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.