As I slid my black slacks on in a rush to make it to the SOFREP party at this year’s SHOT Show, I couldn’t help but feel like they didn’t fit. Not the size mind you, my waistline hasn’t changed all that much since my days as an HR manager, but the style, the feel of something so formal just doesn’t fit me anymore. I’m a work pants and flannel guy, and inside my little Georgia world, most folks don’t even have the internet, let alone read my work.
The SOFREP Party, like the pants, didn’t seem to fit me at first. I walked into the beautiful bar to find more people than I expected, sitting at tables, conversing and having a good time … the idea that all of these people might be familiar with something I wrote, even if they didn’t catch the name on the by-line, was at once both overwhelming and honestly a bit frightening.
The thing about writing (for me) is that I do it with a one person audience in mind. I see the SOFREP readership as a community of peers, perhaps not in experience, but certainly in value of perspective. Much of my work is directed toward that singular concept: I’m writing about what’s interesting or important to tell this faceless community what I’ve been able to learn … but suddenly that community was no longer faceless. It had always been my dream to have people read my writing, but faced with the prospect of having that dream come to fruition, I found myself wishing for more familiar territory.
But then a few Marines approached me and introduced themselves. After a few minutes of conversation, I met another reader, then another. Soon I was starting to associate faces with screen names I’ve seen pop up time and time again in the comments sections below articles I’ve read or written … and it struck me. I WAS in familiar territory. I was among that community of peers, of readers and responders, of the very people who grant me the means to feed my daughter and keep my lights on through their shared interests and willingness to see the world through SOFREP’s lens.
I was among friends.
As the night wore on, and I lost count of vodka/ginger ales (my OMF drink of choice), the party became less a meet and greet and more an opportunity to continue discussions. Area 51, foreign policy, knife techniques — all the things I love talking about through my writing became the subjects of conversations with people whose faces were new, but whose names, beliefs and personalities were familiar.
I was told the next morning that, despite my agoraphobia when it comes to busy, crowded spaces, I “blossomed” amid a sea of SOFREP readers and like-minded folks. That’s not technically true. I was born with the innate ability to compensate for discomfort with feigned extroversion — something my wife calls “being the mayor.” I can pretend to be the life of a party in the same way I can usually mitigate conflict before it comes to blows — and admittedly, that is how the evening began for me. A few hours later, however, I was no longer being the mayor, I was just being Alex. To my surprise, that true-to-life version of me was accepted, even embraced, by a room full of people who were simultaneously strangers and close friends.
Of course, any time you fill a room with veterans and active duty military members, a bit of inter-service rivalry tends to arise. During the SOFREP party, it came in the form of a serving tray covered in extra-large crayola crayons — a snack for the Marines in attendance. Like the other Marines, I chuckled at the joke and went about drinking and conversing … then the jokes arose yet again, and again, we chuckled.
But the third time I was offered a crayon, I finally decided that it was time to see what all the fuss was about. I accepted the offer (it was green after all) and took a healthy bite. The waitress was mortified as I chewed my way through the wax, and, truth be told, it wasn’t really all that bad. My fellow Marine and SOFREP contributor, Kurt T., not one to leave a brother hanging, reached past me and grabbed one of his own. Marines may not usually eat crayons, but they never leave a man behind.
My experience with SOFREP’s party was entirely a positive one, but the real challenge was still ahead: getting to the convention with a four-alarm hangover the next morning.