One thing that continuously blows my mind on the road is people’s willingness to meet up with seemingly random other people. Imagine your friend reaches out to you and says “Hey, I know some people visiting your area and you should go hang out with them despite never having met or even heard of them before.” Would you go? Much as I’d like to say I would, before this job, it probably would’ve made me uncomfortable. And yet, it happens to us on the road all the time. Not only do people with distant connections to our program come hang out with us, they host us, take us around and show us so much kindness and generosity that I can hardly fathom it.
Such was the case in Houston, where eight months ago I didn’t know a single soul, but now I had friends, family and plans waiting for me as we rolled into town. The first person we met was Aimee, who is my old partner Elise’s best friend from home. After being partners with Elise and sharing rooms with her for seven months, I have listened into and participated in several phone conversations with Aim, and have come to feel like I know her extremely well, despite never having met her in person.
Aim showed up to our event and immediately gave each of us a huge hug, as if we were reconnecting after years apart instead of meeting for the first time. After finally getting to see the contraption that her best friend has been driving around the country, she left, but not before inviting us to tag along on her plans for the week. Throughout our stay, Aimee took us to Axelrad, which is still my favorite bar from the road, and her weekly open mic night, and provided us with expert recommendations for things to do and see in Houston.
We also met Elise’s aunt, uncle and her baby cousin, Logan, when they came to our event at the Houston Arboretum. Again, despite never having met us before, they plopped Logan right into my arms without hesitation and hung out and talked with us for quite awhile. On our West Team, Elise saying, “Look at this picture of Logan!” followed by the three of us passing around her phone and laughing adoringly at whatever picture she received was somewhat of a daily ritual. In a weird way, Conner and I have sort of watched Logan grow up over the year from afar, so finally getting to meet this small celebrity brought us more joy than we could say, and definitely made our work day much better.
I of course can’t forget the Grovers themselves. In addition to taking us out to lunch and inviting us to their work, Mr. and Mrs. Grover had us over for dinner one night for Mrs. Grover’s famous spaghetti, extra-strong margaritas (they even gave us rides each way so we could fully enjoy these) and some hot-tubbing. We also got to meet Elise’s brothers, Ryan and Reece, who were the only two family members I had yet to meet. Eight months ago I didn’t even know the Grovers existed, yet there I was sitting on their couch, sipping margs and chatting with Reece about his latest acting gig and Mr. Grover about sports like I was a part of the family instead of just a guest. Like I said, it’s hard for me to fathom the kindness and generosity of people sometimes, but the Grovers accepted each one of us on the spot and made us feel like Houston was our home too.
We also checked out a lot of cool areas in Houston that are worth mentioning. For one, we were staying only two blocks away from the Galleria – the biggest mall I’ve ever seen besides the Mall of America. I spent entirely too much time and money at the Galleria, and justified it by telling myself it was for Spring Break – my vacation within my year-long vacation. I spent nearly every morning at a different coffee shop in Montrose – the hipster area of Houston – attempting to catch up on blogs (which clearly didn’t go very well). Last, but certainly not least, Houston was where I discovered my intense love for Smoothie King – a smoothie chain that is like Jamba Juice only infinitely better. I had never seen a Smoothie King before, and honestly I’d probably be better off if I never had – I’m completely addicted and haven’t been able to pass them up since.
There were a lot of reasons I decided to do a blog this year such as keeping my family and friends in the loop and showing future employers that I did a “project” of my own instead of just drive a peanut around and have a blast all year. Most importantly though, I did it so that I would always have it to look back on and remember this year. Each week on this job is so action-packed that I’ve already started to forget some things, and as I look back on past blogs, it strikes me that, much like this post, they’re all more focused on people rather than places or things that I saw. Traveling the country is awesome, but cheesy as it is, the people you do it with and those you meet along the way are definitely the most noteworthy things, which is why I think I’ve unintentionally centered these posts on the people I’ve met in every nook and cranny of this great country.