I’m writing this on a 30-foot screen on top of a 10,000-foot mountain in Hawaii, at a table in an Austin coffee shop where I’m pretty sure other people are taking photos of me to send to their friends so they can all call me a piece of shit. In the last week, life has gotten weird.
My journey to the Haleakalā shield volcano Austin coffee shop began more than 30 years ago, in 1990, when my parents brought me to something called a “virtual reality exhibit” at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. I stood on a little circular pedestal, and the guy handed me a plastic gun and put a big headset on me. Suddenly I was in some cartoon world, in a military uniform, holding a real gun. The person on the pedestal next to me was there, also a cartoon, also holding a gun. After some janky waving and shooting, they kicked me out for the next person in line.
I had recently read The Phantom Tollbooth, where a kid in the real world crosses a magic threshold and enters a cartoon world. This felt like that. I wanted more.