Thursday, October 16, 2008

Empty heads and heritage.

"Hello! Hello? Can you hear me? Oh, there you are. How's it goin'?"

Believe it nor not, these words are coming from the recesses of a public restroom stall. Who in the world is so important or ignorant that they have to talk on a cell phone while sitting on a toilet? Come to think of it, why does it seem that nobody can ever peel that blasted thing away from their heads? Whether they're driving, sitting at a restaurant table, or even, Heaven forbid, sitting on a toilet, people can't just shut the stupid things off?

I've been threatened with collisions while riding by countless oblivious drivers. I've been annoyed by rude people having loud conversations at the table next to me. Yes, I've even been publicly put down but secretly admired when I've reminded these bovine brains just how rude their conversations are. As if that's not bad enough, now I'd had to worry if there was a certain Senator in the stall looking for company. And should I be concerned about leaving quickly?

After a trip to Ashland last week, I think I have a reason for some of it, at least. This is sort of a philosophical side road. There's not much about motorcycling here except for a couple of things. Cell phone distracted drivers are a prominent hazard for motorcyclists. Especially for those of us who commute and ride a lot. The other thing is that I used a motorcycle to get to Ashland. I just feel compelled to speak my piece here. In the process, maybe this post can serve as a reminder to us to keep the really important things in their proper place.

Ashland is in Southern Oregon. It's a smaller town in the midst of the rolling hills. The two big attractions are Southern Oregon University and the Shakespearean theme to the town. There's a long history of performances of William's plays. It was while I was having a sort of unauthorized look around that these thoughts came to me. Hey, if a door is open a crack, that's as good as all the way, isn't it?

I'm standing and looking at this stage. As I do so, I'm thinking of how many performances have been presented here. More than that, though, I'm slowly becoming surrounded by the great cloud of human drama permeating the air. Believe it or not, I've read a number of the Wise Scribe's works. Yes, Road Warrior can read! In the cloud I can feel the joy and anguish of human emotions as they encounter a vast array of situations. I can feel tragic love and fiery hate. There's both the base and the more subtle nuances of relationships. Eons pass and specific details may vary slightly, but the common threads bind us to all those who lived before.

Shaking myself back into the present, I wander some more. Some cleaning gals have spotted me but aren't looking to threaten me with eviction. My eyes are caught by the row of green plaques lining the edge of the balcony. They list the plays performed for each year. 2008 is represented at the far right. At the far left is the first one. It was a long time ago.

By now my belly was rumbling so I pulled myself away and headed down the street. There's a little cafe called Zoey's. Should have taken a photo. The camera was around my neck and I looked a proper tourist. During the meal the Nikon sat on the table. Never thought to take a picture of the place. Zoey's is a sort of Yuppie / Hippie blend. Somehow I accidentaly ordered a vegetarian sandwich. There were neat ingredients like roasted red peppers and feta cheese. I could swear I saw chicken on the description. After I got the sandwich I double checked the menu. Nope, no chicken. How did my brain suddenly get so empty?

Then it hit me. So many people these days are empty headed. Not that I'm saying they're stupid. Although that certainly seems to be what their actions are telling me. I've used the expression "afraid to be alone with their thoughts". What I should really be saying is that there probably aren't any real thoughts in there anymore. People are driven crazy by the echo of silence. So they try to fill it. With endless cell phone chatter.

This is a place across from Zoey's called "The Ashland Springs Hotel". Here's a quote from their website.

An oasis of gentility and charm in the beautiful Rogue River Valley, Ashland Springs Hotel is the premier choice for lodging in Southern Oregon. A two-year restoration project transformed the former Mark Antony into a haven of taste and elegance reminiscent of Small European hotels. Ashland Springs Hotel combines the charm of a bed and breakfast, the friendliness of a small inn, the feel of a spa resort and the safety and convenience of a hotel.

The place reminds me of a time when people would sit in the lobby and actually just chat with each other. A time when you'd sit on your front porch and talk with neighbors as they passed by. They weren't just "the neighbors". They were Pete and Martha, Harold and Linda, or whatever. Days when human interaction was always more important than electronic entertainment, which there was little of anyway. You shook a man's hand and felt the human contact. His eyes could tell you a lot about him. Face to face and the personal touch were always the preferred way to go.

People don't have that anymore. So called friends are tinny voices in their ears. There's a local coffee shop closing after 15 years. Business is way down. The owners are lamenting that people just don't come and linger and visit anymore. They say that folks wake up and start the day behind schedule. Drive thru and "to go" orders rule the day. Actual human personal contact is getting a lot more rare. Don't believe me? Try calling your power company, your phone company, or a large department store. Hope you like computers and recorded menus.

This was an actual father and daughter taking a break in Lithia Park. She was chatting happily away. Dad was eating a sandwich. There's a sign that asks people not to feed the ducks. Ever hopeful, the ducks aren't asking the pair to break any ordinances. However, if something just happened to fall on the sidewalk, well, they'd be happy to clean it up.

Movies and video games further dehumanize things. Other people aren't real to folks anymore. Maybe that's why it's so easy to pull out in front of someone else in traffic, or cut them off. It's not real people, after all, it's just shadowy forms intruding on their space. Isolation from human contact breeds selfishness which, in turn, breeds rudeness. You mean there's other people around that I have to think about?

Adding to the situation is the lack of real thinking. Maybe that accounts for a lot of behaviour, too. Katie says that drivers who drive stupidly have death wishes. I think they just don't know better anymore. Other drivers adjust in their own self preservation efforts which lets these stupid drivers off the hook as far as consequences go. I don't think most of these idiots actually even realize just how dangerous and stupid their actions really are.

