I don't recall precisely how I stumbled on MetaFilter. The Canadian site Fametracker had just closed down their forums, which I participated on for six years or thereabouts under the name Ukulele King. I was living in New Orleans and trying to figure out where to go online, and I probably just did a search for "online forums" and up popped MetaFilter. My first post was a Fametracker type post about Angelina Jolie, which nobody seemed to appreciate, but it's always been my experience that you learn more about a community by participating than by lurking.
MetaFilter and ColdChef save my life (sort of)
I was in New Orleans in the days prior to Hurricane Katrina. I didn't really know what to make of it -- the previous summer, when I was preparing to move to NOLA, there had been a hurricane named Ivan that had panicked everybody and turned out to be a big nothing ("leaves in the pool", one local called it). But the NOLA newspaper, the Picayune, had done an impressive job of explaining what would happen if the levees broke, a nightmare scenario called "flooding the bowl," and the story they told was horrifying.
We didn't really have anyplace to go if we were to evacuate the city, and my girlfriend and I were trying to decide if we should prepare to leave or try to tough it out. We were already leaning toward leaving, especially as the mayor was on television shouting "LEAVE" at anybody who would listen (here's me back then), and I was looking in on the thread on the topic on metaFilter when I noticed a comment from ColdChef, who I had never really noticed on the site before, but commented constantly on that thread (including the first comment, which I suspect he may regret). ColdChef's comment?
My brother is on the FEMA disaster mortuary team (DMORT) and he got activated today. They told him to make sure his family is safe, but plan on being down in New Orleans this week, starting at least Tuesday.
And I thought, DMORT? That's it, I'm out of here. I did drink a few Hurricane's at Pat O's, where they were playing, without any awareness of irony, "Stayin' Alive" by the Beejees. And then, the next morning, I packed up with my girlfriend and left by car, leaving almost everything I owned in the world behind me. I joined the largest mass exodus of Americans since the Civil War, participating in a continuous, 352-mile ant trail to Houston. When the city flooded, we left for further west, knowing it would be a while before we could get back for our belongings, if they survived. Along our route, I checked in on the MetaFilter thread frequently for updates, and to see how ColdChef was doing.
I've only been back to New Orleans once since I left, to recover what I could of my stuff (not much) even though I miss the city terribly. And I have yet to meet ColdChef, although we sometimes communicate outside MetaFilter, via Twitter and other social media. But this all happened within my first few months of being on the site, and went a long way toward my decision to leave before the hurricane, and was an essential source for me to find out what was happening after I left.