The Abandoned Station

The Abandoned Station






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Other People’s Restaurant Conversations



"And then I was no she's going to actually come back around..."

"Oh no..."

"And Matthew was telling me that I could just leave my bags here, but I didn't feel comfortable with that."

"No of course not, that's a bad idea."

Deborah didn't know how she was going to get out of this one.

What a thought to have when sitting in your brand frigging new editing studio, listening to the playback for the first time. Aisha recorded this one, and it's a good length, first off. A little over an hour. Can definitely squeeze in eight ad breaks.

Good quality, too. You can hear the murmuring of other patrons a few tables away, the sound of the server plunking dirty cutlery on empty plates before taking them away. It's like you were there, listening, eavesdropping, eating on succulent morsels of vegetarian stir fry with kimchi or grilled elk meat, which is what these five ordered, along with two bottles of Chianti.

Listening to the whole thing would be doubly enticing, because it means some people are going out in secret, despite the quarantine, to underground supper-houses and are eating and drinking well.

So salacious that perhaps all the subscribers would stop to think just who was recording this, and what sort of snitching could it possibly be since this person was just as guilty as this couple.

Deborah happened to know it was Aisha, who always had one ear to the underground even before a virus was spreading across the globe turning everyone's routines upside down.

Even though Deborah taped the first two conversations herself long before socializing cratered and the podcast took off (and random strangers began sending them hour long clips of noshing and nitpicking), ninety percent of what they uploaded came from a tiny group of her friends. She thinks Aisha was dining out just for this purpose alone.

But it's getting harder now, in these winter months.

We're all on lockdown, right?

Well, she's at work, but only one other person is here, so it doesn't feel like they are breaking the same sort of social distancing rules.

And it really is 'work' as a location now. Can't call it a studio or loft once the interior, non-load-bearing walls come in. Now it's an office.

Cornered by their own success.

Half-success, as Huma kept telling them in video meetings, trying to keep everyone's feet and expense accounts on the ground.

Yes, there was money coming in from ads, sponsorships, subscriptions and straight up donations through patreon and the like, but as the success ball first started to roll down the hill, Deborah got a perky email from someone saying they would love to get involved and invest and even though it was shady that there was no name and no real contact info beyond the email name which didn't led anywhere ('softlykidding430'). And she would have dismissed it outright if there wasn't a massive amount of money dumped in the PayPal account with that contact name attached.

Shaking hands with the devil, only there is no hand, there is just the click of the digital 'transfer funds' button.

Of course you take it.

Of course.

Go back to the ad agency? They've already replaced you. The baristas are out of work.

Take the money.

Let the contract slither in and give whatever chunk of whatever counts for profits down the road to their mysterious benefactor.

Aisha danced around the loft studio (back when it was still that) when Deborah told her and Huma, the latter quickly asked a litany of question and still crosses her arms in suspicion when the mysterious benefactor matter comes up.

As their daily video chats wind down, and Deborah asked if there's anything else anyone wants to say, Aisha will be the one to fold her arms and frown exaggeratedly to mock and get ahead of Huma's inevitable buzzkill comment about their business model:

Everything crashes or runs out of gas.

"And that's why Matt and Jennifer work so well."

"I think he's home for like half the month now, with the, uh, changed work schedule."

"But that's the perfect amount then."

"To have and to hold for two weeks at a time!"

Deborah played it back. Sometimes a muffled sound could be intriguing, and really pull the listener in a little bit more, their mind running wild over what the sound could be.

She likes how a normal video wouldn’t be the same. There's even been talk of a sister site, hosting plenty of content where seeing and hearing what the people are doing and saying in mundane situations would clarify everything and thereby ruin everything, so all audio would be taken out before posting.

It was 'creation via removal', as Deborah wrote on the app's download page.

So where did these ideas come from, was the quickly exhausted question everyone asked her.

And of course it was one borne out of simple frustration.

Her last night out for dinner before she was pretty sure the world would keep shrinking to size of her apartment thanks to the Coronavirus.

She wanted to enjoy it all by herself (yes, she is one of those people, and would bring a book with her sometimes in lieu of another human being), even got a seat at the window so she could watch the street life while its heart still pumped.

And instead she was pulled into the dullest drama of the two couples sitting at the table right beside her.

Yap, yap, yap, yap.

