My first Oktoberfest lasted less than 24 hours, but it is one I'm never going to forget.
It is no secret that we all have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. Most of us can’t live without it. Many of us waste way too much time on it.
The truth is, Facebook is here to stay, and it doesn’t care about your opinions, political or otherwise.
Enter However, if you are able to cut through all the BS that Facebook comes with, you can use it for the one thing it does best:
Finding an old friend at Oktoberfest
I arrived in Orange, CA on October 19, 1988. At least that’s what my passport stamp says. Unbeknownst to me, it was the day after my 10th birthday. Back in Taiwan those days, my family only celebrated lunar calendar birthdays, so this day felt like any other day.
You know, other than the fact that my brother and I moved to a new country and all, after not seeing our parents for 5 years.
I was in 5th grade. My brother was in 3rd grade.
The visa process took longer than expected, so school had already started by then. We immediately enrolled at La Veta Elementary without speaking a lick of English.
It made absolutely zero sense for us to be in the same classroom as the American kids, but ESL wouldn’t be a thing until the next year, so that was that.
I don’t remember much about the 5th grade. But I do recall sitting in the back of the classroom, killing time while Mr. Eatman taught the rest of the students. He would assign me word searches to keep me occupied. All of my report cards would say C.
I also don’t remember how Chris befriended me. But somehow he was able to communicate with me while most other kids tried to avoid me.
Soon after, we were hanging out, going over to each other’s houses after school.
He even has a bite mark from my dog for his troubles.
If you asked me today, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the exact house he lived in, but I would be able to get you pretty darn close.
Once we both turned 16, Chris got his hands on a beat-up Jeep. A stick shift. He’d let me drive it and teach me how to use the clutch.
I never got very good at driving a stick, and in fact failed miserably while trying to drive my college roommate’s Honda Prelude almost 20 years ago. But I credit Chris for giving me those early lessons.
To hear Chris tell his story now seems surreal
Chris disappeared after junior year of high school. His parents were involved in a bitter divorce that divided his whole family, and he ran away to live with a friend’s family.
He dropped out of high school and ended up attending the “drop out high school”, reserved for the worst kids that got in trouble or didn’t fit in.
He was a smart kid. He was just caught in a bad situation.
Fortunately, he had the wherewithal to get his GED, which led him to attend the local community college. It was there that he renewed his interest in learning.
He did so well, he ended up receiving scholarships to attend UCLA.
A few short years later, he earned a bachelors degree in electrical engineering, and he went on to finish his masters degree in one year, just because he could.
Nine years ago, while taking a year off to travel the world, he decided to stay in Germany. He put down roots in Munich, found a job as a satellite engineer, made friends, and started learning German.
Nine years ago, he couldn’t speak a lick of German. Today, he is conversational in not only social settings, but in engineering language.
Adventuring is one of his favorite hobbies. Things like rock climbing, cross county skiing, mountain biking. Things that usually scare the crap out of me.
Apparently, skiing is popular in Germany.
During his first winter, his new friends all went up on the slopes. Determined not to be left behind again, he bought a pair of skis the following winter and rolled downhill until he got the hang of it.
Now he can ski cross country, through trees and everything.
Four years ago, he went mountain climbing with a buddy of his. He either fell on a rock or a rock fell on him, but either way, he broke both of his legs in one shot, and was only a few feet away from dangling off the edge of a cliff. He had to wait overnight before a rescue helicopter could reach him.
The result of this traumatic experience was complete atrophy of his leg muscles and 2 months in a wheelchair.
I asked him if the accident made him want to quit climbing. He said that as soon as he healed up and got his strength back, he was back in the mountains.
I guess that answers my question.
Currently, he owns 4 bicycles and rides one to work every single day, 27 kilometers each way. He has never owned a car while living in Munich, and he prefers it that way.
He recently broke up with a long term German girlfriend, and his work contract is expiring next year. Being newly single, if his contract doesn’t get renewed, he might find himself moving back to the US.
But overall, he is happy living in Germany. He has made a bunch of great friends. When the time comes to make a decision, it would be hard pressed for him to leave them.
And if you’re wondering about his divided family, I’m happy to report that he has re-established harmonious relationships with both of his parents, who are happily remarried to new partners.
The Power of Facebook
So how did we end up getting back in touch in the first place?
When Chris disappeared, I was going through my own teenage emotions with my own family. I had completely forgotten about him.
Sometime around 2010, I woke up one day and suddenly wondered where Chris was. I hadn’t seen him in 15 years, and I was curious whatever happened to him.
Facebook was still relatively new. I figured I’d type in his name and see if anything popped up.
Lo and behold, it did. In Germany.
I added Chris as a friend, and we started to reconnect.
Two years later, he was in California visiting a dying aunt. He got some of his UCLA friends together for dinner, and I tagged along. It was tough to hold a conversation in that setting, but I was happy to see him.
When he found out I was spending a few months in neighboring Poland, he insisted that I visit him for Oktoberfest.
Even though scheduling the trip was a logistical nightmare, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see him.
And besides, having the chance to finally experience Oktoberfest first-hand was an alluring proposition, indeed.
My girlfriend Joanna and I proceeded to borrow her mom’s car, a stick shift, and hit the road.
Over the course of 24 short hours, Chris and I talked, laughed, reminisced, and drank way too much beer.
We got angry at a drunk guy for spilling my beer all over Joanna’s dress. We shrugged it off when we realized that I didn’t really need that last beer, anyway.
And we surprised ourselves on how much we’ve both grown.
I was surprised at how tall he was.
But everything felt…familiar. We were simply childhood friends getting together for a few beers.
Over 24 short hours, not only would I get to experience my very first Oktoberfest, I would finally get to catch up with my first American friend, one-on-one, for the first time in 22 years.
And I’m sure it won’t be the last.
And I only have Facebook to thank for this wonderful experience.
Until next time,