Jon Pierson is social glue; he brings people together. When I arrived at his apartment in Athens he explained that he had only lived there two weeks and capitalized on my visit to organize a couchsurfing meet-up with other area hosts. “I’ve lived in ten states and like transitioning. I’m good a meeting new people.” We drove through a torrential rainstorm to the HiLo Lounge in Normaltown where a half dozen other couchsurfing hosts, most of whom didn’t know each other, sat around a corner table with appetizers and beers. Some, like Jon, were newcomers to Athens to attend University of Georgia. Others, like Cassie, were lifelong locals. “This is the way Athens is, people like to show up.”
Jon, 33, is an outdoors guy; a triathlete and long distance cyclist. Prior to coming to Athens, Jon was the arborist for the power company in Chattanooga, TN where he enjoyed being outdoors and mediating between the utility, residents, and nature in locating power lines. This underscores his misgivings about the abstract nature of his three-year master of Landscape Architecture program at University of Georgia. “I’m more of a life learner. I like to get my hands dirty.”
Jon’s primary lure to Athens is his son Ben, a charming five-year-old whose mother moved to Athens over a year ago. The trip from Chattanooga to see his son every other week wore Jon down. He looked for work in Athens and then decided to return to school instead. Now, he can see Ben during the week as well as on weekends. “Ben gives me a level of happiness, of purpose, I never had before.” Ben’s parents were never married, so their parenting is negotiated rather than divorce decreed. Jon pays regular support and has a comfortable relationship with his former girlfriend. “I never felt a lifelong commitment to her. I feel that for our son. I am the child of divorced parents. When I get married I want to be married for the relationship, not the child.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“My condensed version is ‘healthier, happier, and better.’ I used to live for myself. Now, as a father, I have to provide. You have to invent your own happiness. It’s not a ‘we’ thing. If I can create my own happiness I can help others be happier. It can be so simple. When you let another driver in your lane you are being kind. If you want more kind in your life, you have to put kind out.”