by Carol St.Ann
Notes on a friendship
Begin the Beguine
Carol St. Ann
Approx 1,660 words
I came across this blog prompt, and couldn’t resist writing this detalied account of how my dear friend, Barbara Taylor, and I met online. (You know … posterity and all. Plus I truly enjoyed the reliving of it all.)
The prompt was: Tell us about a time you met someone after interacting with them by internet, phone or email. How did your mental picture/impressions of them compare to how they were in person?
This is a long, wonderful story in my life, but I shall try to give you the Reader's Digest Version, as they say.
Back in the summer of 2001, I spotted a commercial for an upcoming TV show in the fall line up, on an obscure channel called PAX. Having grown up on the Westerns of the 1960's, it caught my eye because it appeared there were cowboys. Further, it was called The Ponderosa, and was touted to be the prequel to the long running Bonanza series that introduced the world to Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Lorne Greene, among others. I had loved that show; indeed it'd been a staple of my childhood Sunday evenings along with The Ed Sullivan Show, Dennis the Menace, The Wonderful World of Disney, and Mister Ed!
What really caught my eye was that the lead actor in the show happened to be someone I knew from school days. I never hung out with him, as he was older, but he was from the neighborhood and I'd seen him around. So, of course it was a given I'd tune in. Having been distracted by the actor's face across my TV screen, I hadn't noticed the show's start date and ventured - for the first time ever - onto the Internet to find out. Up until then I'd only used my computer for recreational email swapping.
The Internet was a frightening world of unknown, but this issue brought purpose and goal, after all, so I trudged on - scared witless and sure I was going to break the confounded thing!
After a good amount of head scratching and whining, I can report that I had success and found the PAX Website. I searched the front page and clicked on the show, and, in an instant, changed my life in a most profound way.
Once inside, I came upon several options, one of which was called a Message Board. I had to Register in order to get to it, and I could leave a message if I wanted. This part took all day because I repeatedly clicked the wrong thing at that wrong time and had to start over. But I persevered. Looking back, I wonder if I had some sort of psychic inclination of the importance of this action. Normally, I'd have thrown up my hands in dismay and walked away from the computer. (I still do that more often than I care to admit.) On the other hand, the explanation for my determination could have been simpler than all that. I've always made every effort to see everything my Jersey actors do; it's just cool to see someone from my "neighborhood" headline a show. (Kind of validates my childhood dreams of similar greatness, if you get my drift. )
Finally, I entered the Message Board, timid as a child on the first day at a new school, and posted my inquiry about the start date. There were three other registered members there already, and all three answered in record time. September 7th (2001).
Damn! I was gong to be out of the country. I'd have to catch up later on. No worries; it was cable and they tend to re-run their shows to death. Meh, whaddayagonnado?
I arrived home on the afternoon of September 10, 2001. I guess I don't need to remind anyone that the next morning everything about all our lives changed forever.
The following days were filled with emotion more raw than I had ever experienced in life, and those emotions were all-consuming for weeks afterward.
To this day, I thank God for that show. It was an escape of the highest order. Not just because it was a Western; nor just because it took me back in time to a story and characters who meant so much to me in my childhood; more because there was this face from my childhood on the screen and I was thoroughly amused by all the females on the Message Board going absolutely nuts over him. It made me giggle and coo - and my happiness for him and for his fangirls, er, women overtook my fear and made it disappear - at least for all those moments watching and discussing the show.
I couldn't get enough of that website and those people. We laughed and cried and laughed until we cried. We critiqued the show and crushed on the actors and came up with plotlines and predicaments. Some of the women wrote truly exceptional fanfiction. Eventually, some of the show's extras and writers and other staff wandered into the Message Board and partook in our playtime, raising the degree of escapism to a whole new level.
I learned what LOL meant, and ROTFLMAO, and ASL, and BRB... Oh, I felt like a kid again, and the Internet was the backstreet that took me to the PAX neighborhood where my favorite playground was, and it was called The Ponderosa.
It wasn't long before the Message Board communication became too lame for us. Eventually, we discovered the. . . Chatroom. Holy cyber world, Batman! We'd crowd n there each week after the first airing of the new episode - all of us in there, talking, typing to one another - in real time. This blew my flipping mind. No. Really. It became an obsession. I'd be sitting there, staring at the screen, trying to keep up, and laughing myself stupid.
As with WDC, we all developed favorite folks with whom we spent most of our time and whose threads we wouldn't dream of missing. I became very close, in a cyber sort of way, with those three women who were there from the beginning. And another women whose writing was more than just responsive to other posts, but clearly crafted with great care and finesse. She and I paired off, as she felt the same toward mine. After a while our conversations ventured away from the show and onto other topics in which we had interests. Those friendships deepened and grew and attained new heights.
Sadly, the big Network competition that year was too great for this new little Western on an obscure cable channel. The parent company that produced the show went belly-up, and with only mediocre ratings, no one else picked it up. It was cancelled after only one season.
Those four friends and I stayed in touch through group emails, which, by the way, I thought one of the girls had invented. Ha! By then, I had learned so much about the Internet, I had already created my first website! Oh, the life changes that came from that show!
Two years passed, and our penpal friendships grew to adulthood. In all that time talking to one another, we had never shared where we lived or what our real names were.
Then one evening, I was in my website's chatroom, talking with the beautiful writer I'd met at the Ponderosa Message Board when she inadvertently allowed as to how she'd stopped at Skylands Botanical Gardens for a walk on her way home from work.
Well, folks, Skylands happens to be in New Jersey. "Oh my goodness! Skylands is a half hour from my house!" says I, with no small degree of hysteria, "Do you live in New Jersey?" I know it seems like a stupid question, but I was completely stunned at the thought.
"Yes!" she shrieked with equal enthusiasm. "You too? Are you kidding me?"
All that time, we were talking, thinking we were on opposite sides of the universe, we lived less than 20 minutes apart.
Immediately, we made plans to meet for brunch at a half-way-between Revolutionary War-time landmark restaurant for brunch on the following Sunday - for about 45 minutes to an hour and see how it goes. The rest of the week took 4 and a half years to go by! During that time, I tried on every outfit I owned and decided to give up and buy something new. (On Sunday, I chose jeans and a nice blouse I'd had for years! )
I arrived early and spoke to the maitre'd - purely to let him know I may be meeting an axe murderer and he was to protect me. No, really. I did do this. (And I have also done so on subsequent Internet meetings. - and I recommend anyone pondering this type of thing do the same.)
Barb was right on time. Yes, we had exchanged real names since we'd decided to take this monumental step and meet each other.
We air kissed when she arrived and went inside for 45 minutes to an hour. That was at 10 a.m.
At 10 p.m. while I was driving home, I knew I'd met someone very very special.
It was a wonderful day, indeed, the beginning of a beautiful friendship that endures to this day. Barb has become one of the most important people in my life, and I in hers. In fact, we're so much alike, and so much in sync, many of our other friends and family call us Lucy and Ethel.
If you're on my Facebook account, you'll frequently see us converse that way, and you too will meet Ethel, uh, I mean, Barb.
As to how she measured up to my impression of how she'd measure up, well, she far surpassed anything I could have thought or imagined. She's spectacular in every way, and I am honored she considers me something special, too.
Well... you asked!
(Psssst, I know you thought I was going to write about Diana Gabaldon. LOL Fooled ya! But I will give you a little tidbit. She was wonderful, too! )