These Women Really Get Around

     Monday, Jan. 14, 2002, four women got together and took in a Golden State Warriors game. At the time, the first Lord of the Rings was No. 1 at the box office. The top song on Billboard was “U Got it Bad” by Usher. And the cover story of Time Magazine was Steve Jobs and Apple’s first all-in-one desktop, the iMac.
     That night, Kim Bardakian, Annette Kevranian, Nicole Vasgerdsian-Brady and Katherine Sarafian set in motion a tradition that is wrapping up nine years. After having such a blast, from their complimentary lower level seats, they pledged to hang once a month. They haven’t missed since.
     January makes 109 straight.
     “If it weren’t for this,” says Kevranian, 43, a wife and owner of Method 42, an event production company, “I don’t know how often we’d see each other. While it seemed like overload at first, now it’s ‘Thank God for this.’ ”
     Friends always talk about making plans, promising to get together. Usually, those plans last as long as it takes for life to get in the way, or for the bar scene to get old.
     But these four friends, despite the curve­balls of life, have developed a tradition of commitment and creativity that puts most cliques to shame.
     These ladies, three of whom live in Oakland, don’t just hit up the local clubs either. They don’t do movies. Their system — dubbed GNO for Girls Night Out (they even had a logo made) — is designed to ensure novelty and longevity. Here is how it works.
     They meet the second Monday of each month, with each taking turns planning the engagement, never repeating an activity. The Friday before, an e-mail is sent out with
all the details. The goal is to find free fun, but the maximum each can pay is $25. It gets tricky because of the price limitations. The time — between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Mondays — doesn’t help either. Still, they manage to create lifelong memories.
     Once they did a Top Chef–style challenge. They drew knives in the parking lot of Farmer Joe’s and had 20 minutes to shop with a $10 budget. They returned to Sarafian’s house, where they had to cook using the secret ingredient — Pillsbury dough — and serve their dish to the judges. Sarafian even made scorecards.
     “We were our own judges,” says Sarafian, 41, an animation film producer who is married with a son. “That’s where it falls apart.”
     They’ve done so many activities together, it’s hard for them to remember. But once they get talking, the memories surface. They’ve taken pole dancing, hula hooping and belly dancing classes. They’ve learned proper etiquette and makeup tips and how to make candles, soap and caramel from scratch.
     They’ve gone caroling during the holiday season. They sewed pillowcases for patients at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland and once went shopping for art supplies to donate to DrawBridge, an art pro­gram for homeless children. They’ve gone to
an open improv in San Francisco, taken a private tour of the inner workings of the Caldecott Tunnel and attended a book signing of Judy Blume, one of their favorite child­‑hood authors.
     But not all of the activities have been as cutesy and heart-warming as the video capsules they made six years ago or the professional photo shoot for their fifth anniversary.
     “The goal is to get out of your comfort zone,” says Bardakian, 37, an independent public relations professional. “To do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.”
     Comfort zones have been violated severely. Like the time they learned to shoot at a gun range. Well, three of them learned how to shoot.
     “Annette brought her own gun, for God’s sake,” Sarafian says. “It was like she was bringing her own ball to the bowling alley.”
     “When we came out,” recalls Vasgerdsian-Brady, 41, an independent graphic designer, “Kim was like, ‘I need to be held.’ ”
     Ooooh. And then there was the San Quentin tour.
     This was more elaborate than most GNOs, as the girls needed to submit info for background checks in advance.
     They wore blue jumpsuits, walked the yard and sat in the cafeteria. They even visited with lifers. Vasgerdsian-Brady was just shy of terrified and lingered in the background. Not Sarafian. She actually hung out in a cell.
     “I was exchanging shoe tips with the queens,” she says, “because, you know, I have
a larger foot.”
     The worst of them all, they unanimously agree — other than month No. 2, when Sarafian had her three friends watch her return items at Nordstrom Rack — was the outing to Nob Hill Adult Theatre in San Francisco. Look at it this way: These four friends, who attend St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church in Oakland, were the only women in attendance.
   “It was the longest hour of my life,” Vasgerdsian-Brady says. “It was awkward.”
     Why not just leave? Because that’s how GNO works. It is, in their minds, a required sacrifice. Not just attendance — Vasgerdsian-Brady and Sarafian have each missed
one because of childbirth, and Kevranian once because of serious illness — but participation is a must.
     That makes it occasionally frustrating, but it’s also why it lasts. GNO is non-negotiable for them. “Like taxes,” Sarafian says. That’s why years ago they decided against opening up the group, for fear others wouldn’t share their dedication and perspective.
     Certainly, it gets harder to come up with ideas. But as the months fly by, their resolve grows stronger.
     “This was in my life before my marriage and my kids,” says Vasgerdsian-Brady, a wife and mother of two girls. “They all knew about it coming in. … As we get older and we all get into more things — marriage, kids, careers, whatever — its harder and harder to find constants in your life. So it’s nice having this constant, having these friends who are a staple in your life.”

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