15 December 2013

Possible Sighting No. 3: A Chase

Yesterday was a glorious Wellington summer day. With my toddler entertained in the back seat by our dog, and my husband riding in the passenger seat, I set off behind the wheel. Our destination was "anywhere downtown".

Casually chatting while sitting in stopped traffic, I noticed the back of a man meandering down the hill heading in the same direction as us and sipping a smoothie.

I interrupted my husband, "See, now that's what I picture Joe Wellington to look like now." In fact, he kind of looked like the guy I saw at the market so many months earlier (the first possible sighting).

We drove closer and as I was about to pass him, I got a better glimpse. Hmm... deep set eyes, lighter hair color, and a goatee. And glasses like the man from the first sighting. I shrieked, "Omg! What if that's him?!"

My husband quickly pulled up a photo of Joe Wellington that was on his phone (the photo from this blog) and said, "it could be! Quick, turn around!"

So right there- in the middle of a very busy street- I stopped and did a U-Turn. But it wasn't as smooth as I intended it to be. Not like in the movies at all. The front fender of our car scraped across the sidewalk and my husband wasn't happy. I cringed at the sound of the damage.

"Lissa! What are you doing?!" Traffic behind me came to a stop and one angry cab driver honked.

"We can't lose him!" I laughed. This was an opportunity I couldn't miss.

My husband was so embarrassed that I was holding up traffic that he was hiding his face. My son in the back seat thought this was hilarious and began laughing along with me.

Fully turned in the other direction, I continued on our way and passed the possible Joe Wellington. This time I got an even better view of his face. I was sure it was him. My heart racing, I had to talk to him.

My husband suggested to turn around again so not to lose sight of him. Not wanting to get our car into more trouble or embarrass my husband more, I turned down a side street. The side street ended up being one long narrow road in Mt Cook. No place to turn around.

Finally finding a location safe enough to turn around, I hightailed it down the main road again. And there he was- standing at a stoplight! I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, so excited.

The light switched green and "Joe" began to cross the road.

"Yell 'Joe' out the window," I told my husband.

He obliged, rolling down the window. "Joe!"

Laughing, almost in hysterics now, I managed to see his face clearly as he turned to see who the crazy people were yelling at him from a car. And I felt even more certain it was him.

"He looked! He looked!" I exclaimed.

"Uh, yeah because someone was yelling at him from a moving car..."

At another stoplight and almost downtown, I didn't know what to do next. Turn around again? Keep yelling at him from the window? I didn't want to stalk the poor man, but I was so sure it was Joe Wellington!

Apparently my husband had a plan. "Alright, I'm getting out. I'm going after him." And with that, my ever-so-helpful husband jumped out of the car at a stoplight in busy downtown traffic.

In shock, I couldn't stop laughing.

I didn't know where to go at this point, and I was laughing so hard at this scenario that I couldn't focus on driving. So I pulled into a parking lot at Briscoes, a local housewares store well known here in New Zealand. Since there were signs everywhere saying "Customer Parking Only", I decided to get out of the car and...well,  go shopping. Why not?

Of course I couldn't really go shopping as my adrenaline was rushing and I couldn't focus on anything. I kept checking my phone for a report from my husband. My son was happy climbing up and down and jumping on the rugs (50% off now, by the way).

 A text from my husband that read, VISUAL ON THE TARGET.


Like being in some fast paced movie or show like Homeland or 24, only with an outcome that would be a much better reunion if our "target" proved to be my friend.



This was so exciting!

In what seemed like hours, I finally got another text: NEGATIVE. ON WAY.

My heart sank. What did this mean? Had he asked the dude if he was Joe Wellington?

I grabbed my boy and headed back to the car. My husband approached the car shaking his head.

"No?" I asked, moving over to the passenger seat. I had enough driving for today. Our poor front fender could not handle the excitement anymore, either.

"I asked him if his name happened to be Joe and he said, 'I'm afraid it's not.' So... there ya go. Darn. I thought we had the guy."

Feeling hopeless, we continued on our journey. Throughout the day we enjoyed reminiscing about our search- the kilometer chase that gave me (and us) hope that Joe Wellington was this smoothie loving, downtown meandering, Xbox player.

I am still in awe this is taking so long to find him. Can someone please tell me where is Joe Wellington?

7 December 2013

Joe Wellington, The Tumblr?

