Friday, May 15, 2009

The efficiency of community

Yesterday I blogged about how a friend offered to let me borrow tools. In response to that post another friend made a similar offer and it made me think about the value, the quantitative value of community.

When Lauren and I moved from Arizona to Georgia so I could go to Supply Corps School, we entered into the non-community of the military. In the Navy, we have our own grocery stores, shopping malls, gas stations, housing developments, beaches, auto hobby shops, bars, coffee shops...that only we can go to. And there's all kinds of clubs. There's officer clubs, enlisted clubs, spouses clubs, support groups... But connectedness is illusory. Even though there are all these hangouts just for us, it's transitory. We move in and out of them. There certainly is a commitment to one another in the Navy. And it's no exaggeration to say we put our lives in each others' hands. But that trust and that connection doesn't necessarily apply to every sailor just because he wears the uniform. I mean, I trust and have rapport with my shipmate with whom I've just finished a deployment, but not with the fresh-boots Johnny that just got out of school.

So from Georgia to Virginia and then here to Texas, we've been floating in these towns without any real connection to them. We've had friends both in and out of the service in these Navy towns, but no real connection to the community, nothing like growing up there.

Until now, which makes it bittersweet that we're leaving so soon. This cycling club, of which I'm a plankowner, has been my connection to the community; it is my community here. And for the first time since joining the Navy, since being a grownup, I have people to rely on when I need something (other than family, of course). And it's made me realize how valuable that is. Guys on the team have spare bikes, spare tools, spare parts, spare beds.

I remember once, in Norfolk, I got lost on what should have been a 4-5 hour ride and ended up riding over 10 hours through southeastern Virginia looking for a road that lead home. Lauren's was the only relevant phone number I had and she was out of town. When I came to the tunnel into town I called a cab and fell asleep on the side of the freeway. Being stranded like that is inconceivable to me now. There's so many folks I could call if I got in a jam.

Before I was part of this community I was indeed alone. There was no carpooling to races, I had to pay to experiment with different components and products instead of borrowing or sampling a friend's. Every lesson I learned was on my own time and my own dime. That lack of community is incredibly inefficient, wasteful.