Lucky for me, there’s a pretty convenient bus route that runs near my apartment and takes me quite a few places in this city. It’s a good way to get to multiple big nightlife areas, places I’ve been to countless times over the years. That means I’ve taken that bus quite a few times, including a lot of nights where I was drunk and headed home way too late (after having forgotten yet again that nothing good happens after 2 am so just go home earlier!). I vividly remember hopping on that bus a few years ago around 3 am in costume, on my way home from a friend’s Halloween party.
From the outside, yesterday was a fairly normal, if rather more exciting than usual day: I woke up, yet again failed to get out of bed at a time that meant I didn’t have to rush to work, showed up at work, had what you could more or less call a business lunch, went back to work, and then met up with a friend. And the night ended with me taking that bus home from one of those happening parts of town.
But the thing is that it wasn’t a normal day because I’m no longer living a “normal” life. Call me obsessed, but a lot of the decisions I make day-to-day tend to be made with financial independence in mind. I may still do a lot of the same things I’ve done for years, but the thoughts surrounding them are very, very different, now that I’m on this crazy path.
That business lunch I had yesterday wasn’t very business-y at all, because it was a super-exclusive #DCMoneyNerds meet up for people who love food, eat a lot of it, and happened to be free for lunch that particular Monday, aka I was hanging out with (the award-winning!) Ms. Financier. Sure, we talked jobs and blogging and future meetups, but we also talked about life and travel and feminism and health and how much we both love to eat! Pre-FIRE life, I would’ve instead been bundled up in my coat yesterday with my book and my lunch, having parked myself in a sunny place outside of the office. I did that last week and I’ll do it again today, but today I’ll be eating leftovers from my lunch out with someone that I never would’ve met if this blog didn’t exist.
I met a friend last night, and I waited for the bus home right outside of a number of bars and restaurants, but last night was not a repeat of so many other nights I’ve had in this city. My friend moved to her current place a few months ago and I hadn’t been there yet, so I went over after work. We made dinner and sat at the table for three hours and talked. It was boring and it was good. The fastest way home for me was to walk about half a mile and pick up the bus, so that’s what I did.
(And I didn’t even stop to think while writing that sentence that my automatic choice of public transit over Lyft means that sentence needs the qualifier of fastest cheap option available. Even I have my limits for how far I’m willing to walk, even though it’s the free option. But pulling up a ride share app on my phone hardly ever occurs to me.)
Standing there waiting for the bus was the weirdest, most surreal feeling. People were waiting for the bus or walking past going about their business; taxis kept pulling over to let people out at whichever bar or restaurant was their destination. How many times had I left those same bars and stood there in that exact same place, waiting for the same bus?
But it was different. Because I’m on the FIRE path now. I’d walked there from my friend’s house and I don’t honestly remember the last time I was out in that part of town. Everything looked the same from the outside, but the entire experience was oddly and poignantly different. I hadn’t just dropped $30+ on a night out on a whim (no matter how cheap the happy hour, it always seems to come out to about $30 per bar visit, so your drunken mileage may vary, depending on how many drinks that buys).
Perhaps because I’d forgotten my headphones at home and couldn’t listen to podcasts, I spent the ride looking out the window, watching the familiar streets and buildings blur by and continuing to marvel at how I was just one more person going home after an evening out, but that means something different now.
I don’t know why it took so long to have one of these moments—I’m still living in the same city I spent my formative late- and initial post-college years in. If I’d thought about it at all, I would’ve expected that life and my current one to have clashed a long time ago.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in the same apartment since the summer after I graduated and I’ve been able to walk to two of the three jobs I’ve had since moving here. Large swaths of my life happen in one wonderful, but pretty contained, little walkable bubble, so when I venture out of that bubble, it tends to be for a select few activities: chorus rehearsal, the doctor, seeing people when I can’t convince them to come to me, and going out. I still go out: the financial independence path hasn’t turned me into a hermit who never goes anywhere or does anything. But I’m much more selective now about when and where I go out, not just because it’s a weekday and my roommate or friends want to.
Aside from occasionally thinking about how much farther along I’d be if I’d started paying attention to my finances a few years earlier and then grinding my teeth in frustration, I don’t regret that past life much. But I’m definitely on a better path now. I’m lucky I stumbled upon FIRE when I did, and I’m glad I have this little blog and its readers. I’m thankful for the people I’ve met through it and the conversations I’ve had both online and in person. Sometimes it takes surreal moments and glimpses of a past life to realize just how much things have changed.