Last night I came home to a MySpace message from a man who rides my evening bus home.
"I’ve wanted to meet you for the longest time," he wrote, "and today fate walked into my office." He went on to say one of his co-workers had been tooling around on this "MySpace" website he'd never heard of and suddenly my face was on the screen. So he set up a profile and sent me an e-mail. "It’s just that I’ve always believed how very nice it would be to know you as more than just the girl on the bus with the pretty red hair."
All this time I was minding my own business on the N2, shuffling through my iPod while I stewed in sweaty gym clothes, and somebody was keeping an eye on me. I should pay attention more; I never know who might be watching.
I've had my own secret crush (or five), most recently the disturbingly handsome man who frequents my favorite lunch joint on M Street. Who knows if I'd have seized an opportunity to reach him had I stumbled across his mug online. In real life, I failed to make the connection.
I think the expectation of privacy – especially among bloggers – has been stretched thin across the Internet. In public spaces like this one we fool ourselves into thinking strangers don't care enough to hunt down any more information than we've extended in our open palms. Or maybe we tell ourselves they're dying to know more when in fact they couldn't care less. Either way, we enjoy a sense of control, false as it may be, that's shaped by how much or how little anonymity we choose to forfeit on our blogs, our Friendster profiles, our MySpace pages and our dating sites.
We may do a lot of living here online, but we still have lives. I ride the elevator with my neighbors, run alongside other members at the gym, zone out on the bus with the same commuters every day. I meander through Whole Foods each week and almost always pass George Stephanopolous in the produce section, or wave to the girl with dreadlocks who works behind the bakery. A community is comprised of citizens, and if you live in a neighborhood long enough you're bound to start recognizing a few. Even those you don't see on TV.
A few months ago I was waiting for the bus after work. And waiting. And waiting.... And after a half hour or so I started to hoof it home. Several blocks along I realized someone was walking next to me, matching me stride for stride. We exchanged a knowing eye-roll -- "Ugh, doesn't DC public transportation suck?" -- and then he blurted, "Don't you work out at Gold's?"
"I used to..." I said, "but I moved to Washington Sports Club, like, a year ago."
"Oh, that would explain why I haven't seen you in the gym lately." Honest to God, I had no idea who this guy was. Which is not so unusual -- I do tend to orbit on my own semi-conscious moon. But even for a space cadet like me -- or maybe particularly so -- it's a little jarring to meet a complete stranger who's familiar with both my face and some element of my life's routine.
We made small talk for a while, discovered we live on the same street and work a couple blocks from one another. We talked about blogging -- he wasn't familiar with the medium and promised to give mine a read. By the time we arrived home three miles later we'd exchanged business cards.
The next day he e-mailed me at work: "It was nice to finally meet you last night and thanks for providing me with evening reading material... I must say that for as long as I have seen you around (year and a half I guess-from my Gold's time) I always took you to be quite shy..." As usual, I'd been engrossed in my own world, oblivious to the fact that I'd been, if not watched, at least seen. And also apparently judged with some accuracy -- from a distance, just by my expression and body language.
Later that day my boss called me into her office as I was on my way out the door. She grinned at me and said, "I think I saw you get picked up last night."
My left eyebrow shot up in surprise. "Oh?"
"Yeah. Tall blonde guy. Cute! You were walking and talking on your way up Mass Avenue while I was stuck in traffic, so I got to watch you for a good fifteen minutes or so. Looked like you were getting along famously."
"Ohmigod, I can't believe you saw that," I breathed.
She chuckled. "I got pretty bored sitting there in my car and I thought about honking, but I figured that was the sort of thing that would've made my kids want to kill me. I didn't want to ruin it for you."
"Thanks, I appreciate that," I said, smirking at the thought of my own mother, who would have honked, pulled over and brewed coffee on the side of the road. ("So... Bobby, is it? What line of work are you in, Bobby? A lawyer, really... Here, have a cookie.")
This Wednesday there's another blogger happy hour at Pharaoh's Bar in Adams Morgan. It'll be my third. At the first I was nervous, and I met a few strangers. At the second I was... less nervous, and I made some acquaintances. This time, I'm excited to share a drink with people I feel are sort of friends. Whether or not I've met them before, they're part of my community. We see each other every day.