Checkmate. It was an impressive maneuver. Bill, the intensely awkward technical writer at my last office job, the one who refused to talk about anything other than the band Dire Straits had just asked if I wanted to go out to lunch on Friday. I fibbed and told him I was very busy due to an upcoming deadline. This had been my excuse for several weeks.
“Well, will you be available for lunch on any Friday over the next three months?” How was I supposed to answer that question? He had forced me to concede. We chose a Friday almost two months out, as I prepared myself for the awkward lunch that would surely ensue.
To say I’m a true misanthrope is hyperbole. But interactions like the one I just described (along with ongoing emails about leftovers from a client meeting that were left in the kitchen) made quitting my job and becoming a freelancer an easy decision to make.
Last year, as the pandemic hit, I heard grumblings about people missing their offices and their seeing their co-workers in person. After years of working from home, and having only limited face-to-face interactions with others, I scoffed. Could someone actually enjoy forced interactions with die-hard Dire Straits fans?
As time passed, however, I started to understand how others felt. The human interactions I had, largely outside the context of work, had been curtailed and then became non-existent. I found some comfort in riding my bike in the mountainous terrain east of Seattle. Riding into the countryside, normally a quiet respite from daily life, was unsettling. It was too quiet, too disconnected. I began riding into the city, not away from it. I rode in search of humanity. These morning rides became a part of my daily routine. I started referring to them as my “fake commute”. I was, after all, riding my bike to the place where I worked. Home.
Every weekday, at 8am, I rode toward downtown Seattle and then downtown Bellevue. At the peak of the pandemic, streets were eerily quiet. But there were some signs of life. Apartment dwellers walked their dogs and waved. Even drivers began to nod with a smile. Perhaps they too had gone out looking for some proof that other humans still existed.
Riding on Lake Washington Boulevard (a preferred north-south route for Seattle cyclists), I saw an impeccably dressed man in his 50s. He stood in a small park next to the home where Kurt Cobain took his own life. We spoke from afar. He was a German executive, in town for business, and was now unable to go back home due to the pandemic. His son, back in Germany, recommended that he go see the memorial next to Cobain’s home. The memorial is little more than a park bench upon which visitors leave notes and gifts. “I’ve officially run out of things to do at my hotel, so here I am, looking at a park bench”, he told me. I nodded in agreement. After all, I was doing the exact same thing.
As spring temperatures began to rise, I started to see a few more people out and about. A block and a half away from Cobain’s former home, and among some of the priciest real estate in North America, Denny Blaine Park is a small lakefront beach that Seattle’s nudists flock to on warm days. Though city parks were technically closed by that point, one morning I saw a single man lying on the lakefront beach. He was completely nude, aside from a Seattle Seahawks-themed face mask. He waved, I waved back, and chuckled as I rode away. Then I then remembered that my situation was no less humorous. I was riding a daily commute to nowhere, so who was I to judge?
Today, even as aspects of my daily life return to normal, I’ve continued to fake-commute to work. I now see friends and family in person again, but I’ve come to cherish my morning rides, and the connections they afford me. Yes, impatient morning drivers are back on the road. But in the long run, I guess I prefer waving at the naked-facemask-guy over lunches with Dire Straits-loving co-workers. Perhaps realizing this a small silver lining amid all the chaos.