I've been told that social media is the way to find someone these days. I don't Tweet (and really hope I never do because I think I would easily become addicted and I really don't have time for that in my life right now) but I have friends who do. They've been nice enough to tweet links to my blog to help me with this search.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't like setting up web sites or Facebook pages- man, setting up this blog was a challenge for me! I'm not the most patient person when it comes to this stuff. My husband is a web developer and gets a good laugh every time he watches me try to do some sort of "coding" (but that's not what I'm doing right now. I don't even know if that is the correct term).

Anyway, so I did end up setting up a Facebook page for Where's Joe Wellington (please give it a like!) and my dear supporters will be bombarded with my blog links. Hopefully they find this as entertaining as I do.

But really... this is about finding my friend. And in order to do that I have to be willing to try anything. I've already humiliated myself... I think I can handle some more.

So, I set up a Tumblr account, "Let's get ready to Tummbbbllll....rrrr!" (I couldn't resist).

Another username, another password! YIKES. And then what? I don't even really know what Tumblr is and why do they spell it that way?

I had to sign up, though because... there is a person on there with the blog name "Joseph A. Wellington". And in order for me to get any information from him, I have to sign up. So I have no idea if he is in New Zealand or Australia or Zimbabwe. I don't know how old he is or what he looks like. It does say he is a husband and father.

After taking an hour to figure out this Tumblr thing (I'm sure it's great, really. I'm just not patient with this sort of thing), I had an account, found him, and was able to send him a message asking if he is "Joe Wellington who is a Kiwi and was in San Francisco in December 1998?".

My head is spinning. Adrenaline rushing.

We'll see what sort of response I receive. I am hoping he is kind and... well, I hope he's the Joe Wellington I'm looking for. Because I really, really want to stop staring at men on the street and I really really really don't want to have to set up a Twitter account.

5 December 2013

Possible Sighting No. 2

The second possible sighting happened today, actually.

While at the rec center with my son, a man walked in with his daughter. I'm guessing he's in his mid-thirties, has a round face shape, light hair, hipster glasses... it was enough of a resemblance for me to consider it being Joe. Of course, it has been so long since seeing Joe that I really have no clue what he looks like. I'm sure his appearance has changed just as much as mine has over the years.

As I watched him, I grew more certain it wasn't him. In fact, I pretty much talked myself out of the possibility.

But during parachute time he made eye contact with me and I thought for a second that maybe it was him and there was some recognition happening.

The class dismissed and everyone went into the play area where we let our tots wander and bounce and explore.  I saw him take out his phone and I quickly glanced again at his profile.

Here's the thing: I knew I'd regret not asking so I rehearsed in my mind how to approach him and decided it was probably best to keep it short.

Smiling, I said over my son's head, "You look familiar. Does your name happen to be Joe?" My face grew hot. Sweaty palms. Sweaty face.

Seemingly confused, he squinted and said plainly, "No. My wife's name is Jo, though."

Embarrassed, I began to do what I usually do when flustered, which is stammer and say more than I really need to... "Oh," I laughed nervously. "I'm just looking for an old Kiwi friend by that name and you sort of look like him but I guess..."

I didn't need to finish because he walked away.

Now, I know we were there with our kids so it's easy to get distracted, but his child was still playing by mine, near me.

Eventually he sauntered toward his child again, which meant he was coming back toward me. He stayed focused on his phone, not looking up and we stood together in complete silence.

"Yep, that's me," I thought. "The crazy lady asking every guy in Wellington if his name is Joe!"

After living in the Northeast part of the States for awhile, I often heard the word "awkward" in reference to just about anything. And this was completely. totally. awkward.

I spent the rest of the time playing with my son and was relieved when it was time to leave. For someone who grew up doing musical theater, you'd think I have more courage than that! But for some reason, I was very nervous and I think it's because I knew deep down...

...it definitely was not Joe Wellington. 

4 December 2013

Gone but not Forgotten

Well, the only way I can start this post is by saying that I have a really helpful husband. Either that or he is just as excited as I am to find Joe Wellington.

After reading my blog, my husband decided to email The New Zealand AIDS memorial quilt people and ask about the quilt we saw online for a Joe Wellington. This was a task I wasn't ready to conquer; a grief I wasn't quite ready to bear. I'm actually glad he took it upon himself to ask.

