The fourth time I pull my head out of a District Taco garbage can in Washington, D.C., I still can’t find my credit card. The discarded plates of diners who came before me have been scraped clean in my frantic search for the piece of plastic I failed to bet against.
It’s an afternoon in June, I have $5 and a nearly empty metro card in my pocket, and I’m more than a few train stops from the house I crashed at last night. My cocky independence is rapidly deteriorating into chaotic panic as I realize one does not simply leave home to visit friends for a weekend and return unscathed. In the space of an afternoon, I’d managed to obliterate every scrap of self-confidence I naively built up during my previous summer working away from home.
Since the summer I spent in D.C. as a starving journalist, I’ve had time to reflect on how the experience changed my life. For instance, it inspired me to purchase a plane ticket in June and couch surf the city for a weekend, checking in with the blossoming Hillsdale mafia. My lunch date had already gone back to work by the time I realized I would not be riding the metro home.
Somehow despite its reputation as a swamp full of stuck-up metrosexuals, the Washington, D.C. metro area keeps sucking Hillsdale students and alumni into its network. I was just visiting some journalist friends and had planned on catching dinner a few hours later when I found myself pretending to be homeless on a park bench.
The sight of a skinny guy digging through trash can convince passerby that he’s hungry or hunting for heroin. One of the notable differences between my credit card and heroin is I never lost heroin while walking from a cash register to a soda fountain. But that’s what I looked like: an anxious junkie digging through trash in public, skittering around the restaurant asking if anyone had seen it. I was wearing my favorite ratty shirt, a black “Breaking Bad” tee with various icons of death and chicken scattered to form a mosaic of the title character. Of course, no one batted an eye when I dove into the garbage.
D.C. is a great place for personal development. Public transportation is easy to access if you aren’t desperately broke; there are plenty of places to visit and strange people to bump into. Personally, I felt that my previous summer spent in the city was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Being independent from my parents gave me the chance to survive on chicken nuggets and beer while furnishing our apartment living room with an inflatable couch and a coffee table made from cardboard Costco crates.
At some point, however, independence falls to the wayside as panic sets in, and the time comes to ring mom only to discover her cell phone isn’t turned on. The trip has mutated from an adventure in personal growth to a five-alarm family meeting. How does one cancel a credit card? How soon will someone steal the rest of my identity? I was searching for comfortable benches to spend the night when my phone finally rang. Yes, my card could be cancelled, and no, I wasn’t uninvited from Sunday dinner.
That said, those with a firmer grip on their wallets and a more stable phone connection should not hesitate to venture into lands foreign and domestic. There is nothing better than surprising your family by running away to D.C., but the thrill of being on your own quickly fades when you tie your independence to a piece of plastic.
Joe Pappalardo is a senior studying marketing.