It's a Saturday afternoon in New York City's East Village, and we're walking south on 3rd Avenue. The sun is hot but a breeze breaks through the buildings. We're wandering, looking for a place to sit and talk, but every restaurant is crowded, every coffee shop choked with customers. None are satisfactorily quiet. Where are we going to have this interview?
"I don't really know this area," Carrie says. "You lead the way."
We turn down St. Marks Place, where oak trees shade a carnival of Asian restaurants, tattoo parlors and street vendors. Farther down the street is Mark Burger, a tiny restaurant specializing in shakes and sliders. The couches in the back are perfect for an interview, and the place is well known among the interns. Hopefully it's quiet at this hour.
To Carrie our predicament is an afterthought, thankfully. She's in awe of St. Marks exotic flora and fauna, both already familiar to her de facto tour guide. We pass a shop window filled with naked baby dolls, a giant cartoon bear statue with blinking red eyes. Angsty teens dressed in punk fashion sulk past us.
Carrie is wearing a plain white shirt tucked into a floral skirt. Her earrings are thin metal discs the color of copper but the size of silver dollars. As we walk, the wind ruffles her hair. She doesn't seem to mind.
When we arrive at Mark Burger, Carrie's excitement mounts. She's already declared her interest in trying a unique Mark Burger creation: The Guinness Milkshake. The restaurant walls are cast in dark hues of red and black, and we sit near a window in the back. Carrie politely orders the milkshake and we talk before it arrives.
Carrie—Caroline to professors and bosses—was raised in the suburbs of Orange County, California. Her mother works in pharmaceutical sales and her father in banking, both lovers of reading. California was her playground. She lived near the beach, but a three hour drive could get her to the mountains, where she snowboards annually. Though Carrie loves California (Orange County is misrepresented, she says, by several TV shows), after graduating high school, she chose to go to school on the other side of the country, at Boston University.
After California, why Boston?
"I feel like there's so much life in cities," she says. "My older brother and sister just stayed close to home, so I wanted to get out and explore."
At Boston, she went in as an English major, still unsure of what career she wanted. As she confirmed several times though the afternoon, she loves writing, which eventually led her to journalism, a familiar path. A brief stint at the college newspaper, The Daily Free Press, taught her what she needed to know about newspapers.
"I was not a fan," she says. "There's such a formula you're supposed to follow—I think you can be a little more creative in your writing." She suddenly looks introspective. "I guess the newspaper wasn't really for me."
The mood is broken by the arrival of her milkshake. It's the color of cream, probably not as exotic as she expected.
Gingerly she lifts the glass and takes a drink. Her expression contains both confusion and delight.
"That's good," she exclaims. "Funky though!" The conversation is politely paused as she analyzes the shake. She takes a sip, then another.
"Should I ask them how they make it? It's amazing," she says, the sentence trailing off into her straw.
The topic of her magazine internship pulls us back into conversation. Carrie is at Food and Wine, a perfect fit considering her self-described passion for cheese and chocolate. She's carrying out many of the regular intern duties, most notably transcribing interviews.
She's never asked to get coffee for her editors, but she thinks it's a rite of passage. "I bet that all the other editors there had to do it too... It's a vicious cycle. Why doesn't someone just stop it?"
She assures there are benefits to her internship, despite the lack of slave labor.
"I don't feel like I'm at the bottom of the totem pole, even though I definitely am," she says. "But I do get a lot of free wine." Still, she admits she hasn't yet reached the level of wine connoisseur. She recalls a wine tasting session in the Food and Wine offices.
"I can't taste everything you're supposed to taste," she says. "One of the editors would take a drink and say it tasted 'spicy.' I'm just not on that level."
Before this one, Carrie's had three internships, all at magazines. All have been small outfits, from a multiple-magazine agency in her hometown to an industry magazine in London last semester.
"I did a study abroad in London, and I worked at a pharmaceutical magazine called Chemist and Druggist," she says, giggling. "I was home for a week, then I came here. It definitely ignited something in me—I really want to travel now."
Many of the other ASME interns are moving to the city after they graduate to pursue jobs at big name magazines. Is she going to be among them?
"I've always loved New York, but living here is different than I imagined," she says. Carrie loves the outdoors, so New York can be stifling.
"I just don't think I could live here forever. I could live here in my twenties—this is the place to be."
The topic of the city inspires a conversational turn.
"Something that's really hard for me is when homeless people come up to me and ask for money," she says. "A lot of people just ignore them. I think it's unfair to not acknowledge that they're there... It's hard." She looks pensive but continues her thoughts.
"I feel like you're supposed to assume the worst when it comes to giving money to homeless people, that they're going to spend it on drugs or alcohol," she says. "I want to know their stories, but I feel like you can't just walk up the them and ask them."
Carrie politely challenges the status quo, questioning its validity from all angles. The impossible or illogical nature of things lead her to wonder, and that curiosity is probably what helped her get this far in life. She is inherently inquisitive, yet with the poise of a philosopher, she finds peace in the unanswerable. One wonders if she's aware of her own curiosity.
Speaking of philosophy: "I stopped eating beef in fifth grade because I just love cows," she says. "I mean, they have the life: I would love to just be able to hang out in the sun and eat all day."
Our conversation twists and turns through her experiences with cows, her love of dairy products, different species of cows, other interns' interactions with cows. Her love truly runs deep.
Between questions she finishes her shake and we find ourselves outside, meandering around the block. We peer in restaurant windows and make observations about the neighborhood.
She is full of questions, the same ones she should be answering, technically. Over time, she becomes the listener. A gentle attempt to turn the conversation back towards her stops as an explosion of color strikes us speechless.
We stand on the sidewalk beneath an oak tree on a residential side street. An expansive mural on a wall shows little girls in dresses playing in a field. Rainbows grotesquely spew from every one of their orifices while they frolic—a disturbing scene. If there is a metaphor, it's lost on us both.
Carrie ponders it for a moment, head slightly tilted.
"I guess this is New York," she says, shrugging.
Written by Bryan Bumgardner, West Virginia University, Scientific American Magazine
Edited by Lucy Feldman, Brown University, Vanity Fair