I've only been back a few days, and had a character for several months prior to the end of 2009. I've found the opportunity available to be quite intriguing and enjoyable, and have found player enthusiasm to create and tell a story to have improved immensely. I have found myself wishing on occasion that I had the ability to commit time to DMing again so that I could help foster the new mindset of some of the players I've interacted with.
I semi-agree to the initial point made by the original poster. I've noticed that many characters and players are much less welcoming to new characters, unless that character has already proven in some way that they are useful for their specific plots. This can be expected and isn't necessarily "wrong". Some characters, have a meeting waiting list that they're desperately trying to get through, and they need to prioritize whot hey meet and won't be able to accomodate every character that they come across. But I think this is probably where a lot of the lost feeling of "casual RP" is.
The new attitude of "getting things done" sometimes ends up being detrimental to the character to character relationship. A character at his peak spends less time meeting new people, because he needs to keep up to date with his core group in order to "get things done." Thus it's difficult for some newer characters / players to get their foot in the door, unless the player of the busy character already knows the new character's player and is willing to make an exception to get to know him.
I tend to think that's probably more the reason for the reduction in casual rping and "elitism" that seems to be mentioned in many of the posts of this thread. Granted my opinion on the matter may not be accurate since I've only been back a short time; but if there's truth to it, I'd venture that there are three very practical things that can be done:
a. Take ownership of a small part of the big cheese - If your character works for one of the guys who is managing so much he can't meet new players, then don't spend all your time hanging around him. Keep him up to date, and then while you're handling your tasks for him, go meet people and build up your "division" of his larger group. Then you can help him filter the useful ones and the less useful ones, and have stuff to do when you're not in your faction meetings.
b. New character / New Niche - I've found that you always need a core group of people to progress, and so I do understand the desire to start a concept with players you already know. I don't know if this is still an issue, but I recalled a time where several veteran players would end their characters and start new ones with concepts that were all directly linked with each other. The result would be a faction of veterans with very little motivation or incentive to go out and meet new people. If you're making a new concept and consider yourself an experienced veteran of CoA roleplaying; find a couple guys you'd like to start over with, but keep the group small and try to fill out the rest of your group with newer players. You'll have your core group to keep things afloat, but you can get your new blood to learn and grow.
c. Simply ask - If you happen to find a character you like, why not have your character ask them to have a casual chat right after? I've found (myself included) that many times players expect the other character to approach them first. Whether out of shyness or pride, if no one takes the first step to build a character relationship, it'll never get done. It's actually quite sad when I think back on some of the players I've exchanged tells with telling each other we had a good time, but since neither of us ever took that first step, nothing ever became of it.