One day in May, a Winnetka woman stopped about 20 miles outside Kansas City, shared lunch, and had her stomach touched by a professional entertainer.
Arlynn Presser, writer and mother of two, was on a mission to fulfill her new year's resolution: To meet and learn from all of her 325 Facebook friends.
John Hill was the Facebook friend du jour. The record-label owner and professional entertainer met Presser during a video shoot in Chicago and became friends on Facebook. But on this day, Hill shared secrets to singing (it's in the diaphgram, not the throat), stories of his homelife, and the ins and outs of business.
"Her idea is genius because it is something that catches each and every person individually and yet on the same level," said Hill in a phone interview with Patch. "We all have Facebook, or some social network, in common ... what would I do if I saw every friend on Facebook, and what would happen?"
After visiting 13 countries and with two weeks to go, Presser now knows the answer.
"This has been completely all-consuming," she said at her home in in mid-December. "I don't mean in a bad way ... I've met a lot of people, I've changed as a person and seen how my friends and my experiences have changed me."
The 51-year-old said the idea developed out of a desire to get out of the house and travel. When her second child went to college, Presser said she faced a crisis in confidence at the ending of her primary career as a parent. Adopted at the age of three and part of the foster care system during her childhood, Presser said, "The biggest project of my life was to raise my two kids."
Presser, who has written 27 novels, trivia books and regional histories, began Facebook messaging, emailing and calling her friends to set up meeting times. At the time of the interview on Dec. 15, she had met 278 of her Facebook friends, learned how to open a champagne bottle with a saber sword, and danced with Johnny Rockets employees in the Philippines.
Now, she said she knows a thing or two about friends, the dark side to Facebook and herself.
"Facebook presents what you want to be, the who you want to believe you are," Presser said. "The real person is not what they present on Facebook. I'm talking about real character issues."
The project - which she aims to complete with a 90 percent success rate, or 290 friends - taught her about the changing nature of modern-day friendships as well, dubbing Facebook a "massive personalized phone directory."
"It's easy on Facebook to see everyone as having a more fulfilling life, doing more exciting, culturally relevant things ... it's almost like being in a masive high school," Presser said.
"I grew up when the word 'friend' really meant a lot, someone you could confide in, someone you sent Christmas cards to. Today, we have a spectrum of 'friends' and it'd be cool if Facebook allowed for 'acquaintances,' 'friends,' or 'super friends.'"
Presser's first friend on Facebook was her younger son, Eastman, who now studies at Oberlin Conservatory's TIMARA program. For her first proper meeting in the project, they sat on the front porch of their home, and Eastman smoked a cigarette while they chatted.
"I didn't think the project was as big or as cool at the time, but it actually grew exponentially over time," Eastman said in a phone interview with Patch. "It's really motivating to see my mom set a goal for the entire year and then do it."
He did note one surprise in particular.
"I used to teach my mom how to use the TV remote, but suddenly she is way more savvy ... that's a victory."