I’ve finally sat in the lair of the enemy in order to write these words to you, one step from surrender. When did the solitude of simply being with one’s voice and thoughts become oppressive? We used to be able to recite our words in our minds without necessarily giving voice to them. And there was a time when we could type them out without sending. Have these two things become the same?
I’m drinking the wine of the enemy as I write these words to you. It’s not for lack of trying, you see. I’ve been looking for hours now. Or is it weeks? It feels like so long since I could rest assured that my words would find their way, far away from all of the...the easy connections of home. Is that what home has become?
I’ve walked the streets here with my compass in hand, not wanting to give in so easily. I checked at every street corner and every public place of gathering, monitoring for signs of openness, availability, potential. I need to get these words online but...things work differently here.
I must have seen two hundred names flash past my eyes. They all turned out to be mirages, fading quickly or remaining behind locked doors. And though I’ve tried to ignore her, the princess in her dark green circle beckons at almost every turn, promising a quick end to my suffering, offering me refuge in her cozy web of connectivity. I never would have thought that forest green and hot pink were so natural together. Have they always been?
Codes, codes, codes...human faces glance this way and that on the street corner, but they offer no help. It’s the shop signs and apartment names that might point the way, though sometimes the least secure-looking structures are the most impermeable. And why? Codes nowadays reveal no treasures in themselves; having the right key only enables you to walk through their portal, to the same place you always go. How is that even possible? In what kind of world does that make sense? One where businesses can claim proprietorship and charge for the privilege of using ‘doors’, doors that apartment owners name and protect, and doors that individuals covet and spend hours upon hours searching for, when they all lead to the same place?
This coffee is turning lukewarm. My ‘compass’ sits in my pocket, powered down now after leading me into this T-Mobile network. My feet hurt after covering miles in downtown Düsseldorf. And now I’ve been at this table for almost an hour. It’s been fifteen since the nice gentleman in the green apron, same princess emblazoned on front (surely you know the one!), cleared my tray. My power adapter is still plugged into the wall, bulbous universal adapter bringing down the 220 volts for my old G4 PowerBook. Battery’s back at 96%, the only consolation I have for placing myself in this establishment. It’s time to give in or head out.
How bad do I need to send those emails, to check my profile, to post on this blog? After powering my laptop up, I had taken my wallet out, even pulled out my credit card, the ultimate act of submission in the world of online access. I was ready. How much would it be? 4.95 for an hour? 9.95 for 6? Expensive but fine, I need to get online.
But 8 € for 60 minutes? That’s $12. That’s twice as much per hour as it costs to watch a movie. That’s four times as much as the cost of this coffee. That’s the same as it’ll cost me to take the train back to Essen tonight, my last night in Europe before resuming life in Berkeley, a place of easy connectivity, where I spend more time on the other side of the door, where everything is the same.
Sorry, Starbucks. I went as far as buying a drink, sitting down, and opening my internet browser, but you can have your network. By next year I might not be able to stand being disconnected. And the price will have surely gone up by then. But for now, I’ll hold on to these words a little longer and keep on walking.
* Uploaded 1 day later from O’Hare Int’l
** Thanks to Woyton for the free WiFi in Düsseldorf!