A Curious Loss of Caution

It was the most interesting feeling. We were pulling into a parking spot in a dimly lit parking garage in Anaheim, California. It was about noon on Thanksgiving Day, and we were headed to a WVU basketball game at the Anaheim Convention Center. As most of you know, that's the university located in the town where we used to live, and we were thrilled to actually attend two of their games last week.

All four of us in our family were wearing some sort of WVU apparel in order to properly cheer for our team. We got out of the car, stretching off the effects of the drive from Fresno, and started ambling toward the parking garage exit. Suddenly, up ahead of us between the next row of cars, we caught a glimpse of another person in gold and blue. Actually, it was a whole group of them. "Look!" we exclaimed. "We're not the only Mountaineers here after all!"

It was a whole group of Mountaineers, actually, and as we rounded the corner of a parked car and came into view, they responded with greetings as if we were the long lost relatives coming in for the Thanksgiving meal. "Hey! Let's go Mountaineers!"

The feeling grew as we exited the parking garage and headed toward the arena. Suddenly we were surrounded by Mountaineer fans - tens, and then hundreds of them as we went inside. We all kind of smiled at each other in appreciation, suddenly at home away from home. Once we sat down, the feeling continued. It was easy to make comments about the game to the strangers beside us, and conversations easily slipped into predictions for the WVU-football game the next day. We were all comfortable, and members of a common group - even though every one of them was a complete stranger.

I've experienced this phenomenon before, mainly during our years in Europe. It's amazing how finding another person from your "home group" seems to transcend any normal wariness one might normally feel among other strangers. Jason and I once shared a restaurant booth with another young American in Fussen, Germany many years ago, and I marveled at how we chatted our way through the meal as if we hadn't just met each other. Of course, there was that moment as he slipped his beer coaster into his jacket that I thought, "You know, this guy could be a fugitive from justice or something," but of course he was an American like we were, so all seemed well - at least in terms of sharing a dinner table.

Other times we heard stories of American backpackers joining up with other Americans that they met on trains - sharing youth hostel rooms and traveling together. Again, experiencing the sense that in an unknown world, meeting someone in your same "home group" seems to transcend what might otherwise be (wisely) shrouded with suspicion and caution in any other context (known to many young children as "stranger danger").

It is this same phenomenon that found me exchanging a casual chin lift/nod in appreciative "Yeah, I see you" mode with a rough-looking guy in Target last year who was also wearing a Steelers jersey the day before the Super Bowl. Granted, I wouldn't have gone anywhere with him, nor would I fling myself into a carload of fans of any of my favorite teams, but I might have pulled out my Terrible towel to show Target Steelers Fan, had I had it with me.

As for last Thursday and Friday, we melded happily into the group of Mountaineer fans at the basketball games. We didn't go off with any of them, nor did we loan them money or our Social Security cards, but we did enjoy - for a few hours - being in our instant "home group" away from home.

picture by elemess (Creative Commons License: Attribution, Non-Commercial)

jlockecz  – (30 November 2009 at 21:25)  

He didn't just slip his beer coaster under his shirt. He slipped his whole stein under his shirt. Quite the thief. We were both shocked. That was in Fussen, I believe.

Angel  – (1 December 2009 at 13:44)  

We were watching for you on the computer, but Matt never saw you. Cheers were going up here in NC though. Today I was eating at McD's and a cashier asked if I am from WV. I know I showed shock as I wondered how the way I was holding my fry could enlighten this woman to my heritage. Then I remembered I had on a WV Basketball t-shirt. She has family there and struck up a conversation. It certainly does make one feel at home.

Bob  – (3 December 2009 at 15:20)  

We once got excited when we saw a kid in some third-world country wearing a Texas Longhorn t-shirt. Turns out he had no idea what the shirt was about - it was just something to wear.

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