There's a little more, too. Hang in there with me. Remember Shakespeare? How many people have read any of the great written works that have come before us? Who thinks deeply about the past? Who contemplates the great mysteries around us? How many, instead, just want to be entertained?

I stood and looked at these Wood Ducks for a long time. Not that they were so interesting. They just sort of cocked an eye at me, decided I wasn't a threat, and tucked the bills back under downy feathers. The water was making a soothing sound as water does. My mind was full of thoughts and questions. There was no shortage of deep things to think about against this peaceful background. A cell phone would have been a troubling intrusion. Mine was locked in the bike's bags.

In my opinion, people have lost touch with most things that are truly meaningful. If a person doesn't read great literature, doesn't study our varied and fascinating heritage and history, and doesn't care about much more than crossing off the next thing on their shallow task list, what thoughts are left? It's no wonder they always need a cell phone attached to their head. The emptiness must be deafening and scary.

Do you remember Steve Williams recently talking about how the road devours all concerns? Click the link to the right and find the August 24, 2008 post with the same name. Somewhere in the post Steve mentions Colin Fletcher. As it happens, I'd already read a book written by Colin, It's called "The Man Who Walked Through Time". The book describes a solo hike Colin took through the entire length of the Grand Canyon. This happened in the mid to late 60's, if I remember correctly, and took several weeks.

A great test would be to ask ourselves. How we would come out mentally after so much time alone? Would we be refreshed by the chance to think or insane from a lack of stimulation?

Empty heads or full of heritage?

Thanks for hanging in with me through this wandering mild rant. I wish I had some easy answers, but I don't. In the meantime, though, I continue to study and understand the enemies I encounter in my motorcycling adventures!

Miles and smiles,



Allen Madding said...

Our family has taken a annual trip to the Hike Inn which is at the approach for the A.T.

The hike to the Hike Inn is 5 miles. Cell phones lose tower connection within the first mile. The Inn has no televisions, radios, computers or phones (and your cell phone can't find a tower). They do have a two-way radio to the ranger station at Amicalola Falls for emergencies.

So, you hike an hour and a half or so and reach the Inn. You cannot see any yard lights, street lights, or porch lights off in the distance. It is a quiet, peaceful, natural settings without all of the outside distractions.

Usually we hike up one afternoon, spend the night and hike back down the next day. I always find that I don't want to leave. Sitting in a rocker on a porch in the silence allows a lot of time for quiet contemplation. Dining with complete strangers allows for a lot of good conversation.

Jack Riepe said...

The second best times in my life occurred when I was alone. I lived in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, when deep winter nights were invitation to read Shakespeare, Wodehouse, Twain, or Ken Follett. I lived in a cabin at the end of a 5-mile long dirt road. I could hear my nearest neighbor close his car door -- nearly a mile distant.

I have a cell phone for business. It's voice mail box is nearly always full as I generally ignore it. Riding through a town in Maryland, last week, I watched a squid carve a turn. He held a cell hone in his left hand and read the tiny screen as he executed the maneuver.

The world has become an odd place.

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe
Twisted Roads
1995 BMW K75

Bryce said...

As to the telephone call in the public washroom..

I am reminded of the song from the
late 1920's "Miss Otis Regrets" and I'd suggest yu have a listen. It tell the tale of a wayward young woman's maid contacting the now late Miss Otis's boyfriend...have a listen, something about telephone calls...

I have a mobile, which is a pay as you go plan and I rarely use the $25.00 alloted per month. And such phone plans here in Canada are tied to the phone, you can't purchase a phone and then a service, again government interference. Find my amateur radio is often better for contacting friends, but even some friends don't have mobile phones.

Kano said...

Great Post Irondad! My brother and sister in-law have lived in Ashland for the past 10 years or so. They were attracted to the town by the same charms you mentioned in addition to being huge Shakespeare fans. But now they are looking elsewhere. They say the town is rapidly loosing itself, it's identity becoming too shallow and commercial. It seems we are running out of places to run to! As for the cell phones, I couldn't agree more with your contempt for them. Not too long ago I saw a short, short, film that illustrated your point well. It had a group of friends meeting for coffee at an outdoor coffee shop. They hadn't seen each other in years. Within minutes of sitting down at the table, each were on their cell phones talking to someone else. And then it was time-up, they had to leave. A completely missed opportunity for them to be a participant in life instead of a mindless slave of the machine.

Balisada said...





R.G. said...

What a great post. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with each point you made. I think we develop grooves in our lives that become very comfortable for us to fall into. I try to find new things that provoke thought and pull me out of the groove in a new direction. Next new thing?..Shakespear!

Heinz N Frenchie said...

Nature is a natural organic sedative. Those wood ducks have such beautiful plumage. We have lots of ducks in Florida but nothing so colorful as those. Quite a nice place to visit. Hope we can go there someday. Thanks for the tour.

irondad said...

I knew you were wise. You always seem to have the human priorities in the proper place.

I envy you feeling that solitude and quiet. Texting while cornering? And I thought I'd seen it all!

I'll go find it. You always offer such interesting tidbits.

That was my thought. Ashland is getting to be a lot like Sisters. I'm sure you know what I mean there. The neat part about visiting is that I could pick and choose my way around. Living there would be an entirely different thing, I know.

I absolutely love that suggestion!!!

That's a very perceptive comment. Having someone tell me I'm getting into a rut is almost an insult. When we stop learning and growing we begin to wither, don't we?

Heinz & Frenchie,
Thank you sincerely for an important reminder. I always think of Florida as some exotic place much more interesting than here. And I've been to Orlando in the past couple of years. It was for business so we didn't get much past the resort and the place near Universal Studios with the City Walk.

We all have unique and valuable things where we live. The reminder you provided is to go find and marvel at those things instead of wishing we were somewhere else!

Take care,


Conchscooter said...

Kill Your Television.