The week of March 26, 2001, or: The Pleasure of Being Anonymous

During the week of 3/26/2001, my company sent me on a seven day business trip to Houston, Texas. My travel arrangements were made through my company's travel agency. I never once spoke with the individuals who made the arrangements. I left voicemail, and received email in response. I sent email, and received snail mail in response. I got my tickets and hotel reservations without ever hearing another human being's voice.

On the plane, I had an aisle seat with two strangers sharing the row of seats with me. We did not speak, except for 'excuse me' and 'thank you'. We simply read our books, listened to our personal CD players, and went on our way.

I arrived at the George Bush International Airport in Houston three hours later. Nobody met me at the gate. Nobody gave me a ride out of the airport. I simply got off the plane, got my shit, and got the hell out of the airport. It was the first time that I ever arrived alone in an airport and left alone. It also remains my personal speed record for getting the hell out of an airport after a flight. I did not have to speak once at the airport.

After leaving the airport, I got on a shuttle bus which took me to the rental car service. I didn't say a single word to the driver, and the driver didn't say a single word to me. After I got off the bus and walked into the Budget rental car office, I used my voice for the first time in over four hours to state my name and answer direct questions put to me about the nature of my stay in Houston and my method of payment for the car rental. I paid, got my keys, and left.

I drove to the hotel, in west Houston. Thirty minutes of silence. On check-in, I gave my name, showed my driver's license, and got my key. Payment arrangements had already been made; I didn't even need to show a credit card. I checked into the room, ordered room service, and didn't leave until the next day.

My business in Houston was to attend a training program on a software application which my company uses. As I am the primary maintainer of that application in our shop, I got selected to attend the class. The entire class was a study in the mantra RTFM. Since I had already read the fucking manuals, the class was a time to coast and shape my plan of action for how to use the application better when I returned home. For four days, I did nothing but interact with students and an instructor, living off cafeteria food by day, and room service by night. None of the other students had any prior knowledge of me, nor any expectations about my ability. I said what I wanted, did what I wanted, and learned what I wanted.

Class ended on Friday. I went back to the hotel room and hung out until Sunday afternoon. I didn't even set foot outside the hotel room doorway for nearly two days. On Sunday afternoon, I attended WWF Wrestlemania XVII at the Houston Astrodome. I had a great seat, only seven rows back from the ring. I went by myself. I chatted briefly with my neighbors on the stadium floor. We had a pleasant, relatively intelligent conversation about wrestling, and never even exchanged names. I shouted at the top of my lungs throughout the whole show, and walked out hoarse but satisfied.

I got back to the hotel, crashed for a few hours, and got on the plane the next morning. During my entire time in Houston, I was simply an anonymous consumer. I had no friendships, romantic ties, or family relationships to worry about. I did not say one word about my personal life, or explain one idea that was important to me.

There is a simple pleasure in that; to be able to retreat within myself and simply be anonymous, for days at a time. With enough money and patience, you could keep that game up forever. Just drift from city to city, hotel room to hotel room, restaurant to restaurant. Never share company, never build long-term relationships. Live as though anything which requires prior knowledge or future expectations is not worthwhile. Just coast across the country on a credit card. If you can move fast enough, your life will never catch up with you. The pleasure is that while you're gone, your life is in stasis. When you return, you can pick up exactly where you left off, but everybody else will have moved on, even if they've moved just a little bit. You detach, coast for a while, and reconnect. In the meantime you have experiences that you did not share with anyone, and everybody you know has had experiences which you were not obligated to take part in. Solitary travel is great. It's the ability to just drop underwater and drift on time's current for a few days or weeks, and then resurface at a different point in the same river. You pick up your obligations where you left them, reattach your life where you disconnected it. In the meantime you get a little while to just sort things out and listen to your own counsel. You get a little time to let your mind to unwind back into its original shape, the form it takes before other people and events pull and stretch it to fit a different mold.

Being anonymous means that nobody can change your mind.