If you have been reading my blogs, you know that I have a best friend, Deb. What you don't know is the story of how we met. In what was one of the biggest Divine Breadcrumbs of my life, Deb and I met at a small family-owned company in the late 90s. Deb was a full-time employee for this company for only 3 months and worked in a different department. The chance of us forging what is now a 20-year friendship would have seemed unlikely at best. Ah, but that's the magic of Divine Breadcrumbs!
It was 1998. Google was just getting off the ground, the US announced the first budget surplus in 30 years and Friends was the show to watch. I was happy and my life was on the uptick. I was raising my daughter as a single mother, but for the first time in a long time, I was content. I was working as an Account Coordinator at a print & mail company. Not exactly my dream job, but it afforded me the financial freedom I hadn't experienced in a long time. Although the company was relatively small, they had a good reputation and some big-name clients. There was a huge effort on the part of leadership to have the employees trained on all the Microsoft products. Cue Deb. Deb was brought on to be an on-site trainer. Looking back, it's hard to imagine being excited to learn about voting buttons in Outlook, but back then it was all new and we were all truly excited.
We were trained in small groups of maybe 8 to 10 people. The first training was on Outlook. Deb was pleasant, engaging, and extremely patient. I had always shied away from technology. Even today, getting used to a new version of Excel and Word takes me an inordinate amount of time. But I felt my confidence surge as I created a mock voting scenario using the voting buttons. I couldn't wait to use them. I imagined myself sending lunch invitations and using the voting buttons to determine the restaurant. Not what leadership had in mind, I'm sure. Deb gave us additional exercises and every once in awhile I could hear her say to someone "You want to click the right mouse button… the RIGHT mouse button… no the other button." She had the patience of a saint.
After everyone had been trained, the company didn't seem to know what to do with Deb. Here she had this broad technical skillset, but they weren't utilizing her talents. She continually offered help, but for weeks there was nothing. Deb once told me that she was so bored during this time, she would literally sharpen pencils and take several trips to the ladies' room to get away from her desk and make the time pass. Eventually it was decided that she would support client work. At the time, I was supporting a large financial account. Deb was asked to help my team in developing custom reporting for the client. Deb and I and the Account Manager would sit in the cafeteria to discuss the reporting requirements. During these meetings, although we did discuss work, there was also a lot of laughing going on among the 3 of us. Every once in awhile Deb would come upstairs to ask a quick question or show us what she was working on (another getting-away-from-her-desk tactic).
At some point, Deb and I started taking our breaks together (yes, this was back when even salaried employees took coffee breaks). Before going any further, I feel compelled to give a little background on the "coffee" that was provided, free of charge, to the employees. It was coffee only in the academic sense. It was a liquid, it was dark brown and it was hot. That's where any similarity to coffee ended. In actuality, it was made from frozen blocks of coffee-flavored syrup. The block was placed in a "coffee" machine which mixed it with hot water. We would then place a small Styrofoam cup under the spout, push a button, and voila! I wish I could describe the taste, but there is nothing on God's green Earth that I can compare it to. It was foul. Yet, it's all we had. Foul or not, we drank it every day. My liver must have hated me. Deb and I still laugh about how our friendship developed over drinking copious amounts of brown goo.
It didn't take long before Deb decided it was not worth her while to remain as a full-time employee. She agreed to a contract position in which she did most of her work remotely. I was sad to lose my "coffee" break partner, but we continued to work on projects together. We started getting together during my lunch break. Outside the office, we had the ability to talk more openly and learned more about each other's personal lives. It was at this time a real friendship developed. Eventually Deb broke ties with the company all together, but the lunches continued. She was there for me in 1999 when I started a new relationship, and she was there in 2001 when the relationship ended. I can't even imagine how annoying I must have been during that time. There were constant break-ups and make-ups, lot of tears, and many hours of Deb trying to talk me off the ledge. I'll say it again — patience of a saint.
