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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.

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A slow start off the line, engines pulling the weight of long days at work, hopeful anticipation of an upcoming date, the uneasy excitement of new opportunity. Whole communities move past my left side: high schoolers practicing football drills while dreaming of trophies and the girl in calc;, lovingly buffed cars sitting pretty in a commuting parking lot; homes lacking in love but busting at the seams with rusted car parts and untended lawns. Retro train stations dot the line, sans serif art deco fonts and imploring commands. A lone bicycle sitting in the middle of a half empty parking lot, a child excited for the second floor of the double decker car.

Conductor with a sense of humor. Teenagers with hormones. Gentle rocking and bouncing seats. A great deal of time to think.

Trains remind me of the trip from campus to the airport, or from the airport to the campus, depending on which frame of mind I was in. Bittersweet, as traveling somewhere means leaving somewhere else, and neither is home yet. I think when I am moving. For some reason, I can write much better while sitting on a train, despite the fact that the physical position and screen greatly resemble my desk, or my couch. Movement stimulates thought, and momentum pushes pondering forward. I haven’t done this in a while, just type out my meanderings and my questions. Frankly, I’m amazed that my newly developed sense of self censoring hasn’t kicked in yet, but I guess should just take what I can get.

A girl sits on a bench, waiting for her southbound train. She has a jamba juice in hand, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a prop at this point, something to absently gesture with while subtly scanning the surroundings. Her face is pretty but she hasn’t figured that out yet, and the straw gets caught in her hair when she pushes it out of her face. School went well today, though she still doesn’t know when she’s going to tell her family about her boyfriend. She also doesn’t know when she is going to tell her boyfriend that she wishes he was a girlfriend, but one step at a time.

The woman to my right is type type typing on her new Macbook air, and has better posture than me. Feist’s “I feel it all” gently driving the train forward, as I wonder if I know more than I knew before. Could I run as fast as this train? No, I don’t think so…

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