They had met only mere minutes before on Monday afternoon but, already, Daniel Weston and J.P. Johnston were gabbing like old friends about everything from IT security to jolly old England.
Oh, right, and about those missing photographs.
The two Sacramento-area men met at Rudolf Steiner College, Weston's employer, for the handover of scores of Johnston's vacation photographs that were mistakenly mailed to Weston's post office box in Orangevale seven months ago with no other identification.
Brought together by a story Sunday in The Bee's California Traveler section detailing Weston's quixotic search for the man in the images, Johnston, 65, and Weston, 58, exchanged a firm handshake before the manila envelope bearing the photos was handed over.
"I'm kind of hard to find," Johnston, who works in IT security for a corporation he preferred not to name, told Weston, "but I'm glad you didn't give up, though."
"You know," replied Weston, himself the college's IT expert, "I just felt a weird connection. I just couldn't stop looking. Maybe it's because we look a lot alike."
The two men, indeed, share a facial resemblance: wispy hair gone to gray and snow white beards. And once they started talking, they found other commonalities. Weston's wife is named Laura; Johnston's recently deceased wife was named Laura. They both have worked in IT and served on security cases. And they both enjoy travel.
Eventually, the men got around to talking about the vacation in question Johnston's trip last September to southern England and London and how the snapshots might have gotten lost in the mail. It seems Johnston became overseas friends with a Brit named Rab Peattie on a previous trip to England. He invited Peattie and wife Jenny to visit Sacramento and San Francisco a few years ago "By the way," Johnston added, "they were very impressed, like most Europeans are, by Fort Sutter" and, following the death of Johnston's wife, Peattie returned the invitation last summer.
"He said 'I'll take you on Rab's Ridiculous London Tour,' " Johnston said. "That's where those photos came from. I had a great time."
Peattie, it seemed, transposed a few numbers on Johnston's P.O. box when mailing the package and forgot a return address.
Though his winsome expression in a photo published Sunday in The Bee doesn't show it, Johnston said seeing, up close, a chunk of the Berlin Wall stirred him deeply. "I remember that moment very well," he said. " I'm standing there and Rab says, 'You need to do something.' So, I grab hold of the rebar. The moment I grabbed hold of the rebar, I remembered exactly where I was and what I felt when I saw (the wall come down) on television. It was a miraculous, happy moment in history. I don't know if anyone who ever saw that could touch the wall and not feel that way."
Though obviously on a far smaller scale, Monday's meeting was important to Weston. It was the culmination of seven months of posting fliers, scouring Google and even driving to houses whose occupants bore the same surname as the photos' subject.
In the end, it took less than a day after The Bee's story ran for the two to hook up. A friend of Johnston's emailed him after reading Sunday's Bee story. Johnston emailed the reporter, who helped arrange their meeting Monday.
"We tend to forget that since the time of Ben Franklin, the daily paper has been the social media center," Weston said. "The reality is that things like Facebook and Twitter they aren't local. You put something like this on Facebook and you might get international coverage, but you're not going to get that concentration that the local paper gives you. You can't replicate that."