a live band, while awkwardly trying to juggle our winter coats and drink our beers. But as always, she’d picked just the right people for us to circulate with, and by the end of the evening, phone numbers were exchanged. The first set ended, and an exhausted hubby and I mentioned we might want to head home and did she want us to walk her to her car. “No, I’ll stay here, I know plenty of people, you go on.”
It has been over a month now since we’ve seen the cultural attaché and I miss her. I miss the fame and glamour of it – the feeling of being known – of actually having people rush across Market St. for a hug and to catch up. When we were out together, her aura of coolness enveloped us and I think people looked at us differently as a result – we had to be cool if we were with the attaché. But, like anyone so good at her job, she must have known when it was time to send us out of the nest – to have the tough love required to push her little birds overboard to see if they could fly. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into her downtown sometime and can rush over to say “hi” – just a regular girl from Frederick who happens to be close with the town’s cultural attaché.
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this… but Frederick is colder than DC. Sure, I’d heard Chuck Bell announce grim forecasts of frost or snow for “outlying areas” like Frederick, but I never paid attention because I didn’t live there and so, I didn’t take it into account when considering a move here. I mention this because Chuck wasn’t kidding – Frederick does have very different weather patterns to which I am only now becoming accustomed, and which, in light of last week’s “snowquester,” seemed appropriate to write about.
After our move, I first began to notice this little difference in temperature about the time that I started having to drive to work, which often necessitated scraping frost off my window. It has been, quite literally, 6 years since I’ve had to scrape a car window. As it turns out, that skill is just like riding a bike, only not fun. At all. Then of course there was last week – the snow storm that wasn’t. There was a particularly poignant moment during the television coverage in which the reporters in Dupont Circle – not just anywhere in DC, by my Dupont Circle – lamented the lack of snow, while I sat huddled under a blanket admiring the big puffy flakes falling down. Of course, by late afternoon we were in the same boat, with zero accumulation, but still...
At first, I assumed the cooler climate was due to Frederick’s increased elevation. DC’s nickname of “the swamp,” comes, not only from the nefarious behavior of the political animals who call it home, but also because it was, quite literally, a swamp at its founding. Whole portions that are now home to some of our nation’s most beautiful and historically significant landmarks began as underwater tidal pools, which somehow, with great feats of modern engineering, we managed to contain to a tiny little basin that was then lined with beautiful cherry trees. I could Google how all this worked, but science is not my strong suit. By contrast, Frederick is home to the Cactoctin Mountains and every day on my long commute home, I pass a sign for the turn-off to Sugar Loaf Mountain, where I hear they have skiing. Even as one crests the hill at the scenic overlook of Frederick, it just seems to be higher up. However, Wikipedia informs me that I might be wrong about my assumption that the weather has to do with elevation. It lists Frederick’s elevation as 309 feet and DC at 0-409 feet. That wide of a range seems like an odd statistic, even for DC, but perhaps they’re averaging in the Washington Monument – at 555 feet, and the tallest structure – or the National Cathedral – at 301 feet tall, but 676 feet above sea level. (Aren’t statistics fun?!)
So then, if not the elevation, what is it? It could be that cities are inherently warmer – all the buildings and bodies trapping in the heat. It could also be that Frederick is a bit farther north. It’s 48 miles “up” 270, but you’re angling to the west as well, so let’s call that… what? 30 miles to the north? (OK, neither science nor math were my strong suits, so don’t bother giving me a protractor or whatever tool would be required to figure this out – it ain’t happening). Or, maybe we’re trapped in some sort of meteorological vortex of colder weather. For example, several weeks ago, I had to wipe a layer of snow off the car only to discover that just down the road in Gaithersburg, the ground was clear and it was sunny.
This weekend I thought maybe an end was in sight – it was warm and sunny and my nose actually got sunburned from trying to soak up every bit of it. But, alas, March is a fickle month and I hear it’s going to snow/rain later this week. Which I guess means that in DC it’ll just mist, and here at home, we’ll get a few inches of accumulation of wintry mix.
