On this trip we’ve been visiting a lot of my family and friends, but not so many of Linda’s. It’s not that we don’t like them, it’s that most of them live in the big middle of the country that we’ve been circumnavigating. But in Dallas we finally found a friend of Linda’s who’s moved out towards the periphery.
Kathy Armstrong was an interior design major at Kansas State with Linda, and they’ve been friends ever since. Before last year I had only met Kathy at our wedding, so we obviously didn’t know each other well. Kathy and I became Facebook friends several years ago – I think she decided to do this once she realized Linda never posts anything upon FB, and if she wanted any news from our family, she’d have to rely on me. We’ve had this online conversation since then, and it is remarkable how you can get to know someone that way – I quickly learned that Kathy has a great sense of humor and a sense of the absurd, although I sometimes think that now she mainly wants to be my friend so she can read the comments from my friend Dan.
Last summer Kathy came to visit us on Whidbey Island, and we had a blast. We didn’t do anything extraordinary, just walking around town, cooking and drinking and talking. Kathy has this ability to really enjoy the ordinary occurrences of life, and in thoughtful way – a meal isn’t just enjoyed, but it is thought about and planned and discussed. I realized during her visit how much she brings a designer’s sensibility to everything. I tell my students that designers may work intuitively, but then we always have to slip into analytical mode, to understand what is going on that made a design turn out the way it did. Kathy is that way with almost everything – not just looking at buildings. Although she is not what I’d consider a semi-pro cocktail drinker, we had great discussions of the nuances of drinks that I was proposing.
Greta and I got to Dallas after a long drive from Louisiana, and Kathy had a wonderful dinner waiting for us. But most importantly, we got to meet Monty and Harry, Kathy’s beloved Scottie and Westie. I must admit I was a little nervous about meeting them – I had seen their exploits on FB, and I was worried that they might fall into the category of amusing yet crazed house dogs who spend lots of time alone, and who therefore drive all possible sources of engagement and amusement crazy. But they were not at all like this – they were very chill, happy to see us and hang out, with really charming personalities. Greta has been relying on our friends to provide intermittent substitute pet experiences on this trip, and Harry and Monty fit the bill perfectly, lying around with her while she was reading. We did watch the Westminster dog show on TV with them one night, pulling for the terriers.
We also got to spend time with Kathy’s boyfriend Greg, and with his son Harry. Greg is also an architect, and his perspective reinforced the good things I’ve heard about graduates from Arkansas. Greg has returned from years working in China, and he and Kathy met when he began working at her firm. Kathy and Greg suggested several of their favorite restaurants, and we spent several evenings talking over drinks and meals. To Greta’s dismay, the conversation often drifted into professional matters, and I was struck by their insights and wisdom into the profession. I most often find myself in professional conversations with people in my profession – academics – and we talk about our world, which is very different from the world of professional practice. So spending time with two people who each have over 30 years experience in very varied careers was enlightening. I still retain enough knowledge of that world to understand it, but I was struck by how much they had experienced, knew and understood about it.
One day Greta and took the light rail from downtown to Kathy’s office, which was in an interesting mixed-use node of redeveloped industrial buildings and new construction. She works for Leo Daly, a multi-city interiors firm, where she specializes in hospitality projects, once of the few building types about which I know absolutely nothing. Their office is really appealing, on the top floor of a remodelled building. Kathy runs projects all over the country and internationally, and travels pretty frequently for site visits and project meetings. We talked about how she had consciously chosen this type of career, and how she had gotten to see a lot of the world, meet a lot of people, and have a wide range of experiences in different places. I vaguely remember having a life somewhat like this, before I settled into relative isolation in Eugene, and we enjoyed comparing and contrasting our lives. Part of the agenda for this trip has been for Greta to see the different ways people live, and I was glad that she got to see Kathy’s life, and understand how that path can be enjoyable and fulfilling.
Kathy is not from Texas, being most recently from St. Louis, so she was able to provide the non-native’s perspective on her new home – appreciative of all that is good about the area, but without the native Texan’s starry-eyed chauvinism. This was invaluable, and she really helped orient us to what was to be a very different cultural experience in the coming weeks. We had a great time hanging out with her and Greg and the dogs, and it was really good to spend time with a friend who made us feel at home in a strange new land.