We just returned from the Christmas trek to Tennessee / Alabama, where we took part in what I refer to as the Biannual Festival of Awkward Small Talk (BFAST). Okay, so I’ve never really called it that until just now, but play along.
Before I tell you how BFAST works, I have to acknowledge that some of the people that participated in BFAST along with me are now readers of this blog. All of you hopefully know two things: (1) Uncle Danny loves you and (2) yes I’m outing our conversation on this post, but you know that everything I’m saying is true. You felt it, too.
To play BFAST, all you need is one or more people you haven’t seen since the last time you were back home, and anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. These people cannot be members of your immediate family, but they can be people with whom (a) you had a really good friendship with at one time, but (b) because you haven’t been around for the past eight years, the friendship has kind of lapsed, and (c) you don’t really have another default mechanism for conversation other than the BFAST.
I think this is really just a guy thing. Women don’t normally have the BFAST conversations. Merriem ran into one of her really good friends at Wal Mart, and they talked for somewhere around two presidential terms. I think they covered every detail of the last eight years.
So, on to the actual BFAST. This is the conversation that took place no less than 50 times when we were home. It happened at family get-togethers, at dinners out, and at Wal Mart. The first few times, you can really roll with the punches. You tell yourself, “Hey, it’s been six months since I’ve answered these questions. I can do this.” But somewhere along conversation #26 you begin to have an alternate soundtrack running in your head. The stock answers are popping of of your mouths, but your brain is going down a different track. Example:
Long-Lost Friend (LLF): Hey, I didn’t know you guys were in town!
What I Said (WIS): Yeah, we’re in for a few days for Christmas.
What I Was Thinking (WIWT): You’ve seen me here every Christmas for the past eight years. Did you expect me to drop everything and go to the Swiss Alps this year?
LLF: Wow, your kids are really growing.
WIS: Yeah, they sure are getting tall.
WIWT: It’s the darndest thing. We keep shoving sumatran coffee down their gullets hoping to stunt their growth, but it’s not taking.
LLF: So do you still like living in North Carolina?
WIS: Oh, it’s great. We like it fine.
WIWT: Yep, it sure beats being dead in North Carolina. (insert laugh track here)
(Awkward pause of about 15 seconds as we look around at the pictures on the wall / menu / endcap of closeout toys)
LLF: Well, it was good to see you.
WIS: Yeah, same here!
WIWT: You know what, it really was good to see you, too.
The takeaway? I wouldn’t trade any of these friendships for anything. But when we moved eight years ago and I said, “We’ll keep in touch,” I really wish I’d have done a better job of it. I walked away from all of these BFAST conversations wishing I had time to sit down at Starbucks and catch up on people’s lives: not the awkward, one-minute catch up, but a real, in-depth look at how people are doing, what’s changed in their lives, and what they’re going to be doing in ’09.
Ooops. But first my hometown has to build a Starbucks.
WIWT: This place REALLY needs a Starbucks.