During the schools' spring break this week, I was at the Circle Diner on Tuesday and saw a familiar group walking toward the back of the restaurant. They were members of a business-leads group I used to belonged to.

One of the last to arrive was my dear friend Ellen, who is an interior designer. Ironically, I was going to text her so we could make some time during this already packed week to talk about her new business.

Once she was seated, I sent her a quick text: "How great is this? You saved me another meeting. I'm at the other end of the diner. Let's chat. Have missed you while you were recuperating from your knee surgery."

She came to my table, and after we'd exchanged hugs, she urged me to hang out with the leads group. I quickly agreed, and it was just like old times, meeting people and talking business. This leads group is one of two, I believe, that are part of the Fairfield Chamber. It was one of several I had joined in the years when I was doing strictly my own public relations consulting.

I had almost forgotten how exhilarating it is to network, meet new entrepreneurs and exchange ideas. No sooner had I introduced myself and starting drinking a cup of coffee when a woman introduced herself and said, "This is amazing! We were just talking about you, and Lucas said we should meet. And here you are. Oh, I'm Beth, by the way."

Within that eight-minute speed-dating-type introduction, I learned that she was a business coach, was considering some publicity for later in the year and had heard I might be able to help as a publicist. Of course, I had committed the cardinal sin -- not carrying business cards. Since I hadn't planned to meet any prospects colleagues, I had left them in the car. Beth was kind enough to give me her card, and I said I'd e-mail her my information.

I thanked Lucas for the referral. He owns a construction and remodeling firm in town, and I've done some work for him. "I owe you one, man." I said quietly. "Thanks."

The woman sitting on my left was massage therapist, and told me her business was new in town. "That's great to know," I said. "My wife and I used to go to a wonderful massage therapist, but in our current financial condition, massage would be luxury. "

She politely explained the wellness side of massage, and I admitted that we have longed for a good massage on many mornings after long walks or too much lifting or shoveling. She produced her card and offered the first massage for $80 (with a $20 discount). If we can scrape together the shekels, we may just do it.

Might there be some business for me connected to all this? Quite honestly, it was just nice to get to know a new colleague. I was hardly selling. I was just networking.

The week evolved into other networking excursions. For instance, I met with my first potential new client in nearly a year through a referral from a former employee of mine.

For the first time in a year, I attended a monthly networking group in which I once had been active. And I had catch-up breakfasts with my former boss from a New York public relations agency and with colleague in a Wilton agency for whom I've done several projects.

I drove to Pennsylvania for a wrap-up meeting with a friend I helped with publicity for a marine forensics symposium on possible causes of disasters like the Titanic and other shipping incidents. I had learned a lot on the project and we were so gratified its success -- including two pieces in USA Today and interest from Washington, D.C.-area news outlets. We are hopeful the client will consider future work.

While my work as a substitute teacher and at the Fairfield Museum and History Center Museum is gratifying, I sometimes forget how rewarding my career in public relations has been and how great it is when new networking opportunities and projects come along as they did this week. I love the challenge of creating strategies to generate print and online publicity for new clients and I really appreciate referrals from people who have been satisfied with my work and put in a good word.

Frankly, a week like this one, when I'm not in the schools and can spend more time networking, reinforces for me that networking is so critical to meeting the people who will connect me with other people who might need public relations help here in Fairfield and elsewhere.

It just felt good to get back onto the networking bandwagon for a change.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.