From the time we are toddlers we are told not to talk to people we don’t know. The internet has opened up a whole new world of virtual strangers to us. Chatting on-line is just the technological equivalent of talking to a stranger who is waving a lollipop at you from inside a van with dark windows. The essence of blogging is communicating with people that you don’t know and may never meet, yet somehow you feel as if you know them from their writing or comments. Of course, there are frequent news reports about people who had these same thoughts right before their real life encounters with internet strangers came to a tragic end.
I had this in mind as I opened an e-mail from Ronnie of Morristown Memos. She seemed friendly in an e-mail that started off with “You should never meet anyone you’ve met on the internet, but would you like to meet me and Lisa from Main Street Musings for lunch?” To sweeten the deal, she offered to let me pick the restaurant and bring Oregano or Bruschetta with me as back-up. Since the fall, I’ve enjoyed reading their blogs and sharing comments with them. When I realized that they didn’t live far from me, I secretly hoped that I would someday meet them. I was glad that Ronnie was adventurous enough to reach out to me and I happily accepted her invitation.
When I told my friends and family about our upcoming lunch date there was unanimous disapproval and concern.
“There’s two of them and one of you. They could overpower you,” said some friends.
“I’m 4’11”. A fourth grader could overpower me. Besides what would they do with me once they’ve overpowered me?” I asked.
“They could put chloroform on a napkin and hold it over your face. When you’re unconscious, they could dump you in the trunk of their car,” added another friend.
“How exactly does one procure chloroform?” I countered.
“They don’t need chloroform. They could spike your iced tea at lunch and then drag your lifeless body out to the parking lot and stuff it in the trunk of the car.”
“Don’t you think someone in the restaurant would notice two women dragging a lifeless body out the door?” I reasoned.
I was fairly certain that these things wouldn’t happen. It seemed like a very involved scheme to kidnap a 40-something woman whose husband and parents may or may not be willing to pay a ransom for her return. If they were in this for the money, I was definitely not a financial sure-thing. When Oregano finally realized that I had my mind set on meeting these ladies his parting words to me were, “Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and keep it on so that we can track your body if you don’t come home later.”
I’m a worrier, but I’d like to think of myself as an optimistic worrier. I think about all the things that can go wrong, but hope that they won’t. As the day of our blind date approached I felt excitement tinged with trepidation. Aside from the ridiculous kidnap scenarios my friends and family had laid out for me, I had more practical concerns. Would they like me? Would we get along as well in reality as we do in the virtual world? Or, would this be so awkward that I’d have to fake a trip to the ladies’ room and make a break for it?
On the morning of our lunch date, I checked my e-mail and saw that Ronnie had written a post called “FORBIDDEN RENDEZVOUS.” After reading her post I realized that we shared the same concerns, although she had one distinct disadvantage; she didn’t know my real identity. She asked her readers to leave comments about what they thought of her meeting with the mystery woman. It was laughable to read their comments and concerns and know it was me they were talking about.
When I arrived at the restaurant there was only one other car in a parking lot with so many potholes it looked like it had recently been used as a missile testing site. As I walked up to the building to wait for them, I realized that this might look like I lured them to an abandoned restaurant to throw them into the trunk of my car. I knew I wasn’t a crazy killer, but they didn’t know that yet.
I waited anxiously in the lobby for them to arrive. Every time I heard a car pull into the lot I would stand up and look out the window to catch a glimpse of them. I was sure I would recognize Lisa from the photo on her blog, but I had no idea what Ronnie would look like. The moment I saw Lisa’s curls bouncing through the door I knew it was them and they recognized me. We greeted each other with warm hugs and smiles as if we were friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time instead of strangers who had never met before. To prove it was me, I reached into my purse and pulled out the vintage paprika spice tin I use as my gravatar then I revealed my true identity.
The time we spent chatting flew by. We shared our experiences about blogging, discussed ideas for writing and talked about our lives. Many people complain that spending too much time in the virtual world and not enough face to face time in the real world is causing people to lose their social skills. I’m happy that two virtual strangers stepped into reality to materialize into new friends.