Since your old friends are academics, I wonder if you could spend some time with them and try to connect with friends of friends.

I'm curious to see how it works out for you, because I'm afraid I will be in exactly the same situation 10 years from now. I find it very hard to connect with people who aren't very intelligent in a meaningful way. I realize that I bottle up all of my substantial thoughts or things I find interesting to read because I know most people will not get it. And then I feel a sense of rejection when I don't get any enthusiasm from their side. This can kill interest for me in a way that little else does.

Work is a bit different from day to day life. Professionally, if you come across as smart and capable right out the gate, people will be willing to hire you. After all, it is good for their bottom line. There are horror stories of envious coworkers but I don't think that's the norm, unless they feel intimidated by your presence or see you as a threat to their source of income.