I’ve been thinking a lot about friends recently. Not the ones on Facebook. Those are not friends. I suppose they could be, but let’s be honest- the concept of “friend” has taken a pretty strong turn in recent years. I might argue that concept has taken an absolute beating. I am talking about the real kind of friend. I’m lucky to have a couple of those, and I think for no other reason than conversations and thoughts I have had in the past few weeks have led me to realize the depth of these relationships and ultimately the absolute need for them. To let these people know how much I appreciate them and to thank them for the years of “service” if you will I am going to write a quick note to them and about them and hopefully let you all in on a little secret- you need a friend. Maybe in the process you fine people will be encouraged to reach out to an old friend or find a new one- someone to share life and adventures with. So, here’s friend 1 (these are in no particular order.)
It was one of those things. I got talked into some retreat-y thing towards the end of my high school life and I wasn’t terribly excited about it- I didn’t know a ton of people going but being the ridiculously extroverted weirdo that I am, I probably saw that as a challenge. Plus, I heard there was a skit competition. I cant remember much of the weekend, but I remember a moment where I met a guy. I rode the school bus to this event and it was pretty horrible. It was a far ride and, well, school bus. Upon unloading from the bus, I remember standing there and wondering what I had gotten myself into when in the distance I saw some headlights coming towards the bus at probably an unsafe speed. The lights zoomed into a parking spot and screeched to a halt and behold- an older but still very sexy, black, tinted out Audi. It was sharp-like the Knight Rider of Germany. Whoever this was driving was on a mission and clearly knew how to make an entrance. Out popped a skinny white dude with cool hair and enough moxy for anyone to know, this guy- he was headed places. Smooth, confident, and quickly capturing the attention of any lady within a 3 mile radius, up strutted Greg. Like I said, I don’t remember our interactions that weekend and I don’t even remember the skit competition, but Greg and I connected. I rode back home in the German Knight Rider with Greg and we made it home in record time, because, this kid could drive. He was like a wheelman. When we arrived back in our area, Greg wanted to do something fun. I didn’t know what that meant, but he had an idea. We drove to a local shopping center and parked outside a Petco. I wasn’t sure what type of fun one could have in a Petco parking lot, but- Greg somehow did. He opened his moonroof. He then (as if this was planned) reached into his backseat and procured a megaphone.
Greg came prepared. We sat for 20 or so minutes advertising made up deals on pooper scoopers to passing customers while using mostly terrible accents. It was like one of those hidden camera shows minus the hidden cameras and probably lacking in comedy. We had fun. Greg and I continued to develop our friendship- we got together and “jammed” which consisted of trying to play one Weezer song and then sitting and talking for a long time about all manner of things-God, life, music, etc- followed by writing a song about poop, complete with harmonies and only using the lyric “poop.” (It even had this sick acoustic metal kind of breakdown chorus where we sang “POOP-POOP-POOP-POOP” in a low, gutteral tone. Watch out Taylor Swift.We comin.) I think we might have even performed “Poop” at an open mic.
Our friendship grew, but like the first time Greg zoomed up- he was on the move. He was headed places. Always out in front, ahead of the curve, on to the next thing, the next adventure. I remember at one point Greg was living in some slum-like house in Oakland (the section of Pittsburgh where the University of Pittsburgh is) and I went to hang out with him to find him living/working in a dark basement. He was excitedly showing me some new technology he was working on programming on his computer called “flash” and he was talking about how it was going to change all sorts of stuff on the internet and I was like, “Um, ok. Cool man. Can we go eat?”
Greg left Pittsburgh soon. Then came back, then left, then….like I said, Greg was on the move. His creative nature and need for something new drove him, adventure called him. In this adventuring he met a young lady who turned out to be as adventurous and creative and amazing as he was but who also provided that balance, that steady presence that adventurers need. Jannelle and Greg got married. I remember when he called me (I cant remember where they were living at this point, because, adventure!) and told me they were expecting their first child. I thought, “well, that’ll slow them down!” It didnt. They continued adventuring, but now they were creating. Jannelle is the most unbelievable photographer I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t take pictures, she tells stories. It’s an art that very few, in an age of pocket cameras, know, honor and practice. (Check it.) Greg continued adventuring, working for companies, creating things- content, brand strategies and the like, essentially coming up with new ideas. Greg has launched ideas and businesses that have not worked. “Geez Jonathan, why would you mention that?” Because. I am honored to know someone with the balls to “fail.” No one sets out to fail, but most are even unwilling for that to be an option.”Safety” is tantamount. People who are willing to fail and carry on, those people change the world. “Failures” are only that if you call it that. A better word is “lesson.” People who change the world understand lessons and therefore don’t ever actually fail, they simply carry on.
Greg, Jannelle and their two beautiful children live in Denver, Colorado now. Greg started a company creating web content and it’s amazing. (Check it. Then, hire him.) He still has so many dreams and ideas it can be overwhelming to talk to him. But, quickly, that overwhelming gets pushed out of the way by the reality of being inspired. I was recently in Denver and we got to hang out. I’ve been lucky to be able to catch up with him from time to time over the years. We, as usual, did dumb things- like try on cowboy hats in a questionable souvenir shop.
We drank margaritas and ate tacos, from the street (Greg assured me “street tacos” did not contain cigarette butts and pigeon feathers. They didn’t. They were actually the best tacos I’ve ever had.) We drove around and talked as if there weren’t a couple thousand miles and a bunch of time between our last in person conversation and this one. He told me what he was dreaming, how he felt about stuff and asked for my thoughts. We listened to each other, laughed and it was- it was what friendship should be. Real. Honest. Vulnerable. He told me I said something to him the last time he left Pittsburgh, when many were questioning if he was running away. Apparently, I said, “Greg- you’re going to be you wherever you are.” He has. He wasn’t running away. He was running ahead. It’s what visionaries and dreamers do.
Being one who blazes trails, who runs ahead of the pack and senses the future can be an awfully lonely thing. It can be dark. Scary. But, people like Greg and Jannelle- they’re turning the lights on for the rest of us. Sending us a message from the a future world, “THERE’S GOOD STUFF HERE! COME ON!” I love you, man. Thank you for showing me how to run and not being afraid of the doubters, even in the midst of doubt. Please don’t stop dreaming, chasing, and moving ahead of the pack. You and Jannelle are creating the future. You are raising children (really well!) who are going to launch off of your giant shoulders and extend the trails you’ve been hacking away at clearing. People will look back and know they are where they are because the Althoffs went before them. Thank you for being my friend and for everyday striving to be the person you were created to be.