Last week, I drove 40 miles each way to work, which is 400 miles a week, which is about 20,000 miles a year, or maybe a hair less when you count in the various holidays and days I break an arm or wreck a car or get sent to a trade show where, instead of questions about my work, idiots ask me questions about the parent company’s TV sets. Today, I drove zero miles. I sat at my kitchen table, with sunlight streaming in from my giant 17 foot tall wall of windows, with a cat sitting on the table next to me, and plugged away at my laptop. It wasn’t bad. I mean, I don’t have a work laptop yet, which meant running Windows in a VM on my Mac, and then running a VPN in that to connect back to Palo Alto, then a morning of trying to figure out how to get at servers in New York, but it worked.
I’ve done this drive for two years. With my tiny car’s awesome mileage, that still comes out to about a thousand gallons of gas. Add in the lunches and the dry cleaning of shirts and the cost of said shirts and pants, now that I get to sit around in jeans and a t-shirt, and I wonder how much it cost me to work. Granted, I probably made much more than that, and it would be much worse if I cared about my appearance and spent more time in a Nordstrom’s or at a salon or going to a gym every day to obsess over my muscle tone, but it’s still freaky math the amount of money you pay to make money. And that’s on top of essentially paying half of what you make to various forms of The Man. So yeah, it would be cheaper for me to sit around in dirty clothes in some tea party wet dream of a borderline-anarchist land with no laws and no taxes, but it also costs money to stockpile ammunition.
I spent all day reading tech writing stuff that was my bread and butter from 2001 to 2007, and a lot of it’s still me. Editing old work I haven’t thought about in years is a really strong and effective time machine. I mean, the product has moved on since I left, and someone else worked on the docs, but it’s the same basic templates I created, and the bulk of the writing’s still mine, or at least a slight variation of mine. It really pulls me back to 2003 or whatever, when I was hashing this stuff out for the first time. And it’s somewhat stupid to get nostalgic about an era that’s largely documented on this very site, and that’s got some pretty solid coverage in my paper journals and in saved emails and all of the other crap sitting on my hard drive.
But red-penning my way through hundreds of pages of this stuff brings me back to the times I sat in the back corner of that office, hunched over a Dell, a giant second-generation iPod playing from its whopping twenty-gig hard drive, wondering what kind of fortified compound I’d build out of leftover shipping containers on my land in Colorado, what I’d do on my next big trip to Vegas, how I’d endure another weekend in Astoria, what I’d add to my Amazon shopping cart for my near-daily purchases I’d rapidly consume on the N train every day. It makes me think of bad first dates and forgotten coworkers and random movies I saw for no reason other than the two hours of free air conditioning, even if it did cost ten bucks a pop plus a long train ride into “the city”.
And I guess I do lament the New York I resisted in that period, the people who were the status quo and how I knew I could never be them, and how I tried hard not to be. New York is a land of old money, and a place of millions of people who come to this overpopulated ghetto of an island to somehow prove that they are old money, even if they’re tending a bar and running a receptionist desk. It’s not like LA, where everyone is trying to get rich quick, where being a nobody from a dirt farm in Nebraska is actually a good thing, because you want to prove that you came from nothing and created everything. I never came to New York because I wanted to be a New Yorker or because I wanted to follow some near-Parisian dream of being a bohemian but with a rich lineage. And there are millions of people who drive cabs or dig ditches or bust suds in a dish sink who have much different dreams. But when you’re a white, single, early thirtysomething with a college degree and a desk job, it’s pretty hard to look beyond your demographic.
It’s also oddly contradictory, now that I think about it, how so much of being a status quo New Yorker is all about getting out of New York. You spend every free second slinging shit at the “flyover states”, but almost every big status symbol requirement has to do with where you summer, how you get a share on Fire Island, how you go upstate to see the leaves turn, how you go to Europe or “do” LA or go to Rio or whatever non-New York place is supposed to make you a New Yorker. I never built in these escapes, and being confined to a little island with no car drove me nuts. It’s why I would get a last-second flight deal and go to Pittsburgh and absolutely love it.
I still haven’t been back to New York since I left. I’ll probably end up going back soon, and I’m sure 100% of it has changed. And I know I could never live there again, but I am curious if I show up at the corner of Broadway and Houston, if the whole thing will feel like I never left, or if I will be overwhelmed, or if it will all seem like a strange dream.
I think I’m buying a new computer desk tomorrow. The kitchen table is no AnthroCart. And once the new laptop shows up, there won’t be room for two computers and a cat.