On Buying Friends

Another wake-up call from Twitter on the state of some people’s minds.

The other day, I went to look at a small jet boat. I friend of mine here in Washington was thinking of selling it and it sounded like what want I wanted to zip around the Columbia River on sunny days during cherry season. When I went down to take a look, I saw a 16-foot 1995 Sea Ray with some cosmetic issues (as you might imagine) but very clean and in generally good condition. The 120 hp engine was immaculate, tuned up twice a year for its entire life. The price, although not agreed upon yet, would be right within my limited budget for a boat I would only use five months out of the year; paying cash would not be a challenge at all.

I used my phone to take photos to send my husband. He thinks I’m nuts for even considering the purchase, but then again, he thinks I’m nuts whenever I consider a purchase. And he’s not spending every summer just a few miles away from one of the greatest boating and fishing rivers in the country.

Sea Ray Under ConsiderationI also sent the photo you see here to Twitter. I get around a bit and sometimes tweet photos of the things I see and do. It’s part of how I participate in social networks. Along with the photo, I tweeted:

Thinking about buying this for next summer.

I went on with my life, as I usually do. (Contrary to what many people think, I do not live my life buried in a Twitter feed.) We covered the boat back up and made plans to take it out on the river later in the day. I returned around 5:15 with my friend, Pete (in the photo) and his 12-year-old son. Pete has a hitch on his truck and towed the boat to the ramp about 1/4 mile away. We launched it. Linda (in the photo), the owner, joined me for a ride on the river. Considering it hadn’t been used in at least a year, it started up pretty quickly (the battery was kept on a tender in the garage). We took it slow in the No Wake area, then Linda took it up to full speed. She made a few hair-raising turns before we switched places and I zipped around a little. Then I went back, traded Linda for Pete and his son, and took another ride. The boat performed very well and was small enough that I’d be able to handle it on my own.

The next morning, as I lay in bed waiting for the sun to rise, I went through my normal social networking routine, checking Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ for replies to anything I’d written and interesting new tweets. Among the replies was the following, posted by someone who apparently follows me on Twitter:

Maria, why do you want that boat? I suspect you have plenty of friends already just by having a helicopter.

If I’d been sitting up when I read this, my jaw probably would have dropped four inches. I had to read it five times to make sure I understood what he was implying. Was he trying to say that my primary purpose for buying this little boat was to make more friends?

Crescent BarThat couldn’t be any further from the truth. I planned to use the boat mostly by myself, likely on weekdays when most of my friends were working. I imagined exploring the river’s lakes early and late in the day when the winds were calm and the light was good for photography. I imagined skimming over the river when the water was like glass (see photo), cutting a line across its surface at 40 miles an hour. I even imagined taking up fishing again. I had no desire to be out on the river on weekends when the crazies were out. And the boat’s weight limit is only 750 pounds with 5 seats — not the kind of thing you’d use for partying. Heck, I was told it can’t even pull a water skier.

I also need to stress here that I didn’t buy a helicopter to attract friends or even use as bragging rights. There’s a lot of people who don’t even know I own one. (Actually, I don’t own it — the bank and I are still partners on it; I pay them monthly, they let me keep it.) Yes it’s fun to fly around, but I can’t afford to just fly it for fun. It’s part of my business and I work it as hard as I can to make it pay for itself. On the limited times I get to fly it just for fun, I’m usually by myself. I don’t dangle it as a carrot in front of people as a lure into a “friendship.”

I felt a need to set this guy straight, so I replied:

People who are my friend just because I have a helicopter aren’t the kind of friends I want to go boating — or flying — with.

And this is really true. If someone “likes” me because I have a helicopter, they’re probably not the kind of person I want to be friends with. I don’t like shallow people.

His response came quickly; perhaps he’s the kind of person who does live his life buried in a Twitter feed.

I guess that means you have ‘real’ friends. It seems like I have to ‘buy’ mine. Sure wish I could that repositioning trip with you.

He was referring to my twice-a-year helicopter flight between Arizona and Washington, which I take paying passengers or pilots on in an attempt to recoup my costs. Believe me, I wouldn’t take strangers along for the ride if I didn’t feel that I had to. Flying a helicopter is very expensive.

Although the concept of “buying” friends was something almost beyond my comprehension, I certainly didn’t want to open that can of worms with him. I replied:

Yes, I have both real and virtual friends. I don’t tolerate “hangers on.” The trip is amazing; maybe next spring? I come back in May.

He replied:

I first saw your time-lapse video across Arizona (I think) it was amazing. I am envious of people that can go flying every day.

I wasn’t sure which video he was referring to. I hadn’t done a time-lapse across Arizona. I suspected he was talking about my Phoenix to Page video, which was on YouTube. I had done a time-lapse of a flight between Pendleton, OR and Salt Lake City, but I didn’t recall putting it online. I said:

I think that one was just a bunch of clips, Phoenix to Page? Or did you see the time lapse Pendleton to Salt Lake? long flights!

He replied:

the vid was PHX to Page, very enjoyable. I saw the motorcycle racer Mat Mladin has an R-44 for his profile pic. #envy

I had nothing more to say. I felt sorry for this guy. He’d used the word “envy” (or a form of it) in two of his tweets to me. It reminded me that there are people out there who aren’t satisfied with what they’ve been able to achieve in their lives — but instead of working hard to get where they want to be, they sit back and look at what everyone else has with envy. (I can think of two people I’m envious of, and what I envy about them is their jobsnot anything they own.) I don’t know this guy’s story and I probably don’t want to. I suspect we have nothing in common.

I do know people, however, who seem to think that a person’s value is based on what they own. These are the same people who go out and buy a new car every two or three years and load it up with a lot of blingy options. They live in big houses, have lots of toys like watercraft and off-road vehicles, and are in debt up to their eyeballs — or even drowning it it. They think they really want and need these things, but all they really want and need is to show their neighbors and friends and others that they have them.

People call it “keeping up with the Joneses.”

And if they’re lucky enough to have kept their jobs in this recession, they’re working their asses off 40-60 hours a week to earn enough money to keep their heads above water, leaving very little time to enjoy the possessions that have enslaved them.

I’m not like that. I work hard, I live well within my means, and I value my time — and the freedom to make my own schedule and enjoy life — above most things. I don’t have a showy car or house. I also don’t have any real debt (except for that bank partnership for the helicopter). I probably spend about 180 days a year goofing off, doing things I like to do.

It bothered me, at first, that this Twitter person seemed to think I was someone who used money to buy toys to attract friends — and envy, I suppose. But then I realized that he probably didn’t know any better. He might be like that and simply assume that everyone is.

I feel very sorry for the people who just don’t understand what life is all about. It’s not about collecting toys and impressing others with what you own. It’s about learning, growing, doing. It’s about earning friendships by respecting, genuinely caring about, and helping people you like — without asking for anything in return except perhaps a smile or a cup of coffee. It’s about spending quality time with friends and family, doing things together to enrich all of your lives. It’s about making every day count, every minute worth living.

So please don’t hold it against me — or label me as a conspicuous consumer — if I buy this little old boat. I just want to get out on the river a bit and make next summer just a little more fun.

What do you think?