“I’m visiting Maryland next week” I emailed Laurie eight days before my trip. “You want to get together on Friday?”
“Sure. You want me to round up everyone who lives in the area?”
I said “nah,” not because I didn’t want to see other people, but because I didn’t want to put Laurie out or appear rude to her, as if I was contacting her to be my social director.
But Laurie was insistent on inviting Sarah.
“She’d like to see you.”
“Sure! I love Sarah!”
Later that afternoon, it was Sarah who contacted me, this time on Facebook.
“I just want to make sure that it is OK that I come see you too. I don’t want to be a party crasher.”
“Of course. I always like to see you.”
“I just heard that you didn’t want to tell other people that you were in town.”
“That’s not true. “Please come!”
My message to Laurie was getting lost in translation. I was being perceived as a snooty anti-social scrooge who hates humanity.
“And can I bring my husband too?” asked Sarah.
“I won’t tell anyone else about it.”
“No, go ahead. Tell anyone you want!”
My trip was already beginning to freak me out.
“Where do you live now? Do you live in Washington?”
I told her about our get-together.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” Heather wrote. I could sense her steaming on the other side.
“I forgot that you lived in Washington!”
“And why didn’t Laurie tell me?”
“I think I gave her the impression that I didn’t want her to tell anyone else.”
“So, are you saying that you DON’T want me there?”
“No. No. That’s not it at all.”
I quickly resolved the matter with Heather. I clicked onto Facebook to count how many other people I knew in the Washington D.C./Maryland area who I didn’t tell about my arrival in town, as if it was the second coming of Christ. I certainly couldn’t contact them NOW, only a few hours before the meet-up, because it would look like a last minute invitation, as if someone more important has cancelled and I was pulling out my “B-list.”
But this wasn’t a public meet-up! I was just hoping to have a cup of coffee with Laurie after I arrived in town. Now I was in the middle of an event that would be TWEETED for all to see. Devra and Amie and John and Amy and twenty other online people from Twitter and Facebook who lived in the immediate area were going to wonder why I didn’t invite them to this amazing shindig.
“But no one cares, right?” I asked myself. “How many times had there been blogger dinners in LA or NY where I haven’t been invited? Did I sit home and cry? (Don’t answer that)”
Anyway, the final group was small: Neil, Laurie, Kris, Sarah, her husband, Gabe, and Heather. The plan was to meet at Jaleo, a popular tapas bar in D.C. The restaurant didn’t take reservations, so whoever got there first, would make reservations for six.
I was the first to arrive, at 7PM. The restaurant was already jammed. The bar area was overflowing with young single Washingtonians.
“I’d like to make a reservation,” I said.
I was told that we couldn’t get a table until 10:30PM, three and a half hours away!
I texted the others and said that we would have to make other plans.
The others arrived. There was much hugging. I was ecstatic to meet the amazing Kris, who I have never met in person. As I talked with her, Sarah went into the restaurant. When she returned, she told us that it would only be fifteen minutes until we would get seated.
I was dumbfounded. Why did we get such a drastically different answer? Was it because I looked a little ragged and unshaven from my long day? Or was it because Sarah looked polished and upscale, someone who fit in with the restaurant’s demographic?
My thoughts quickly faded as I sat down with the others for an enjoyable meal, filled with great conversation and too much sangria. It was the perfect way to start my week long Maryland vacation, amongst friends (even thought I felt bad for Gabe, Sarah’s husband who was stuck there listening to bloggers gossip for several hours. Luckily there was a lot of sangria for him to drink and ease his pain.)
Later in the week, I would recall that experience making the restaurant reservation. While there is a good chance that Sarah got the table simply because one opened up, I also imagined the reason involving other issues such as class, gender, identity, pigeonholing, profiling, and our need to categorize each other (branding!), something that would be discussed over and over at the Theory of the Web conference at the University of Maryland. I would talk about this would Bon after the conference. I would also confront it — head on — particularly my own racial biases — as I switched buses several days later in Baltimore, home of some of the worst burnt-out, crime-ridden areas that I have ever seen.