It sounded like the same too loud conversation everyone has heard over and over again when they're in the same situation. They don't know what to order, one of them knows someone who is going through a bad break up, you know that friend of so-and-so well you're never gone believe what happened to them

(Of course when it's you and your friends talking, then it's just a great, exciting time to catch up)

Deborah seethed but didn't show it, and wondered if these four people had any idea of how annoying there, and it must not just be her, everyone else in the restaurant had to suffering through this micro-torture.

What would they think if they heard themselves tomorrow morning?

Beyond the sound of your own voice, would you cringe at like, y'know, how so dumb you sounded complaining about whatever?

Having your phone on your table is nothing special. A simple tap of the button and it's done. You're recording. And that's what she did. Not with the thought of somehow publicly embarrassing these people, but just to...have?

She listened to a bit of it when she got back to her place later in the evening. A little bit buzzed because she had an extra two glasses of wine to help her get through to the bill.

It sounded a bit dull because she'd just lived it, but she wondered what fresh ears would think.

Her job as a freelancer editor and producer of creator content (which means she spends time on social media and can send emails to graphic artists effectively) made starting up an account with the name 'Other People's Restaurant Conversations' very easy. So was uploading the first clip. Totally unedited, no intro or much of a write it. The name of the handle said it all, and she hyped it from her own pages so the cabal of friends and social climbers can listen and weigh in.

And then Deborah went to bed and woke up early in the morning with a headache and she was glad she knew it was the wine and not the pandemic.

Sitting on the toilet after popping some aspirin she felt literal and proverbial cold feet, the latter because she was wondering about the chances of those four people ever hearing it, although even if they did, how could they ever figure out who was recording them, especially now, since we're all about that quarantine life.

Not that it would matter with only her friends listening to it.

But when she finally grabbed her phone she found that wasn't the reality. It was spreading across social media like was happening around the actual world and turning out lives upside down.

Years of trying to go viral, and just like you would expect, coming up with the idea was a happy accident and that it struck popularity gold was really a massive stroke of luck, and now...

"What did you get, Courtney? What is that?"

"It was-"

"Excuse me, can I get an order of that?"

"Okay yeah but it might come after your main dish."

"Just have some of mine."

"Are you sure? Like really?"

Now she's waiting for a product name drop. Weird that in that very first conversation there were references to a cell phone company, a popular cleaning detergent, a car manufacturer and some big snack brand, and all four of them jumped on board early and linked her pages to all their real and fake followers.

Passerby followers aren't everything in the world of Internet popularity, but it's something. They’re numbers, and people can crunch those. And the first thing the mob wants is always more of the same.

Thank god her 'final' night' out wasn't the last one for the restaurants in the city as far as orders from the authorities were concerned, and she found herself going out for brunch and dinner and extra maxing out her credit card with the few days that were left.

She recruited Aisha and Huma and Jayson at the same time, and sent them out into the night as the disease slowly upended all their routines.

Originally Deborah would just foot the bill, but the views and subscribers just climbed and climbed. That meant videos about her recordings, two paragraph blog posts and so-called critical analyses taking deep dives into the ethical quandary of doing this and the state of consumption in modern society on the edge of a pandemic. Plus all the trending speculation of who in the recordings are couples and whether they fuck with the lights on. The signs of success nowadays.

The money dripped up until the mystery benefactor showed up, and then it became a torrent. Consequently, she would wade into the comments and message boards if she was feeling too good about herself.

God, it seems so weird that she owns a company.

To say it like that.

Because you needed a place to go and talk about how to make this money into a company, and so you lease a loft space without visiting it in person. And you need lawyers. And a PR 'advisor'. And Huma could be this and Jayson could be that (he actually took an economics course in university), and Aisha wanted to be off book in almost every way.

All right, sure.

"And then I came back and Lisa was like, not here, can't be here."

"Oh no..."

"I know, right?"

"Don't know what I'd do if that was me."

"So what did you do, did you say-"

"I told them that it didn't make a difference because it shouldn't, and I know that she would say that Tom would make everything more difficult and I said let him."

"He would do that."

"Not that Tom's bad."

"No, no, no, no. I know that. I don't mean it like that she didn't either."

"Tom's just difficult."


Deborah was getting requests to do interviews (thankfully not due to lawsuits...yet). A phone call by a friendly someone who wanted to go into business with her somehow knew way too much about her personal life.

She was surprised that the reno company she hired to turn the loft space into an office was allowed to keep working, since it didn't seem like an essential service. Her stomach twisted a bit when one of the lawyers theorized that the lead guy probably paid off some other guy at city hall to get a pass, but she was glad that the work was done quick. Her apartment was getting pretty cramped and small after weeks of self-isolation (even with the odd rule break). She could walk around her empty office and pretend like it was the dullest palace in the world (very little pretending necessary).