I will say this though – it’s prettier here. A drive to work in the snow is never exactly fun, but some mornings, when we’ve had a light dusting, I look out at the fields and farmhouses sparkling in the sun and am truly struck by their idyllic brilliance.
Meet the neighbors. No, really, meet the neighbors. As nearly any anthropologist, or person with common sense, will tell you, it is customary, upon moving to a new town, to introduce one’s self to the other people living nearby, AKA, neighbors.
So why am I giving this an entire blog post’s worth of analysis? Because, quite simply, I’ve been living in apartments for the last 19 years, and in DC for the last 6 years, and it just isn’t done under those circumstances. Somewhere along the road, I lost track of how to participate in what is a common and well-understood human interaction.
Our very first day in Frederick, while the moving van was still parked out front, happily blocking traffic, our neighbor from across the street came over to introduce himself. He shook our hands, asked where we were from and what brought us to Frederick – all the pleasantries that one exchanges upon meeting new people and then asked if we needed anything. I said something off-hand like, “oh, I’m sure we will as we try to get it all figured out – you know, like when trash day is,” and proceeded on with issuing directives about where various pieces of furniture should go. He said he’d let us get to it, and crossed the street back home, but returned just a few minutes later with a piece of paper upon which he’d written his full name, his phone number, and when the trash and recycling days were. I was so stunned I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the paper or what to say to him. I must have stood there clutching it like a kid who’d just won a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And of course, because this was so unusual to me, it didn’t occur to me that I should respond in kind with our contact information. I don’t even remember if I said thank you, but suffice it to say, this was not the best first impression I have ever given.
I know, you’re reading this thinking that I’m a crazy person and that detailing the mundane aspects of meeting your neighbors makes for a very boring read. But let me explain. In the 2 years that we lived in our Dupont Circle apartment, I learned the real name of precisely one neighbor, Vern, and that was only because the man was our arch nemesis. In fact, I’m disclosing his first name because, unlike Mr. Shakespeare, I do think that there’s something in a name, and his might shed some light on our personality differences. Oh sure, there were people that I recognized, but I didn’t know their names, or which apartment they lived in, and most of those people I probably couldn’t have picked out of a police line-up because I’d only seen them while I was at our pool. That’s right, our otherwise uninteresting apartment had a postage stamp of pool on the roof – its true redeeming factor. There was “Bud Light Guy,” who got his nickname, not surprisingly, because anytime we saw him on the roof, or otherwise, he’d have a Bud Light can in his hand. And there was “Bud Light Guy’s Boyfriend,” who we later heard was actually his husband. There was “that one young couple that owns here,” who earned their nickname because most of the owners were significantly older than us. There was “Vin Diesel,” because, well, for a year that’s who I thought he looked exactly like until I realized that, actually, the actor whose name I was searching for was Jason Stratham, but once you pick a nickname, you should really stick with it.
Later on in our first week, while we were sitting huddled together on the couch, we heard a knock on our front door. We look at each other with puzzlement – a knock? What does that mean? What should we do? Should we answer the door? Again, the answers to all of these questions are entirely obvious to anyone with any common sense at all. However, it had been years since we’d had a surprise visit. We’d grown accustomed to having to buzz people up through the lobby door and neither of us could remember the last time someone knocked on our door who we weren’t expecting. Out of a completely irrational fear of who knows what, I made the hubs peak out the window to see who it could be before opening the door – “some guy carrying a basket” – he says. After a whispered debate on the pros and cons of how to proceed, we greeted the stranger at the door to discover that he, too, was one of our neighbors and had come over bearing a welcome basket. A welcome basket! Once we were alone again, we rifled through it with a glee that you normally reserve for Christmas morning. It had good bread and wine and beer and candy and was all beautifully packaged with a thoughtful note – the kind of thing I’m sure Martha Stewart would have given her seal of approval to. At least this time I knew that the proper response was a thank you note with our contact information in it.
So, there you have it, a 1000 word essay on the meeting habits of normal Americans and, specifically, those in Friendly Frederick. I can’t wait until we’re no longer the new kids on the block so that I can try my hand at this – with any luck at all, it’ll be another city transplant that I can utterly bewilder, confuse, but also, delight.