#47: The principle of least astonishment.

A techno-love story.

Today, I tweeted this prompt:

And it inspired me to write a story.

The Philz Coffee in SoMa, San Francisco.

“Think about it, it's just surplus money,” he says, repeatedly putting his Apple watch against the Toast POS system to no avail, “It wasn’t going into your budget anyway, you might as well invest it.”

He's getting a little frustrated now, continuously rotating his wrist, “Does this thing work?”

“I think the battery's dead,” the Barista tells him.

He looks at his watch. She's right. It's dead.

He takes out his iPhone 12 Pro Max, double clicks, and the payment goes through.

“Anyway, I know the price is high right now, but it's not too late to buy. It’s only going to appreciate in value.”

But the Barista isn’t really listening to him and can't remember if he was telling her to invest in Bitcoin, Ethereum, or some alt coin—maybe his alt coin? She’s been subjected to this conversation or some version of it a million times before, guys who wander in from the offices they aren’t legally allowed to be working in right now, or momentarily freeing themselves from the tyranny of their Scandinavian-inspired shoebox apartments.

“Yeah, thanks for the tip,” she pushes his cup forward.

But he doesn’t take his coffee, he doesn’t walk away. He lingers.

“Hey, um, are you…”

Oh god.

“I know we're supposed to be in lockdown and everything," he stumbles over himself, but she doesn't stop him. She doesn’t shut him down.

“Would you uh...”

Here it comes.

“Are you on Signal? It’s, uh, a secure messaging app—”

She says nothing.

“Maybe, uh...I'd love to explain this more to you.”

They make eye contact. She considers it. She takes his phone, which he's surprisingly willing to hand it over to her. His neuroses is on a momentary pause, and she, she's not sure what's spurred in her, but she gives him her actual phone number.

He texts her within seconds of leaving the café.

>> Hey, it’s Tom.

And so the two start texting. She finds herself, in spite of her disgust for him, feeling giddy waiting for his responses, manically thinking of ways to keep the conversation alive, even though he's the one pursuing her.

He asks her if she's staying in San Francisco, or if she’s considering Miami or Austin. She retorts that she was born in San Francisco and can't leave, regardless of what's happening in tech.

He sends her Rick and Morty gifs, she responds with disdain, though secretly starts downloading episodes.

He asks her if she’s ever done ketamine, and she quips that she’s more of a coke girl. When it’s slow at work, she thumbs through Reddit threads about ketamine therapy.

In her mind, their relationship starts to take on a life of its own. It's separate from her, who she is, it is its own character in a story that feels far removed from her life. It’s a universe unto itself; the potential of a life that exists outside of her rent-controlled house in South Berkeley and her long commutes to the Outer Sunset to visit her parents.

She stays up until 4:00 AM each night asking him questions about his start-up, he explains it to her from first principles. And though in so many ways Tom lacks the self awareness, even he can recognize that when she asks about why his full-stack payments platform was different, she’s telling him she’s interested.

Days turn to weeks though, and their only in-person interaction remains that first day at Philz.

She doesn't tell him, but she spends several hours each night watching old videos of him online. He's only 19, 20 in these, and she falls in love with the ebullient way he describes his company, even though even then it lived under the shadow of its much more successful competitors. She reads old TechCrunch articles that reference the person he once was. She marvels at BusinessInsider pieces that start with clichés like, “Every generation has its college dropout heroes, and Millennials are no exception.”

To her friends, he’s an object of ridicule, emblematic of everything they feel destroyed the San Francisco of their youth. When a text from him comes in, she jokes that he’s so cringe, that she would jump off the Bay Bridge if she ever became like him. But she buys Atoms shoes and starts reading Terence McKenna at his suggestion.

She puts a little money away into Ethereum every pay check with a modest recurring buy. She advises her parents to do the same.

One night, during one of their late text conversations, he’s a little less responsive than normal, and she misses him.

She sends him a voice memo: “Meet me at Ocean Beach?”

He says yes, and she bikes there with an urgency she doesn't recognize in herself. She swerves through tent encampments, up and down hills, around Teslas with smashed windows. Her heart's racing like it's never raced before.

Tom sits in his car, still parked in his driveway. He feels himself getting cold feet, and he doesn’t know why. She's a 24 year old barista at a Philz Coffee in a now dystopian SoMa. She's in nontrivial amounts of debt from her BA in anthropology from some no-name school near Sacramento. She can barely tie her shoes.

She was cute, that much is true, but she was cute. Not pretty, not hot, cute. And she's so judgmental. She’s really pretty cruel to him. It doesn't matter what he shares with her, it's like she's already composed some anti-tech response in her head. She's just using him as a stage to express her discontent against a person she thinks ruined her hometown.

She's the automaton. One with bad tattoos, whose opinions are preordained by whatever's being discussed by a coterie of Brooklyn podcasters. She hates everything he is, everything he stands for, everything he's worked for. Why should he drive all the way to Ocean Beach to see her?

His phone lights up: Tom?

Another text: I really want to see you.

Text-to-speech: On my way.

He starts driving, thinking about all the things they’ve talked about.

As he drives, it feels like the first time he's really seeing San Francisco. Everything has a different texture. The tents, the filthy streets, the shuttered storefronts.

She stands at the entrance of the beach. It's chilly, chillier than usual, and she's cold. But more than cold, she's nervous. Her stomach feels tight, her thoughts are going a mile a minute, she feels like she's going to collapse into herself.

Then a red Tesla Model S pulls up.

He spots her immediately. She's more than just cute, she's beautiful, even in an oversized Eat the Rich hoodie. And he—against all odds—is handsome in his a size-too-small jeans and hack-a-thon tee-shirt he's been hanging onto since high school.

This is more than fireworks. This a thousand MOABs going off inside her.

It's been 8 weeks and 6 days of texting nonstop, 8 weeks and 6 days of staying up until 4 AM, 8 weeks and 6 days of thinking, “You know, maybe these people really are something special...”

He smiles at her. And then his watch chimes a recognizable chime.

Bitcoin just broke $50,000.

He’s paralyzed. He just became a centimillionaire. But of course, she doesn't know this. She only knows that he's just standing there, doing nothing.

That his demeanor changed as soon as he saw her. Something in her sinks like an anchor.

He looks up at her and smiles.

And after a long moment... “You seem cold. Want to go for a drive?”

He has an idea. She gets in the car, confidence still depleted.

He leans in and kisses her. "I'm happy you invited me out. I'm happy to finally see you in person."

So they start driving. And it feels like the first time she's seen California. Everything feels more beautiful than it’s ever felt before.

“I’m happy I invited you out too.”