The friends reunion

Arnie Weissmann

Fana World Travel of Jersey City, N.J., quickly jumped on the hoopla surrounding the reunion of the stars of the ’90s sitcom “Friends” and began promoting a Cruise With Friends Fans at Sea, departing next spring on the Celebrity Equinox.

In doing so, it joins the subgenre of cruises for fans of specific television shows, following in the footsteps of a “Golden Girls” cruise, a “Star Trek” cruise, a “Soul Train” cruise and a “Walking Dead” cruise (aboard the Flying Dutchman?).

Selling groups can be quite lucrative because there are an endless number of things for which people show enthusiasm. There are cruises specifically for fans of Jimmy Sturr, who has won the Grammy for Best Polka Album 18 times. There are cruises featuring retired baseball players and active wrestlers. For scrapbookers (“Cruise and Crop”). Cat lovers. Crocheters (aka “the happy hookers”).

I envy those for whom sharing a single point in common is a reason to travel together. It has never been a draw for me. I have many strong interests, and I’m a people person, but the biggest group I ever think about traveling with for any length of time is my immediate family.

It’s not a result of pandemic-induced fear of contagion. Rather, the last time my wife and I traveled with another couple, it almost killed our friendship with them. 

My wife was pregnant at the time, and we were actually planning on naming our child the same name as one of our traveling companions. By the time the trip was over, we tossed that name from consideration.

The friendship did revive, but it took about a year and a half for us all to recover. Since then, I’ve shied from traveling with friends precisely (and ironically) because of how highly I value them as friends.

I understand that the conflicts that may arise when people travel together can be traced to nothing more sinister than understandable differences in travel styles. Some like to get up early and get going, others like to sleep in. Some like to plan every detail, others value serendipity. Some want to splurge on meals, others watch their pennies carefully. No right or wrong here; it’s just that there are a thousand ways in which people who love each other but don’t live together can drive one another crazy.

So, when I think of the ways the pandemic has changed travel for me, I cannot help noticing that I have already planned three trips with friends for 2021. 

The first is coming up this weekend: One of my wife’s college friends invited us to join her and her children for a week — a full week! — in Mexico. A sign of my apprehension is that I am not undertaking this trip as a vacation. During the day, I will work as I have for the past 15 months — remotely — but at a resort in Sayulita instead of at my dining room table. My wife and the (collectively) four sons will surf, snorkel and otherwise enjoy time together. I will join them for dinner.

I think this is doable.

In fact, this is my practice run. The next big trip is a reunion of fellow alumni who, like me, once worked together on our campus newspaper. It’s over a long weekend, and I rationalize that it’s a large enough group that I’ll be able to move among them a bit; if someone, for a perfectly innocuous reason, begins to get on my nerves (or, as likely, I get on theirs), I can move on to someone else I haven’t seen in decades and who has forgotten my personality quirks, as I have forgotten theirs.

The final trip with friends on the agenda, at least so far, is the most fraught: Eight days with nine people from my college dorm. I hadn’t seen them for decades, but we had reunited at a memorial service for a common friend toward the end of 2019, which led to monthly Zooms, during which the idea of renting a house together in Santa Fe, N.M., came up. The next thing I knew, we were all putting down a deposit.

What is it about the pandemic that led to this, to an abandonment of lessons I thought I’d learned? The answer, I think, is that we cannot live by Zoom alone. We really, really miss human contact. After being isolated, we value those points we have in common more than worrying about what we might miss by getting up early or sleeping in, planning in detail (or not) and having a meal that might not have been exactly as we would have chosen it.

I don’t know if what I’m experiencing this year is being commonly felt, but I think it’s no accident that “Friends: The Reunion” is occurring as the pandemic ends. It’s exactly what we missed. 

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