It was also in 2001 when we decided to take a girls' trip to Bermuda. This was in May of 2001, before the world changed forever. I was so excited! I hadn't been on a real vacation since I was in college. It was fairly spur of the moment and the trip was quick, only 4 days. We left for the airport at some ungodly hour, I think around 3:00 am. By the time we got to the hotel, we were punchy and starving. Lucky for us, we made it just in time for "afternoon tea" which happened to include the best ham salad sandwiches (cut into triangles with the crusts cut off) that I had ever had. Maybe they weren't that great, but that's how I remember them. The resort was all-inclusive. We were very excited when we saw the menu for that night's dinner buffet. Needless to say, food was, and is very important to us. We made the trek to our room. The buildings were charming and the carefully manicured grounds, beautiful.
I wish I could remember what our room looked like. I do remember being extremely happy to kick off my shoes and flop on my bed. The front desk had given us a map and some other information to assist us during our stay. As I stared up at the ceiling, grateful to lie down, Deb started reading aloud from the document listing the hotel "rules." "No shorts, no sleeveless shirts, no bathing suits, no flip flops… in the main dining room." We looked at each other nervously. "What did you bring to wear?" she asked me. "Pretty much everything on that list" I said. Deb nodded "me too." Apparently, we had not gotten the memo. We collapsed into a fit of giggles, declaring that we were going to challenge the rules and be totally inappropriate. We were just too tired to care. Being "inappropriate" became the theme for the trip. I put the word in quotes as we are two of the least likely people to buck any system.
When dinner-time rolled around we donned our inappropriate attire, and headed to the dining room. Much to our relief, most people were dressed just like us. In fact, there was a large group of college girls (who we later dubbed the "snobby girls") who made our attire look downright matronly. We feigned indignation at their spaghetti straps and cropped shirts. My visions of getting escorted out by the inappropriate-dress police quickly evaporated. The food looked incredible and the choices seemed endless. We filled our plates with fresh fish, roasted vegetables and various salads. There was "elevator music" playing in the background. We almost choked on our mahi-mahi when the opening theme from "Days of Our Lives" started to play. It was a perfect first night and we cracked up all through dinner.
By the time we left the dining room, we were beat. It was only 7:00 pm, but having been up since 3:00 a.m., it might as well have been midnight. We went back to the room and got ready for bed. We decided to watch a little tv before going to sleep even though we were both exhausted. We reasoned that we couldn't possibly justify going to sleep at 7:30 when we were in this beautiful hotel in Bermuda. No, that would have been ridiculous! So, instead we watched re-runs of Friends. That seemed way less ridiculous. If hashtags had existed back then this would have been an #epicfail.
The next morning, we decided to take a bus into town. The hotel had its own bus stop. The cutest pink bus pulled up to the curb. The driver (and the passengers!) all belted out a hearty "Good morning!" We marveled at how friendly people were. We happily said "Good morning" and took our seats. If you have never been to Bermuda, the bus rides can be a bit scary. The roads are extremely narrow and the buses go fast, whipping around corners, hitting low-hanging tree branches. I closed my eyes several times. At each stop, as more people got on, we'd join the collective "Good morning!" More giggling ensued. We had a great day exploring, but felt that it was probably best to get back to the hotel in time for the ham-salad sandwiches. After all, they were paid for.
Later we went to the pool. We both sat on the edge with our feet in the water. Off to our right we could hear a man bellowing "I'm tall and I've always benefited from being tall. I need a woman who takes care of herself. I don't want to see cellulite." Deb and I looked at each other. "Uck", I said under my breath. I glanced over my shoulder to see an oiled up middle-aged man on a lounge chair talking to one of the "snobby girls." Deb and I burst out laughing. This is how the entire trip went — laughing over the silliest things. It was in these moments that are friendship was solidified.
Over the last 20 years Deb and I have supported each other in times of crisis and celebrated each other in times of triumph. We have taken amazing vacations and have amassed hundreds of great memories. But it was the times drinking fake coffee in 1998 that started it all. Who knew that you could meet a best friend in your thirties? Now in our fifties, we laugh just as much. What makes a friendship last? I'm no expert, but I can tell you this: don't lose your silly side. Loyalty, patience, being present… these are all important. But the ability to revert back to your 12-year-old self and giggle until the tears roll down your cheeks — that is the magic ingredient. It's the glue that trumps the brown goo life may throw at you. And if all else fails, watch a few re-runs of Friends.