For more than a decade, a group of Fort Bend County and West Houston residents have gathered together to watch movies, play cards, have holiday parties, and more.
West-Side Friends, as the group is known in its current iteration, originated on Meetup.com, a website that helps connect people to events and groups of like-minded people. It currently has 114 members.
Ayn Nys, an Alief resident and teacher at Alief ISD, is one of its longtime members, several of whom are also teachers living either near the Fort Bend-Harris County line or in Sugar Land. Nys plays an active role in organizing several of the group’s recurring events.
I had the opportunity to attend one of those events last week, an aptly-timed event at the end of each month called “Taco Tuesday and Mexican Train” at the Berryhill Baja Grill, 13703 Southwest Fwy.
She said Mexican Train is a domino game similar to the Crazy Eights Card game, in that you are supposed to match your domino tiles or cards with the goal of playing all of your dominoes first and have the fewest total point score of your remaining dominoes at the end of your round.
Nys said she and her friends like to choose games that are social and simple to master.
“It’s very easy to get a group of people together,” Nys said. “It takes minutes to set up and start playing. It’s also very easy to teach new people. We’ve had newcomers each time learning the game, and they often come back. They learn the game for the first time, and then in future weeks, they’re trying to get a stronger handle on the game, maybe put some strategy in it.”
Nearby, at the Fuddruckers on 11445 Fountain Lake Drive in Stafford, Nys and her West-Side Friends will also gather near the end of each month for a meal and to play card games like Phase 10, Uno, Canasta or Tripoley.
“We tend to like that location, because it’s easy for people to get to and it’s right off the freeway,” she said.
The group typically draws about 10-15 people for its game nights, she said, which has been typical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, she said sometimes as many as 20 people would come out for Mexican Train or cards at Berryhill or Fuddruckers.
“I feel much more comfortable since being vaccinated to go out and go to restaurants and things like that,” Nys said. “But not everyone is at the same level of comfort.”
Most of the places the group goes to have good safety protocols in place, she said, and because most of the members are teachers, they are used to interacting with people in-person.
“I feel good that we can,” Nys said. “Because I personally need the social interaction. But I also feel empathy for those who don’t feel comfortable doing that yet.”
During the beginning of the pandemic, the group played online and virtual games like Family Feud, for example.
She said that the events are laid-back and inexpensive, with guests typically only needing to pay for their own meal.
Nys said new members are welcome to join the group for free for their first month. After 30 days, they can then pay $5 annual dues which will help cover the cost of the groups’ subscription to Meetup and venues and food and supplies for holiday parties or group picnics and other outdoor events, which usually happen in the spring, she said.
She also said newcomers are welcome to host events of their own — like some current group members do with holiday parties and game nights in their homes — and encouraged people to create their own groups on sites like Meetup. Other sites like Eventbrite and Facebook have become hubs for local groups to organize their outings.
To join and view the event schedule for West-Side Friends, visit https://www.meetup.com/WestieFriends/.