This is what happens when you drop your phone on a tile floor in front of your hotel in California just a couple of hours after getting off your plane.
This is what happens when you walk 15 minutes from where you’re staying to the Apple Store, and you meet with the “genius” (really hate calling them that) and they tell you they can fix the screen that, for the last couple of days, has been shedding glass shards into your thumb.
This is what happens when you walk to lunch at Umami Burger in northwest LA with nothing in your pocket but your wallet. No friends to meet. No Kindle. Nothing to do, no one to talk to.
This is what happens when you sit at the outside patio alone for the 45 minutes it takes to order and eat lunch.
What happens is at first you feel a little uncomfortable and self-conscious. You think, “oh no, what am I going to do for the next hour without checking my Twitter feed?” What you do is start by controlling the hyperventilating that starts when you realize no one in the world knows where you are right at this moment or how to get ahold of you.
What happens is you start settle into it a little bit. You try desperately to engage the waiter in conversation, but he’s busy (even though there’s only one couple at one other table) and you can tell he’s only being as polite as he thinks his tip necessitates. You try not to eavesdrop. Or, truth be told, you eavesdrop, but the conversation is about sales targets and new markets and you grow tired of it in minutes.
What happens is you notice how perfect the temperature is in LA all the time. You notice the trill of some unidentified bird. You notice the procession of late model cars gently navigating the speed bumps just beyond the railing of the outdoor patio. You notice the condensation gathering on your beer and you take the time to taste each of the four sauces the waiter places on the table.
What happens is you start to think about stuff. You think about all the ideas that have been bouncing around your head for the last couple of days. You think about exhilarating conversations that you’ve had with friends and strangers over burritos, beers and asparagus fries in a cool beach town restaurant.
What happens is you ask the hostess for a pen and you take the placemat and you start to write. You start writing what’s in your head. You remember quotations, themes, ideas. Even without consulting all the notes you took during the 2-day conference, you remember the things that really struck a chord, deep inside of you:
“I love you Charles.”
“We’re exchanging our souls for Candy Crush.”
“People who want to ‘keep you accountable’ are TOXIC”
“At some point you need to step across the threshold.”
What happens is you you write down all the stuff that will be the headlines when you get home to debrief with your wife. What happens is that when your friend asks you – the day after you get back while you’re cooking together in the kitchen – “how was your conference?” you’re ready with the soundbites, you have an answer that’s been thought-through and distilled.
[Listen, I’m as plugged in as everyone else, and this isn’t meant to be a soap box. But we’ve got a problem when culturally we don’t do this anymore. We don’t give ourselves space to stop and think, to process, to distill, to summarize, to connect the dots. Blaise Pascal, in Pensees said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I tend to think he was right. When I get alone and get quiet, things get much more clear than they are in the flotsam and jetsam of daily life.]
This is what happens when lunch is over: you pay the bill, walk back to the Apple Store, pick up your phone and get back online.