Saturday, February 1, 2020
I’m sitting in an airport bar at roughly 11am after my employer’s annual
all-hands meeting in San Francisco. I have just paid $15 for avocado toast
(which was pretty good) and I am carefully not thinking about how much for a
mediocre bloody mary.
SFO is science fictional as fuck, in the way that modern airports along the
money’s path tend to be. Automated trains along elevated tracks. Concrete
shapes that would work on the cover of some trade paperback featuring a
slightly abstracted spaceport. People in face masks because the network made
them afraid of a potential pandemic. In the distance out the windows, through
the fog slowly burning off, the surface of California’s engineered vastness.
A year ago:
Downtown SF in 2019: A grotesque and surreal environment. Gleaming towers,
all the trappings of an unfathomable wealth, the sidewalks and doorways
scattered with people in the throes of debilitating addiction and untreated
mental illness. You’re quickly socialized to ignore the screaming and step
around the bodies and assume that someone else will attend to it if this or
that figure sprawled out across the pavement is dead instead of merely
This hasn’t changed, as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s worse.
I usually try to travel light these days. A backpack with some changes of
clothes, a laptop, a notebook and some pens, toothbrush and some laundry soap
for the hotel sink. But of course the lightness of these habits is mostly a
fiction, apart from the convenience of skipping baggage claim in airports.
What I’m really carrying is ready access to credit and enough social capital
to get me through any very likely situation, along with a home in a prosperous
and stable region, white skin, a steady job, health insurance, and all the rest
Self-flagellation about having good shit in life seems like a pointless
exercise, but I’m aware these days of what feels like a divide becoming a chasm
between me and the set of people tending bar, waiting tables, driving for Uber.
The threat of precarity is real for nearly all of us, but it isn’t evenly
distributed. Like most people, I’m one bad hospitalization away from financial
ruin. In relative terms I also have a hell of a lot more buffer than it’s
likely the guy who made my drink does. As long as I stay lucky and stay useful
to some slice of the technocracy, that’ll probably stay true. There’s a
feeling of sickness in knowing these things. In the movie of my life, it’s
something dissonant and droning swelling on the soundtrack while I bullshit my
way through these paragraphs on an expensive laptop in a gleaming airport.