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.