But that initial meeting was a tad fraught. This was, after all, an Internet friendship. Everyone’s heard the scary stories.
Carriers first off-line encounter with Antioch resident Sue Pesko and her friends was on Main Street, Disneyland. No commitment, no obligation, just a quick hello on the safest street on the planet. I was very nervous, Carrier confesses now. But that was it. We were all there four or five days, and we were together the whole time. Pretty soon we were traveling to see each other. Fremont graphic designer Jeff Schinkel’s first meeting was at a Pleasanton park. It was a little nerve-racking, he says, laughing at the recollection. But we all turned up, and nobody had any weapons. Everyone was fine, and it just grew from there. Schinkels wife, Terri, and their children meshed with the group, too so much so, that he invited them all to his family’s 40th annual Unfamily Picnic in Pescadero last year. Much to Schinkel’s delight, 10 of them came. The question then was, how to introduce the group to his relatives?
That was kind of funny, he says. These are my Internet friends? That would freak everybody out right away. We are in a Disney club together is only mildly less geeky. But everyone liked one another, labels or not. And it was a chance for Schinkel’s children to see their Disney club friends again. Next, when the Bay Area contingent Carrier, Pesko, Schinkel and Lodi graphic designer Jason Tracewell offered to host a whirlwind trip to Northern California, the rest of the group was totally on board, even though the itinerary had been kept completely under wraps. The Bay Area crew had planned a Golden Dream Vacation that would showcase Northern California’s splendors, but they refused to divulge any details beyond the basics: book plane tickets to San Francisco for mid-March, pack $258, a sense of adventure and a good deal of trust.
A few mysterious clues arrived by mail: a Golden Gate Bridge postcard, a toy crab, a corkscrew and a flashlight. Later, the mail brought sweatshirts and duffel bags emblazoned with a trip logo created by Tracewell and Schinkel. They trusted us big-time, says Tracewell. The group toured San Francisco, tasted wines in Livermore and traipsed Yosemite’s famous valley. They toured missions, nibbled chocolate and dabbled in Monterey’s tide pools. And they slept, well, everywhere. Peskos and Carriers residences, filled with air-beds and sleeping bags, became home base. Wednesday morning, we took the final people to the airport, did a high-five and collapsed, says Pesko. I think everyone wants to go to Las Vegas next. We’re playing with ideas already.
And they will always have Disneyland, that magical place where Tinkerbell soars, Dumbo flies and friends congregate every day a place so magical that when Schinkel couldn’t join the group on one trip, Pesko took him anyway. Sue had a picture of me and she put my head on a stick, Schinkel says with a fond laugh. Every time there was a group photo, there was me on a stick. I got a picture with Mickey Mouse, too.