Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fast Friends - Part I

August 5 - London, England
When I get back to New York and we talk about my trip, you can ask me about Jens or Jason or the Dutch Girls and I’ll smile with memory and tell you something about them. But if you ask about Scott, Brian, or Monica I think I’ll just ask who you’re talking about.

Scott, Brian, and Monica (the boys are from Seattle, Monica is from Melbourne, Australia) are who I spent yesterday with. We were sharing a 12-bed room across from Hyde Park in London and we said hi and exchanged names and took the tube to Westminster because Brian had never seen Big Ben—the boys had one night in London, the result of a long layover between flights.

We sat on the wall at the edge of the Thames, next to the bridge that leads to Parliament and Scott explained what I already knew. “The people I meet when I’m traveling, we don’t keep in touch and stay close friends. These aren’t people I’m going to invite to my wedding. But for a day or a couple days it’s really nice to have someone to spend time with. You both kind of need it, so you go get dinner together or get some beers,” he said. “You’re five-hour friends.”

The five-hour friend has been a staple of my European travel experience. Much more than Asia, and even more than Australia, I’ve been meeting people almost every day who I spend a single evening with and never see again. They wake up early to catch a train or I wake up early to catch a bus and that’s that. For a while you can remember what they looked like and what country they were from, but soon you forget which one was Scott and which one was Brian. In a couple weeks you aren’t sure if you met in Sweden or Denmark, but then you remember which hostel porch it was where you first said hello and then you know it was Copenhagen where you saw the cover band with the male singer who did the fantastic cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

It’s a strange thing to get so good at goodbye. In the beginning, the phenomenon was how quickly you became close to people, what fast friends we all were. But maybe we were wrong; maybe what happened fast was we acted like friends. Your voice falls into a comfortable tone, you laugh easily and break bread and buy rounds of beer. These are the things you do with friends, not people you met 90-minutes ago. But maybe the truth is we don’t have any friends. And since none of us have anyone, we’re all willing to fill the void for each other. At least for a few hours.


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