Here is the most-helpful response we received yesterday:

The only information that we have about Joe Wellington is what can be found on the page with his Quilt Panel ( http://www.aidsquilt.org.nz/pages/panels/052.html ). Even though the piece under the photograph of the Panel says, "From the stories folder that accompanies The Quilt to displays" implying that it a section of what we have, it is in fact the total information that we have - the same goes for all such entries.
I can also add that the Panel forms part of the Taitokerau Block (Block 7) of The Quilt which commemorates people from the Taitokerau region of Northland. This block was sticthed together while The Quilt was on tour in Northland in July/August 1992 (see the pages http://www.aidsquilt.org.nz/pages/blocks/b07.html and http://www.aidsquilt.org.nz/pages/northland.html )so Joe would have died some time in early 1992 or earlier as the Panels are only made after the person they commemorate has died.

I hope this is of some help in identifying if this is the Joe Wellington you are looking for.

Warm regards,


Kevin Jensen
Website Maintainer for the New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilt ( http://www.aidsquilt.org.nz)
Life Member of the NZ AIDS Foundation

And there you have it. This couldn't possibly be the Joe Wellington I'm looking for as that quilt was part of their tour in 1992. I met my Joe Wellington in 1998.

While I feel a bit of relief in knowing this wasn't the Joe Wellington I met, I'm completely overwhelmed with emotion looking through some of those beautiful quilts. Please, please take a moment to click on the links above and look at those quilts of people remembered. I am humbled. And what a glorious way to remember someone- to catch the essence of that person's spirit while it was here on Earth. I can't help but to get tearful looking at these quilts with horses on them, books, music notes, flowers, trees, skating, motorcycles... it's as if I knew that person, too.

In July 1998, the 23rd to be exact, I lost someone very close to me to an awful car accident. He was someone who I hadn't spent a lot of recent time with but had wonderful memories of my time with him when we were teenagers. When he died, he was only 19 years old. His death gave me nightmares for a long time. In fact, it haunted me for several years after. I went crazy asking why something like this could happen to someone who was so bright and lively. It was only a few months later, in December of that year, that I took off to explore San Francisco. Just a sheltered little girl from the Midwest searching for answers...

During that time in San Francisco, I did a lot of healing to help me grieve the loss of my friend. I didn't realize it at the time but I understand it now. Joe Wellington was there with me. He listened to me cry- sob actually- about the death of my friend. He didn't console me, didn't try to tell me to get over it, didn't ask too many questions. He just listened. He may have patted my back a bit, but he just let me get it out of my system. It was probably the best sob I've ever had. He was the first person I could really let it out to. I'm not sure he realizes how much I needed him as a friend in that moment. 

While my friend didn't die from AIDS, he nonetheless is gone. But not forgotten. Thank you to the wonderful people who make these quilts in honor of those beings who have gone to the hereafter. Thank you to the New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilt for responding to my husband's inquiry.

Thank you, Joe Wellington. 

And thank you to my helpful husband.

Now I must gather myself, clear my head, and continue on my search for someone I don't want to forget.

2 December 2013


Yesterday I opened up some boxes and discovered an old photo album with pictures in it from my San Francisco trip...

...And there are the pictures of me with Joe Wellington! Wahoo! This should help immensely.

If anyone recognizes him, please let me know. Let the search continue!

This first photo is of 19 year old me resting my head on his shoulder while in the "smoke room" of the hostel (yes, I used to smoke... shhh):

 And here we are in the middle, standing in Union Square with the Australian couple and another American traveler. Joe is wearing the red coat:


Possible Sighting No. 1

A few months ago, my family and I were getting groceries at the market. While standing in the checkout line, I saw a man in the self-checkout who made me gawk longer than usual. He had a bigger build, a long reddish blond goatee and glasses. By the looks of it, he was purchasing a ginger beer.

Let me just assure you that I don't usually pay attention to what other people buy in the checkout. It's not my business and I really don't care. I also don't stare at other men (unless it's Brad Pitt or Edward Burns).

But this guy reminded me of Joe. His eyes appeared deep set, as I remembered Mr. Wellington's to be; his shoulders rounded a bit; but more importantly, his demeanor seemed laid back, which I definitely remember about Joe.

The guy stopped by the escalator, holding his bag and his ginger beer in the other hand. He opened the drink and began to sip, watching customers enter and exit.

As we walked past, I tried to get a better look. I don't remember Joe having glasses. But wow, it really looked like how I would picture a mid-thirties Joe.

