Another weekend of fish travel is just about coming to a close. Hands shaken, presentation given, ideas exchanged.
New relationships created. Existing ones strengthened.
Time to wrap things up, hop on a big metal bird and fly home. And, as with every aquarium speaking gig, I fly home with a new sense of the wonder of the hobby, a new cache of information, and a new sense of where I/we fit into the grand scheme of the aquarium universe.
It's almost always this way.
I should know, because I've had the rare privilege to get to travel around most of the U.S. and parts of the world, talking about aquariums at clubs and conferences. Back in my reef aquarium days, which seems almost a lifetime ago now, travel was so frequent and so common that it was just part of my weekly existence.
It's an amazing experience to talk to seat mates on an airplane, nervous because they're headed for some crazy, high-stakes business meeting, and when asked about where you're going, what you do, to explain that you own a company that grows corals for the aquarium world, or (more recently) that you curate and sell dried leaves and seed pods for people to toss in fish tanks, and that you're going to talk about it (and be treated like a rock star while doing it).. I can't tell you how many times a fellow traveler has told me, "That's so cool, I've never met anyone who does that for a living!"
It's funny, too. Perhaps there's a certain feeling of guilt that I've developed over the years because what I do IS so cool!
But travel is travel.
Airports, suitcases, and hotels become just part of the game. I remember sometimes traveling to talk every week for whole stretches of the year...Times when I'd never really have to put my suitcase away. I've literally know some flight attendants by first name, have a favorite seat at the United Airlines lounge in Chicago (where I frequently connected to "points east"), and prepare for each trip the same way every time.
You know, the stuff we do as travelers.
It's hardly glamorous, although when I first started, the prospects seemed so exciting and yeah, perhaps even a bit glamorous...And I suppose it is. There is something alluring about this. The basic elements of this existence are amazing, in and of themselves: I mean, get asked to speak about fish, travel to a new city half way across (or all the way across) the country, and make new friends.
I have a group of friends that I see at speaking gigs and conferences, and have kindled lasting relationships that exist solely at these events around the country. It's kind of cool. Fellow travelers on this journey.
Yeah, we build relationships; foster friendships.
And learn. Experience. Share.
The traveler inside of me understands the crowded airports, navigates the teeming cities, endures the small indignities of security lines and flight delays. The traveler knows to find the new experiences, no matter how simple. To grab that cup of coffee and sit and take it all in somewhere, if only for a moment.
And through all of the physical experiences of travel, you have the people.
A warm smile, or an act of generosity and kindness as simple as holding the elevator door for you as you slog through an airport terminal, jet-lagged and dazed, makes all the difference. Simple interactions within a sea of anonymous humanity on a long day far from home somehow reinforces the idea that the best part of our human experience is...our fellow humans.
And with this amazing experience of fish travel, you have the fellow hobbyists you meet along the way. People that you can relate to on a level different than you can with most. People so kind and generous and amazing that it almost makes you a bit sad to think that humans don't always just get along. Our common, geeky love of fish and aquariums and water changes; unexpected spawnings, brine shrimp, and plastic buckets brings us together in a way that few things can.
A commonality that you can plug into anywhere in the world that people enjoy aquariums. After 13 years of fish travel, I can tell you without hesitation that we have a culture and outlook and commonality that's amazing.
Fish people are a different breed.
You come to a new city as a stranger, are invited to a fellow fish geek's home- and immediately don't feel so strange. peering into tanks full of fishes you've never seen before, and have no clue about. Marveling at the innovative ways that problems were solved. Co-miserating about ich outbreaks, dirty filters, and late fish shipments. You feel humbled, enlightened, educated, and reinvigorated.
And them you leave, often having to literally fight off the numerous attempts to "take anything you want" from the fish room and stuff it into your suitcase. You're offered amazing fishes and plants from people that, only days ago were just names in a forum or email. People whom with you've forged that most amazing bond- a love of a common interest.
And it's like this everywhere I've gone the past 13 years.
Fish people. You guys. Us.
Wether you're lucky enough to take a jaunt around the world, or simply a walk down to the local fish store, take several seconds to reflect upon how cool fish people are. Shake a hand. Ask a question. Interact with each other. You just might learn something.
You just might experience generosity you didn't know still existed.
And if you're incredibly lucky- you just might make a friend.
Stay restless. Stay bold. Stay open-minded. Stay curious. Stay generous...
And Stay Wet.