My friend Nick and I meet every week, or every few weeks, at a different diner in Denver, lock our bicycles to a street sign, walk in and order breakfast, and we talk about things: business ideas, our changing city, the exact definition of a bro, other new restaurants that have better food than the one where we’re currently eating, and how the current diner rates on three categories: food, ambience, and service.
We are almost halfway through a list of a dozen diners in Denver, 0 percent of them hip, none of them popular weekend brunch spots, and usually never more than about 30 percent full while we’re eating breakfast there.
Nick and I met about eight years ago riding bicycles in central Denver, and you could probably say we don’t have a ton in common on the surface: He owns a brewery and I don’t drink. He loves metal and I love old hip hop. He dresses like someone who loves metal and I dress like someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. He has a strong beard and I can’t grow a beard to save my life. But we have committed to visiting all these diners, for no really good reason. It’s not the food, I said to Nick at the last one, the legendary Tom’s Diner on Colfax (Food: 7, Ambience: 9, Service: 9).
“What is the point, then?” Nick asked.
Friendship, as I have come to define it, is based on conversations. If we like each other, it’s because we can sustain a conversation for an hour or longer every time we get together, and when we part ways, we are both at least slightly richer in some way. Where the conversation happens isn’t really important—during a hike, on the drive to and from mountain biking, on adjacent barstools, over an expensive dinner or $3.50 breakfast burrito, over a cup of coffee—or, as Will put it in Good Will Hunting a long time ago: “Or maybe we could get together and just eat a bunch of caramels. When you think about it, it’s just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.”
I also believe that distinctive memories form the chapters of the story of a friendship, and those often start with “wouldn’t it be fun if we …” and hopefully are mentioned years later with “remember that time when we …” If you’re going to be there for each other during the bad times (which are hopefully few) and the Saturdays moving furniture into each other’s houses, you should make an effort to stack up some legitimately fun adventures to balance those out. No matter how contrived those adventures are.
Several years ago, I interviewed a bunch of people who identified as “highpointers”—mostly people who actively tried to summit the highest point in as many of the U.S. states as possible. Plenty of the high points are legitimate hiking or mountaineering challenges (such as Denali, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier), and the high points of the flatter states are borderline comical (like Florida’s 340-foot Britton Hill, just off County Road 285). Overall, you’d have to admit it sounds like a pretty curious hobby.
But in interviewing the folks who had a dozen or more highpoints checked off their tick lists, I heard something that stuck with me. I have long lost my notes and forgot who said it, but they said something like, “It’s not about a list. It’s about the experiences. The list just gets you out there.”
In the years since that interview, I’ve found a lot of joy in doing contrived things with my friends, adventures we just make up for something to do as an excuse to hang out—a traverse of a series of peaks, a 20-plus-mile run between half a dozen restaurants, a line on a map that’s almost meaningless besides the fact it’s what we’re doing Saturday. Earlier this summer, Nick and I and two other friends met way out in Aurora at 3:45 a.m. to bicycle the entire 26-mile length of Colfax Avenue in the dark, after traffic from Saturday night partying had died down and before Sunday traffic had begun. A few weeks later, we pedaled the length of Broadway starting at 4 a.m. for no good reason. So we ran out of iconic streets to ride and started joking that the next bicycle event would have to be some sort of geometry thing, and Nick suggested The Rhombus Ride.
We haven’t done it yet, but we have started in on this list of very adequate diners. And the point isn’t that the food is great, or some quest to find The King of Denver’s Very Adequate Diners, or anything like that. When Nick asked me, I said, “I think the point is spending time with your friend.” Because when you think about it, it’s as arbitrary as drinking coffee, or climbing mountains, or golfing, really.