There’s a strange feeling when you can fly for free that maybe you might not be welcome to keep coming back so often. That might be one advantage of paying for flights – it regulates the frequency of your trips. I remember thinking of this when traveling to England to see my husband’s extended family. They pulled out all the stops for us, as would be usual for a trans-Atlantic visitor they would rarely see. So even though we could easily come back the next year, should we? How long would be a suitable interval to wait until the next visit?

I felt the same about going back to South Bend, Indiana a couple of weeks ago. Sure, everyone had been kind to me on that first trip in July, but was that because they never expected me to return? A conclusion totally without merit, by the way. I had to put those insecurities aside, though, because how could I miss the event everyone would be talking about – the opening of the South Bend campaign office for Mayor Pete Buttigieg, running for President. And not only would I be able to see Pete, I’d get to see Lety, Joy, and AJ again and many new Twitter friends. All in one place.

Since I had a block of time in South Bend before the event later that day, I had arranged to meet with Michael of the Good Guy Pete Podcast to talk podcasts. Michael does podcast consulting with Truth Work Media and I was curious about the possibilities of doing a podcast myself. Before my meeting with Michael, I grabbed a bite to eat at Pegg’s, where coincidentally, Laura O’Sullivan – Pete’s Deputy Chief of Staff – was having a lunch meeting. I had hoped I’d be able to meet Laura on this trip so she could connect the lady from Minneapolis who came to the mayor’s office with a box of chocolate with me. We finished lunch at about the same time, and as we were leaving, she recognized me from Twitter and introduced herself. I’ve seen photos of Laura, but in person, she has sparkle that photography just can’t capture. Now I know.

I was looking forward to meeting Michael, who in my mind had celebrity status as part of the Good Guy Pete Podcast troupe. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to him since I’d been a vocal fan of their podcast on Twitter since their launch. Perhaps that’s why, instead of a handshake, I was greeted at the Chicory with a hug. “I’m a hugger,” he said. Michael is gregarious with natural charm, perfect for his line of work. We talked podcasting possibilities and suffice it to say – podcasts are in my future. Stay tuned.

At some point during my time at the Chicory, Joy – my tour guide Twitter friend from July – sent me a direct message checking on me before the big event later. A seemingly simple gesture like this was heartwarming to me. I was starting to get my answer to the “Is it OK if I come back to the Bend?” question.

I arrived at the event early to get in line. I figured all my South Bend Twitter friends were busy working as volunteers setting up, so I’d have to find them later. After a while, I saw AJ coming to check on the line. I didn’t expect her to have much time for me at that moment, so imagine my delight when she greeted me with a big hug. She looked gorgeous in a sweater dress matching the South Bend flag.

As I stood in line, I made a mental list of the new South Bend Twitter friends I wanted to make sure to meet. Would I recognize them? Would they recognize me? I needn’t have worried because soon Jackie spotted me and ran up to hug me. She was wearing a cute “Mayor Pete” dress and was filled with such genuine enthusiasm I was touched.

The event began with a tour of the new campaign office complete with refreshments. I met AJ’s sister Breanna, the South Bend Organizing Director. There were many people attending the event from elsewhere, like me, and I even found a few Twitter people I knew. As I walked into the multi-purpose room, I immediately spotted two ladies I particularly wanted to meet – Pete’s mom, Anne and Pete’s High School AP Economics teacher, Julia Chismar. I had corresponded with them both – Anne, by snail mail, and Julia on Twitter. Anne was being pulled in many directions, so our conversation was cut short, but Julia recognized me, and we had a delightful chat about the campaign. She was doing all she could to help out.

Pete was there to speak, of course, and his husband Chasten, but that’s a blog post all on its own. Long story short – Pete signed my book, his book, Shortest Way Home. I’m just now realizing the significance of having his South Bend Story signed in South Bend. At that time, all I could think of was Pete signed my book.

I was wandering the crowd – trying to decide what to do next – when a burley South Bender pulled me aside and told me someone wanted to see me. Hmm…who could that be? It was Joy! I was wondering how I’d be able to find her. She gave me a warm hug and introduced me to her son. She definitely had her mom hat on, so any giggly girl time would have to wait until next time.

Not wanting to leave the party yet, I went back in the office to see if I could find any other South Benders from Twitter. Joy told me Lety wasn’t able to make it to the event. Next time, I guess. By now, the crowd had winnowed out and I spotted my new Twitter friend Mandy, who recognized me and gave me a big hug. Are you starting to see a pattern here? South Benders hug. At least they hug me. And I hug them back. As I left the party, Greg found me and I’m pretty sure I got a hug from him too.

On my way back to my hotel, I stopped on the bridge crossing the St. Joseph River to view the Jefferson bridge lights, just like I had done in July. It was still so beautiful, still so South Bend. And I felt welcome. All of those South Benders I’d met throughout the day had made me feel like I belong in the Bend. I guess it’s OK that I come back. After all, wouldn’t it be worse to have a flight benefit and not use it? Not come to South Bend?