When we got to the car, I told my husband that perhaps I saw Joe Wellington. His eyes widened and he told me to go ask if he was him.

"What do I say?"

"Ask if his name is Joe!" My husband insisted.

Sensing my hesitance, my husband asked me how sure I was that it could be him.

"About... 85%."

"You want me to go?" He asked. My husband so helpful.

I nodded, laughing at the scenario, and away my husband RAN from the parking garage into the building and up the escalator. Meanwhile my son repeated, "Dada dada dada" from the back seat.

It wasn't long after when my husband strolled back and got in, shaking his head. "He's gone."

Laughing, I started the engine and drove off.

That was the last "close" sighting I've had of a possible Joe Wellington.

1 December 2013

The Start of the Search

I'll admit I hadn't thought about Joe Wellington in years. The times he did pop up was when I'd see the book, "The Bone People" on the shelf. But I didn't really think about him.

Then, in April 2013 I began to pack up our belongings after the sale of our house in preparation for the BIG move overseas, I saw the book again and thought of him. And BAM. Memories from San Francisco came flooding back.

At this point in time, I was very excited about the move to New Zealand but nervous. Not only had I quit a job that I loved, but I was going to be a full-time mom. Of course, moms are always "full-time" so it never seems fair to say that. But taking care of my son was going to be the only thing I have to do. Who was I going to hang out with? While my husband would be able to socialize with co-workers, what was I going to do? What's in it for me?

When I saw the book on the shelf that Joe gave me with his inscription, I was giddy. I ran out of the bedroom to my husband in the living room shouting, "I will have a friend! I can find Joe! I know this guy there!"

So, April 2013 was the beginning of the search for Joe Wellington.

My husband and I flipped open our lap tops and immediately searched Facebook. There were several Joe Wellington's that popped up but none in New Zealand and none that looked even close to what I remembered.

We Googled. Unfortunately, nothing promising there, either.

A link brought me to a page for someone named Joe Wellington in New Zealand who passed away from AIDS. I gasped, hopeful this wasn't him. A quilt made for this person with things on it that honored what that particular Joe enjoyed during his time here didn't bring any recognition. I suppose it could be the Joe I am looking for, but I'm hopeful that my search will not lead me to that end. There is a link to be able to contact The New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilt makers but I'm not sure I'm ready for this task quite yet.

My next attempt at searching for Joe was as soon as we got to Wellington in July 2013. Living in temporary housing for the week, I grabbed the phone book out of curiosity and found one or two J. Wellington's living in Wellington. There were actually quite a few 'Wellington' names listed and I thought about calling them.

When I suggested this to my husband, he asked me what I would say if I were to call.

"Hi, I'm looking for a Joe Wellington, " I rehearsed.

"And what if they say 'ok, yes, I know him' or 'that's me'?" My husband, helpful and curious.

"Then I would say, 'oh is this Joe Wellington who is in his mid-thirties? Possibly visited San Francisco in December 1998'?"

My husband thought it was a long shot but was supportive.

My nerves rattled, I admit I've not made any of those phone calls yet. We've been living here for five months and I have yet to find the courage. Expect that this will be on my list of things to do in order to search.

I've done a few more internet searches since being here only to be directed to "Tequila Joe's", a restaurant in Wellington.

It took two months for our container to arrive in New Zealand with all our furnishings. During that time, I prayed that my journals from my youth would provide me with information about Joe. Maybe confirmation that his surname is in fact Wellington.

I also emailed my parents and asked if they remembered meeting him in Minnesota. "Of course", they said. But that was it. They remembered having dinner with him and watching a movie. They remembered the NAME of the movie, "There's Something About Mary", but they didn't remember his last name or anything else. They even had a two- hour conversation with him while driving him to the airport. But that was it.

When our belongings arrived in September 2013, first thing I did was grab my journals. Anyone who knows me, knows I have been an obsessed journal-writer since I was eight. And I have every single journal from that age, too. Finding the one dated 1998-1999 was a challenge. And I found the part where I wrote about San Francisco. But do I mention Joe?


I wrote about the Australian couple I met but not about Joe. Nothing. So bizarre. Not even his name.

I will continue to wade through my writings, but it will take time. 

In the meantime, I continue to gawk at every man on the street who may or may not look like Joe. I must remember that we saw each other a very long time ago and I have no clue what he looks like today.

This should get very interesting.