Trip: Caltrain home from Menlo Park, Friday evening at 10 PM
At work, we talk about how mobile is the new cigarette, how we as a modern Western society are as addicted to an instantaneous connection as one used to crave nicotine in one’s blood when one woke up in the morning. Fun fact I’m not proud of: at the end of high school and on and off throughout College, I smoked. Never a lot, and never in front of my family (hi, Mom!), but I smoked. Brisk walk towards a history seminar? Cigarette. Just punched out a 10-pager a week early and feeling good about myself? Cigarette. Awkwardly exploring a party I was only stort-of-kind-of-not-really invited to? You bet your ass that’s a cigarette.
I landed at Princeton an inexperienced 18 year old from Canada, with a shaved head, a guitar and huge fucking chip on my shoulder. Smoking was my self-proclaimed solace, the thing that differentiated me from all of the other A-Types around me, people smarter and more charming and more focused than I was. Smoking made me a rebel at the first time in my life I had ever desired to be one, and connected me with fellow textbook-dwelling revolutionaries who harmed their bodies in order to feel different, together. Note: if you ever want to get anything done in a theater company, you’d better have lungs of steel.
For some reason I thought about this while waiting for the train in Menlo Park. I’d just come from a networking event with hundreds of people, copious wine, and more pitches than a no-hitter (ed note: I’ll never try a baseball joke again, I promise). I actually had a good time: despite how PR-y this sounds, I get a high out of meeting new people and hearing their stories. Where other people see an impermeable wall of strangers, I see massive story potential (see The Simpsons, Streetcar The Musical: A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met). Ben doesn’t like it when I’m in what he calls “Marketing Mode” because it reminds him of a light switch: on, and off, and on, and off. While I understand how a huge grin, a loud greeting and a burst of undimmable light can be frightening, I love it. I honest to God love people, and I adore networking and meeting new friends.
But after the smiles, the greetings, the cocktails, after the sun sets over the Northern California hills and an unfamiliar-to-Silicon-Valley chill sets in, making you wonder whether you should don your bag-wrinkled sweater, the desire to head north and head home sets in. After saying your gracious good-byes, dodging a few drunk intros and lingering shop talk, you bum a ride from a kindly new friend, and end up at an empty Menlo Park Caltrain station, counting the minutes until your train arrives and you can be one step closer to home.
It’s here I grab my phone, as I used to grab my pack of Menthol Ultra Lights (I know, I know). I feebily flip through twitter, looking for a mention, or a meme, or a scandal or something. I check messages, I call home. I find myself on the map, I check the train schedule. Head at my hands, I read work emails at 9 PM on a Friday, to hear voices and get that rush of adrenaline that comes with a problem to solve, a crisis to avert. I make a few calls, check in with my folks, or with Ben, or with my voicemail.
I was tense in college, a recovered [insert eating disorder], a full blown anxiety addict. Princeton was overwhelming, knowing that I knew what I didn’t know was crippling. I missed home and I was afraid I’d blow the chance of a lifetime. To calm myself, to get away, I smoked. I walked right into the middle of the quad and smoked like a Pariah. TAKE THAT, I thought, ALL YOU WITH YOU FIGURED-OUT LIVES AND FRIENDS YOU’VE ALREADY MADE CAN KISS MY ASS. I smoked to get away, while using it as an excuse to justify why I wanted to be alone.
Tonight, the train approached the station in that rather timeless literary train-like fashion. Lights steadily encroached, the whistles sang in perfect harmonic dissonance (serious question: do they mean to do that? because it’s awesome) and the steady thump of engines slowed and stopped in front of me. Not that I would have enjoyed any of this a few minutes prior, as my face was buried in my phone.
Now I’m on the train, and I instinctively got out my computer to check my email, but there was no wireless to be had. Instead, I write, for whomever and no one who reads these words, returning to the habit I had before smartphones and cigarettes and irony and anxiety. I write to connect with something, if only for a minute.