People gather for many reasons. Gatherings of family or friends, gathering for business networking, gatherings for people of like-minded faith or interest, even gatherings of strangers to partake in performances all happen every day. There is an entire industry formed around coordinating gatherings.
Yesterday one of those gatherings took place on a boulevard that this sleepy town wants to revitalize. Near the railroad tracks and the baseball stands sits a converted building with frosted glass windows and a large red art nouveau mural. The two-year old restaurant invited the patrons to a large well-lit room with wooden booths lining one wall, black sofas next to the windows and a small bar. A few scattered tables had been arranged for our gathering.
Already seated were a few of the people I had worked with, some for years, some less. After a welcoming greeting and settling in, others joined us at the tables.
The faces were the same as I remembered, but the body language said volumes. These people I knew by way of sales. They sold messages, hopes, dreams and I manufactured.
Curious as always to listen to the conversations of people who have not been present in your life for over two years, the time was spent on “catching up”.
“What are you doing now?” “How are the kids?” “Have you seen..?” were most of the topics as we awkwardly fumbled with our menus. The pierced waitress who left her personality at home hovered trying to get our attention and take our orders as if her time was in demand by the emptiness that surrounded us.
One of the colleagues who I had not seen for over a decade regaled tales of his first boss still fuming over times long since gone.
After fulfilling the waitresses’ constant request, we all shared pleasantries and dined on adequate cuisine.
Without a master of ceremonies to organize our conversations, the main topic quickly became remembrances of working together. Some were funny and some sad, but everyone was smiling, at least now. Perhaps that was an indication of the present being better than the pass?
An interesting dynamic did take place, which I note now. The “girls” gathered at one end of the tables while the “boys” gathered at the other end. True, this gathering was not arranged to network or speed date, but I was amused by the customary separation. It reminded me of junior high school when dances were held in basketball courts and boys hugged on wall while across the wood floors girls hugged the far sidewall. It is a tendency seen too often and shows how far we have come.
As the clock ticked on, one-by-one each participant in this event gave hugs and “Good byes” to wander back to their cubicles and electronic communications. No massive revelations or bar room brawls, just pleasant small talk with old compatriots.
A few stayed who were not on-the-clock for another round and more enticing stories, yet even that ended.
As I sat alone in this empty room, finishing up my refreshment and preparing for my journey home I contemplated what had just occurred. We had gathered by notification of social networking for a meal and lights stories. We didn’t change world events or discover medical miracles or even conglomerate ideas for the next great American novel. We gathered just to enjoy each others company, even if so briefly. No one forced us to gather, but we volunteered some time out of our day to just be together.
“Thank you” I said to the owner and waitress sitting silently in the empty room. I will probably never come here again.