I've written about this before. Apologies.
I had a nice trip a week or so ago that took me over to Cologne and from there for a short in-and-out to Romania. This was a charter, so it's kind of off the company's regular radar and a nice change of pace for we who are used to everything going off with clockwork regularity.
I don't get to Cologne (CGN) nearly enough, and I'm always struck by how civilized Germany seems to be. Everything is clean and picked-up and people are friendly; transportation is first-rate and food is excellent. It would be a great place to live, I think.
Across the road from our hotel is an open square about two football fields' worth in size. There are many such public places, especially in central CGN, but the one next to our hotel seems to be hosting some kind of shindig about 50% of the time. When I was there near the end of 2010, the square was full of holiday booths--a skating rink and places to stand by a fire and drink beer or hot wine and lots of shops selling little knick-knacks. (As it turns out, this square actually spills over to a series of other squares in sequence to form a famous holiday market.) Cheesy but delightful holiday music is piped all through the place and people were crowded all throughout, everyone having a jolly old time.
On this most recent visit, the chill of winter had passed and spring was in the air. And the square was now playing host to a wine festival, again with about 200 vendors selling all manner of wines, both local and more generally European. Live musicians strolled the massive crowds, and the restaurants which ring the square were all packed as well. Even when the square is not hosting a festival of some sort, the adjacent restaurants offer many hundreds of outdoor seats such that there is always a festival atmosphere for the place, in summer anyway.
I don't drink wine, and I'm not much for crowds. (I love the random crush of a busy city, but I really dislike going to mass events.) I especially have little patience--no, it's worse than that; I have an active dislike--for what happens to people as they drink and pass the one-too-many mark, and so most of these festivals are not things in which I would ever actively participate. But oddly, I love that others participate in them. I love the idea of people getting together to converse with friends over dinner and a glass of wine, and these things contribute to my sense of CGN as a vital social place. I always wander thru the festivals or at least around the perimeter to take in the scene.
On this last visit I flew with a captain who had become friendly over the years with several of the bar owners near the hotel, and for the first time in years I actually spent a few hours on a barstool while he schmoozed with his friends. I don't normally socialize with other crewmembers (as I've made laboriously clear, and for reasons I've also devoted too much time to) but this guy was very friendly and a lover of music (an automatic feather in anyone's cap) and spoke nary a political word the whole trip. I liked him more and more.
His bar friends were a couple of guys working at the local Irish pubs, guys with whom he had been swapping music files for years until everyone had massive libraries of new and old bands. And both guys were delightful conversationalists. I sat nursing my dreaded Coke Light (for which I was given shit constantly but gently) while the rest tried out this and that beer or spirit, and we swapped stories about our homelands and I listened to their tales of how Irish fellas end up working at foreign bars in a German city.
The point of all this is to note my sense of something being fucked up in my life that these kinds of social scenes occur all around me and I feel alienated from all of them. I don't think I am by nature an antisocial person--indeed, during my high school and college years I remember thinking it intolerable to have to spend time on my own; I HAD to be around family or friends. But I always felt that my inability to be happy with my own company was a character flaw. As I became more and more involved with classical music--something which was necessarily a solitary endeavor--I spent more and more time on my own. And then finally I ended up at a job where I simply don't enjoy the company of most of my coworkers, which has led me to PREFER to spend my time alone. And the years pass and suddenly I find myself gone 180° from socialite to a bit of a hermit.
As I say, I've lamented this before, talking about living now for a dozen years in Appleton and not really having any social friends not connected through Susan (I've met plenty of people I like, but there's nobody I hang out with when Susan is working). I happily spend my days off with her, and if she's busy I spend my time alone. Seeing the vibrant social world taking place in CGN makes me wonder anew at this almost complete lifestyle shift I seem to have experienced. I'm inclined to blame much of this on the extreme nature of my coworkers (I had a more active social life even at previous airline jobs where a much broader array of personality types were ready to hand, including flight attendants and station agents, few of whom were of the type that almost universally populates the cockpit of my present job), but even to me this sounds a bit specious.
I remember several earlier jobs--bartending, or my earlier airline jobs--where my coworkers were a bit slow to warm to me but eventually we all came to embrace and appreciate each other. But while I rarely if ever actively clash with my current coworkers, I think we get to know each other enough to know that we're each not the other fella's cup of tea, and so our relationship becomes a professional one where we cordially do our jobs together and flee to our separate corners when we leave the cockpit.
And so far as it goes, I'm not unhappy with this arrangement. But another part of me wonders what is wrong with me that I haven't cultivated any kind of a social life in the city to which I've devoted a quarter of my life. I have a couple friends from my flying years with whom I am in regular contact (though only one lives in my home town and our lives have little connection now), and otherwise I cultivate my two closest friends from before high school.