Yesterday, Wil and I took the train down to Stone Brewing Company at Liberty Station near downtown San Diego. The ride there from Los Angeles takes two hours and 45 minutes, the same as it would take if we drove without a single traffic issue on the freeway. But since we’re pretty much guaranteed to encounter at least one car accident and more than one construction zone, we opted for the train. The bonus train ride also allows for naps, so there’s that.
We got up at 4:30am to catch the 6am train. This ridiculously early morning would be the second day in a row of Wil only getting 5 hours of sleep because of working on The Wil Wheaton Project. The ride to San Diego was peaceful and the train had hardly anyone on it, so we were both able to nap. We arrived at Stone Brewing Company by 9:15am, and Wil spent the day doing a full hands-on experience of brewing a collaboration IPA with their brew master, which was fun and exhausting. We finished up just in time to catch our 6:45pm train home, both of us ready to nap for the majority of the ride. The train was pretty full and a lot of people were talking, but Wil managed to fall asleep right away.
I had a slightly different experience and ended up not being able to sleep at all. I was seated at the window, Wil next to me in the aisle. The rows of seats are slightly staggered across the aisle from each other, so people aren’t right next to another in that sense. There was a girl seated across (well, slightly up) from Wil, also in an aisle seat. She had looked over at Wil a few times, and I could tell she recognized him, which is totally fine and something I am used to and doesn’t bother me at all.
About 20 minutes into the ride, with Wil asleep next to me, I looked out my window at the sunset. In the reflection of my window, I saw the girl across the aisle from Wil hold her phone up. I could tell she was taking a picture, so I turned around and looked at her because that felt weird to me. Her eyes met mine, but she already had her phone back in her lap, and she made an effort to look out my window casually, like that’s what she had been doing the whole time.
We have been out in public before where people have recognized Wil and snapped a photo of him without asking him first. I get it. We’re all out in public, it’s a public space, freedom to do what you want, all that. I understand and have accepted that. But as a woman sitting next to her sleeping husband and knowing a person sitting less than 3 feet away from Wil in what is clearly a vulnerable position for him was doing this made me feel very protective and felt like an invasion of privacy.
I was hoping that it was just me feeling a little paranoid on my part, so I thought I should give her the benefit of the doubt that taking a picture of him didn’t just happened. That doubt was immediately wiped away when I saw her settled back into her seat, holding up her phone where I could clearly see the picture of him sleeping with me looking out the window that she had just texted to a friend. And then another friend. And then one more. It just felt, I don’t know, gross to me. I don’t think she would feel comfortable if her husband were sleeping next to her and I snapped a picture of him when I thought she wasn’t looking and then shared it with my friends. This girl was at least 30 years old, so old enough to know that what she was doing may make a person feel uncomfortable if they knew what had just happened.
I didn’t want to say anything to her because what’s done was already done. Plus, the train was crowded and a little loud, so I would have had to talk loudly over Wil who was sleeping to even say anything. I knew how exhausted Wil was, so waking to loud conversation of me trying to politely ask a stranger to please not take anymore pictures of my husband sleeping would have been a pretty awkward way to wake up. I decided to just keep an eye on her and hold up my blanket to cover Wil if she did it again. She didn’t, and she got off the train about 30 minutes after the incident anyway.
Inside, I was still really upset (and Wil was still asleep so I couldn’t talk to him about it) so I said something about it on Twitter which may or may not have been the wisest thing to do when feeling that way. But hey, at least I felt better getting it off my chest. Most agreed with me that it was a violation of privacy, but two people had a different opinion of it. One guy, wording it as kindly as I think he could have, said he didn’t feel that way because Wil is a public figure and these things are going to happen so I shouldn’t let it upset me. Again, I totally get that and 99.9% of the time it doesn’t bother me at all. But one woman said “You can’t have a career that makes you famous and then complain about it when people get excited to see you. #privilagecheck.”
My first thought, which I had to talk myself out of doing for several minutes, was to only respond with “#SpellCheck” but I wanted to stick to the point that I was originally making. Yes, Wil has worked really hard to make a living out of doing creative things that he loves to do. Yes, that comes with a viewing audience that enjoys what has been created and is excited to see the person who has done this face to face. I absolutely get that. But I think the thing that gets lost along the way is this is also a human being, not an object. He is a person who gets tired, gets hungry, gets sick, and has a family that cares about him, just like you. I would never consider taking a photograph of a person sleeping near me who was not my family or my friend without asking them first. I would never consider it my right to invade someone’s privacy and then tell their family member to “privilege check” their feelings about such an invasion. That is appalling to me.
If you have ever met Wil in person, you would know that he is very friendly, conversational, and is always happy to take a picture with you if you ask him. If I’m with him when this happens, I always offer to take the picture for them so it’s a good shot. I would think that experience and interaction would be pretty cool if I ran into someone I had always wanted to meet out in public. So, next time, girl on the train, just try that instead. Then everyone involved will walk away happy.