Facebook friend suggestions are often very random, and you can easily ignore the biggest part of them. Belgium Victor van Rossem however took it to another level when facebook suggested he become friends with Neal Retke, a 49 year old artist from Austin, Texas. Van Rossem packed his bags and decided to visit Neal and see if Facebook was right and if they could become friends in real life.
An eccentric Facebook Friend Suggestion
24-year-old Victor Van Rossem was intrigued when Facebook displayed Neal as a ‘suggested friend’, because they obviously had no connection other than a mutual acquaintance. “Facebook suggested we become friends, and I thought that was pretty absurd because he looked quite eccentric and completely different from me,” Victor said.
“I started looking through his facebook pictures and got more and more fascinated by him. He had a long beard and looked a little unusual. Even a bit eccentric. He did art performances and paintings of mythical creatures and strange beasts which only made me more interested in him.”
Victor finally decided that he wanted to meet Neal, whom he perceived as a very ‘eccentric person’. He tried contacting the artist on Facebook, and when he failed to receive a response, he decided to just go visit Neal in person and see if he wanted to be friends.
“These days you can be friends with anyone anywhere, just by clicking that friend request button. I wanted to take it back to the real world,” Victor explained. So he set off on the 5,000-mile trip along with his friend, 27-year-old Bran Van Lee, who brought a camera to document the experience.
“Facebook was convinced that, in spite of the age and facial hair difference, Neal and I were meant to be friends. Facebook told me and then, of course, it was my duty to fly to Austin and to be friends with Neal.”
But this quest involved some difficulties: “Neal couldn’t know that I was coming, because the magic of making friends involves some element of surprise. I didn’t know exactly where he lived. All I know is that he is one of Austin’s 800 000 inhabitants, and that he likes the annual kite festival at Zilker Park.”
In Austin the Search Begins
Once they reached Austin, the duo spent an entire week searching for Neal, scouring the city and putting up posters that stated: “Do you know or have you seen this man? Facebook said we could be friends. Please help!” They even wore t-shirts with the words ‘Neal D Retke for President’ printed on them.
“At first we thought our chances of finding him were very slim, but then we visited some places in Austin that we knew he liked to go – and we eventually found someone who knew him,” Victor revealed. The person they met suggested that they could find Neal at a book signing, and that was where Victor finally met the stranger he was so desperately looking for.
“We were nervous when we first saw him,” he said. “We didn’t know how he would react – but after we explained the whole thing he just laughed and said “well, you found me” as if he was expecting us.”
It turns out that Facebook was right in suggesting that Victor and Neal become friends. The two of them really hit it off and spent the next three weeks having a great time. “We had a lot of fun with Neal, and I consider him a real friend. We are still in touch through Facebook, and he might be coming to visit us next summer.”
A Documentary: Neal D Retke for President!
Once they returned home, Victor and Bran crafted a 30-minute documentary about their adventure. It’s a kickass and heartwarming modern-day travel meets treasure hunt story that depicts how friendships have remained the same, even with the latest advancements in technology.