At 5:55 a.m. Denver is dark and fairly quiet as Syd and I have an excited conversation about new movies we’ve seen as we speed along I-70 on our way to the airport.
Only one of us has to be awake right now—me, the guy who’s on an early flight. And we have a convenient light rail system that would get me to the airport almost as quickly, but Syd insisted.
In the seven years I’ve known Syd and we’ve lived in the same city, the ride to the airport has become one of the big favors we do each other. The conversation is the same every time: One of us discovers the other one is going somewhere, pries for flight info, then insists on picking the other one up. The other person tries to decline the offer, No, no, it’s way too early for you to get up, or you’ll hit traffic on the way back from DIA and get stuck. The other person insists, and then wins. And then we do this same thing, where we talk on the way to the airport. I’ve been on the driving end half the time, picking Syd and Debi up way too early in the morning to get them somewhere.
This is not a unique favor in our relationship. We help each other move couches, loan and borrow cars and outdoor gear, pick up the check at breakfast, pay for movie tickets. Sometimes I think our entire relationship is a never-ending contest to see who can be nicer to the other person. Favors, I think, are the currency of friendship.
I used to joke that I could truly call someone a friend when I knew I could borrow $300 from them. That’s a big ask, and easy to keep track of: You give me $300, I pay you back $300 when I get it. But as I’ve gotten older (and thankfully a little more financially stable), friends are the people who offer couches, guest bedrooms, and coffee when I’m in town; share books and outdoor gear; and don’t sweat splitting the check when we get lunch together (because there will be a next time soon). I aspire to be one of those friends I have who send cards to each other (working on it!).
If you’re lucky, you have a handful of friends who can be there for you for the big things in life: climbing mountains with you or digging you out of an avalanche, standing up with you at your wedding, celebrating with you when you get a new job, or patiently listening after a breakup or a layoff. But maybe even more important is being there for the small things, like helping hang cabinet doors, loaning bicycles, and giving rides to the airport.
This April, when Denver’s light rail line to the airport opened, we joked that we were gaining convenience but losing one of the ways we liked to help each other. I used the light rail a dozen times last year, believing I was fully converted. But then I fell into the trap again, in a visit to Syd’s apartment that was fairly telling of our friendship: I was dropping off an EZ-up tent we’d borrowed for an ultramarathon race a few months back, as well as a discounted ski helmet I’d bought for Syd, and picking up the key to Syd’s apartment to stay there when I visited the east coast next week. And then it started, like it has so many times before.
“Wednesday? What time is your flight?”
“Nah, nah, it’s too early, I have to be there at 6:30. I’ll just take an Uber to the train.”
“Come on, let me take you to the airport …”