Countless words have been written on the importance of disconnecting from technology. For the most part, they’re written for slow news days. This is not one of those articles. It’s real. Here’s the story…
The magic shop
There must have been a million people and things I loved seeing as a child when visiting family in the Twin Cities. Grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends of the family. They’re all there. But there’s one place I still visit almost every time I find myself in the area.
My uncle owns a magic and costume shop. It’s epic. Walk inside and there are costumes, effects, and yes, plenty of magic. It’s the type of place where they do almost anything to help create the perfect costume, and where it’s almost impossible to browse and leave without stumbling upon an illusion or magic trick. It’s a kid’s dream.
By the beginning of the 1920s
Cars were becoming more common, but steamships and trains were still the preferred method for traveling distances. With long travel came the need for a way to reliably transport clothing and personal effects. Trunks were sturdy and stackable. In-fact there were all sorts of big and boutique brands in the trunk manufacturing game including some folks you may have heard of — Marshall Field and Louis Vuitton.
One of the boutique trunk makers, Mendel Trunx, manufactured trunks that were known for being full-featured wardrobes. Because such trunks were transported primarily on vessels powered by steam, they’re known as ‘steamer trunks’.
An unexpected discovery
The storage area of a magic shop is no less interesting than you’d expect. On any given day there are crazy costumes, props, severed heads, or mirrors with cryptic words etched into the collected dust — you know, the things interesting dreams are made of.
Things are lost and found, and — I like to believe — that sometimes things are just found, with no explainable origin.
It was in one such storage area, that my uncle re-discovered something interesting — a steamer trunk. What made it particularly interesting though, wasn’t entirely the object itself.
My name isn’t common
I was named after my great grandmother. Yea, you heard it right. My given name is the masculine form of Mindel — and my middle name Gordon — her last name. It’s a name I’ve grown to love for both its uniqueness and the strong Jewish upbringing that it represents. Some people hate their names or have nicknames. I don’t.
Imagine my surprise when
My uncle sent me a text message on an un-remarkable night. He told me that he’d been looking through one of his (to me) mysterious storage areas, and found a trunk he’d seen many times before. This time though, something caught his eye. Affixed to the trunk were labels printed with the name “Mendel Trunx”.
What made the find even more significant was the fact that the trunk had belonged to my great grandparents, Samuel and Mindel Gordon. He asked if I’d like to be the proud new owner of this sentimental piece of family history. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. After all, I’d be in Minneapolis on business in a couple months.
Only one problem — how does a guy get a super sentimental 95 lb. trunk back to Austin from Minnesota?
On 5/25/16, the journey began
With the trunk loaded into the back of my rented Ford Escape, I made my way to the final work function of the week in downtown Minneapolis. I said my goodbyes, and began the 1200 mile journey along I-35 back to Austin. I figured if I stopped in Kansas City for the night, I’d start out early the next day and arrive in Austin later that evening.
As I left, Shawn tipped me off to some nasty weather that was directly in my travel path. As I’d learn the next morning, there were tornados all over the midwest that evening.
Friends from the conference I had just attended knew about the journey, and called a few times to check in. As I rolled into the Hampton Inn parking lot under the cover of the front awning, the heavens opened up. The wind whipped like the tail of an excited dog, the thunder rattled windows, and lightning lit up the sky like a scene out of a Dracula story based in modern times.
I pulled the trunk from the back of the SUV, wheeled it to safety inside my room and dropped into a deep sleep the moment my head hit the pillow. I needed it. It had been a long week, and tomorrow would be a long day.
The next day was mostly un-eventful
The storms in the morning subsided as I made my way past Oklahoma, through a mess of traffic South of Dallas, and finally back to Austin around 7pm. Trunk in tow, I had finally ended my journey safely after 1200 miles. The trunk had made its longest journey in years. And it was home.
This trip wasn’t really about the trunk
You can probably find a trunk a lot like mine on eBay right now. In-fact, it’s an item you might find re-purposed as a coffee table in an upscale hipster furniture store in Austin.
Some people thought I was crazy for driving 1200 miles with something that had a 99.99% chance of arriving safely by post. But I say, I’d have been crazy not to have done it.
The funny part, is that in a way, this story isn’t about the trunk at all. It’s about the stories the trunk represents. The real life stories that will be retold and conversations that will take place as a result. The moments that will be shared face-to-face with friends and family talking about tales of the trunk (and the great people that owned it) that would likely never have taken place otherwise. It’s about a namesake that was given proudly from parent to child to carry on the legacy of past generations.
We are our relationships and experiences
I lead a more public life online than most, and get that people like peering through the periscope of social media to find a connection to something in my life that they relate or aspire to. But social media is only meant to augment real life.
Make no mistake. Technology has and continues to advance humankind. We live healthier and longer lives because of it. But just as we’ve created technology that advances us, we’ve also created technology that abstracts us from what’s real. We’ve stopped talking to neighbors, sometimes learn more than we should about people we know through their online presence, and some even try to piece together life stories of those they’ve just met using social media.
There’s a difference between honesty and how we represent ourselves online, authenticity and inauthenticity, reality and our virtual lives.
There is something real and beautiful about the vulnerability that comes with looking in someone’s eyes and forming a connection based on something common or meaningful.
There is something real and beautiful about the excitement of not knowing how you’ll get from point A to point B — in life, and on the road.
There is something real and beautiful about a long conversation with another human, hearing someone else’s stories, and seeing their expressions as they tell them.
We call people connections, friends, followers, and groups online, but have to remember that these are just parallels to a world that actually exists. In real life.
The simpler life is real life. This trunk, a reminder to me to stop, slow down, and disconnect. The stories it represents, a reminder to tell and listen, and just enjoy the journey.
Embrace the awkwardness, irony, rawness, and unknowingness of the world. Allow yourself to be excited, anxious, or fearful about your unknown journey. Take chances, be successful, mess up, but above all, purposefully take as much time as you can every day to enjoy what’s real. That is what being human is about.