The Policy Bubble

For the 4 years, I have been out of town for the 4th of July, and each time was for completely different reasons. In 2014, I spent the 4th in Indianapolis for a college friend’s wedding. In 2015, I spent the 4th at a friend’s cabin in Minnesota. In 2016, I spent the 4th in Ireland for my honeymoon. And in 2017, I spent the week around the 4th in Washington DC visiting my sister.

In true American fashion, we saw fireworks 3 times during the week. Surprisingly, the fireworks over the National Mall on the 4th weren’t my favorite, though it might have been because we watched it from across the Potomac. I preferred the fireworks in Alexandria for Alexandria’s birthday the following Saturday, which included live music from the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra and real cannons firing for the “1812 Overture”.

This picture does not convey the sounds of explosions going on

Other than watching lights in the sky, we saw the big monuments and museums all around the National Mall. With all of our stories about what we saw and did, however, the most common question I got from my friends after the vacation was, “Did you see Trump?”

I definitely didn’t see Trump. In fact, even on our visit to the US Capitol, we didn’t see any notable politicians since most congressmen take the long weekend to go back to their home districts. Despite their absences, I don’t think you mistake being anywhere else in the world because it was a bubble where everything was about politics.

As a person who lives in a bubble, I think I know one when I see one. I live in the Bay Area where I work at a tech company, most of my friends work at tech companies, most of my neighbors work at tech companies, and even most pets are probably at least unofficial mascots at tech companies. Hacker News is required reading more so than The New York Times or reddit. The first carousel at the front of bookstores are filled with references on how to run a startup or the secret to how Google scaled. If someone says java, they probably aren’t talking about their next vacation or coffee, though they probably will have a cup of artisan coffee in their hand. And if you’re out for brunch, the table next to you is someone trying to pitch an investor on their new app idea. Or maybe the owner of a Asian fusion restaurant is working on an app and is pitching it to you while you’re waiting for food.

Both of those have happened.

I had figured that the Bay Area obsession with tech was unusual and probably not casual smalltalk in most places. However, I was still surprised that other cities could be also be similarly focused. Julie and I went out for an early dinner in the Capitol Hill area during happy hour.

I ordered a delicious fried chicken and biscuits dish, where the thighs actually had no bones in them. Having deboned many chicken thighs, I was very impressed that they had kept their shape. My thighs usually end up looking like lumpy filets after I’m done carving them.

Over the bar, the restaurant had 2 TVs. One was showing ESPN. The other had CNN, which, at the time, was covering the G20 summit. Recently, I have been going on a news diet to reduce my low-level stress, so I could listen to that. Because I apparently need to pay attention the ambience, I began eavesdropping on the conversations around me. On my left was someone who was talking about their legal role supporting some aspect of the Republican party. On my right was another group talking about policy.

I had been warned. Over lunch a few days earlier, we were talking to Nicole, my sister, and Thor, a family friend, about being in the DC bubble, and we observed that being here, you just end up thinking and talking about policy all of the time. As an example, they mentioned immigration policy, which led us down a short digression into how illegal immigrants are handled and detained. In even observing how everyone talks policy, we ended up talking about policy.

After we left the policy-filled (but boneless) restaurant, we wandered over to a nice bookstore. In contrast, their front table had books about politics. The first section on the right was biography, which chronicled the lives of great leaders and politicians. Glancing through the books, I was reminded of my childhood fascination with the Civil War and took down a few titles to perhaps read later.

After we left the bookstore, we went to the game shop next door. I knew that this would be my comfort zone seeing that they were running a normal Friday night Magic: the Gathering tournament in the back. In a town filled with fuzzies, this was the geeky crowd who could distance themselves from the politics.

That at least was what I thought until I saw this wall of games.

Earlier, I said I could recognize a bubble because I live in one. I think I see many ways that bubble is manifested from casual conversations to marketing strategy, but I wonder what I have missed. Because this environment has been tuned so much for people like me, there must be other things that seem bizarre to outsiders but that I find perfectly appropriate.

To all non-Bay Area locals: come visit. Write a blog post and tell me why our niche hobby shops are odd.

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