When she described it this way to friends, with the not-so-subtle indicator that she wasn't really enjoying any of this, plenty of them were saying that if it was valuable now then sell it ASAP.

And if it was that easy then she would've thrown a (video) party for them by now.

Offloading a rocket in mid-flight was as difficult as it literally sounds. Any media corporation with deep pockets knew how this sort of popularity can flame out overnight so why buy until it can be ascertained that whatever 'this' is has a dedicated fanbase with a reasonable disposal income to debt ratio?

And Deborah just leased this space for a year and added some hip, cool cubicles to make it more her own. Can't sell now!

But any emotional connection to what they were presenting? Some romantic attachment to what made her go the good kind of viral?


"You know we can't do this again."

"Oh, just don't- don't talk like that."

"I'm serious."

"Why so serious?"

"Lisa, tell him he crazy."

"Well I mean it's not totally wrong."


"Just wait, just wait, I'm just saying that we just wait a bit and see like two weeks from now."

"And that's the problem."

"So we're just going to stop then? Then go ahead. Stop."

"You don't have to be so-"

And with a clank of plate or slamming door in the background she can cut it right there and leave the audience hanging until after the commercial for some sort of food delivery service. Every conversation can always be something it's not with some editing. And not even clever editing. Cut and paste with the click of a button. Recollecting and repackaging reality is just a tool in FinalTake.

Her company was upgraded to the premium editing package for free once it was realized she was the THEM. The most popular thing at the moment. The thing to re-tweet and re-post and re-meme and re-re-re...

Everything sounds like a bird now, Deborah thinks, we're going back to grunting plus emoticons, what's going to come out of all this isolation and economic collapse is babbling and howling at the moon and thumbs up or down. We're standing on the edge...

Like maybe all this stuff she's doing really is capturing the zeitgeist, the real one, with no fictions or exaggerations (or not much anyway). A true transcriber of the digital moment in a time of chaos.

Maybe she is getting a little bit attached to all this.

At yesterday's intentionally short meeting (so they can eventually have a long one today), Aisha joked that they the should just post this entire conversation between the four of them as the new clip and everyone chuckled a touch and then looked at each other and couldn't think of a really big drawback to the idea except that maybe after a week of getting meta-meta it'll be weird to go back to singular meta.

And if you change something too much there really isn't any going back. You broke it and the world has skipped considering whether or not to forgive you and just moved onto the next thing.

Or just get more and more sucked in to what's on the news now.

Protests and marches and defying government orders which forbid assembly.

Wanting their freedom back, claiming that the crisis is over.

To eat the rich.

To take the power back.

To accuse conspiracies left, right and centre.

People are still getting sick, but how sick and is the cure worse than the disease.

Everyone's a little bit wrong, everyone's a little bit right.

So how about listening to a dramatic chat over seared salmon and some lightly buttered asparagus and scalloped potatoes? And you can eat whatever you want while you self-isolate on your sofa. How about some dairy-free 'ice cream' from one of the sponsors?

Phone buzz.


And the meeting isn't for another hour.

A pre-meeting.

Maybe Deborah should just sell everything for a big bag of dill pickle chips.

"It can't wait an hour?"

"What are you doing?" She sounds more fretful than usual.

"Listening to the new one."

"It's a fake."


"It's just Aisha directing her friends."


"Yeah. Like an improv thing."

"What? No."


" do you know?"

"One of them told me."

"They called you?"

"Apparently Aisha didn't pay them the amount they agreed on. She said she's going to tell everyone if we don't pay up."

"How much?"


"How much does Aisha owe her?"

"Like...two hundred and fifty."

"Oh, yeah. We can do that."

"Wait, what? Yeah we can do that but aren't you listening to me? It's a fake conversation."


"So you're saying you're okay with it?"

"Does it matter?"


"Does it matter that it's not real?"

"I can't believe you're asking me that!"

"Well...does it?"

"You don't care about the integrity of this?!"

"This all started because I illegally recorded people talking."

"Yeah, that's baseline. Don't go lower!"


"Because now we're just a shitty improv company!"

"It actually sounded pretty good. I never got the feeling it was fake."

"Oh my god, I don't know if I can do this."

"Did this person say if Aisha wrote some talking points down, or did they all just wing it? Can she book them again sometime soon?"




I am absolutely going to make fun of something I believe in. That's how you can tell I'm serious.