Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Monday, June 22, 2015

Citizens of 4F, June 22, 2015

It was one of those humid, hot weekends in early summer in the upper Midwest, and after a night of the atmosphere percolating, this Monday morning saw a number of thundershowers popping up. As a result, the morning 4F metro-transit bus into downtown Minneapolis was more full than usual, with some folks who normally walk or bicycle choosing to ride the buses instead.

I was struck once again this morning by the peculiarly Minnesotan politeness and grace you witness on the mass transit system around here. I have traveled a great deal for work over the last 20 years, and whenever possible I ride the mass transit systems rather than taxis or rental cars. After all, the people-watching opportunities are far better in places like the NYC subway system than they can possibly be in a cab ride from JFK to midtown.

When people use the term "Minnesota Nice," they clearly must have had exposure to how people behave on the light rail lines or public bus system. On this morning's crowded 4F, I see people right and left graciously sacrificing their seats to provide for the comfort of others. One man helps a woman who is struggling to get her umbrella closed.  An elderly woman points out to a young man that his backpack is unzipped, and mentions that its contents may get wet unless he closes it.  These are  standard acts that you see all the time, here. Not too long ago, a mid 20s young woman tried to give up her seat so that I could sit (talk about making you feel old), and this morning, each time a woman boarded the bus, at least three men leaped to their feet to offer up their seats. At each discharge stop in down-town, each passenger politely thanks the driver as they disembark, to which the driver offers each one, individually, good wishes for the day.

I can't say that I've seen this kind of behavior routinely in any other city in America. In the NYC subway, you could be on fire before anybody tries to help you, and then only if the flames pose a problem for other passengers. Usually, an act like this is the exception that proves the rule of generally self-centered boorishness, but in the upper Midwest, this is the standard behavior.

You get something close in the southern states, where there is a friendliness and helpfulness that is somewhat unique. Clerks and counter-help in places like Atlanta and Charlotte are notably friendly, and I've had waitresses in southern states frequently address me as "Hon," or "Sweetie." I wonder, maybe, if there's something about extreme climates, south and north, that fosters this kind of behavior; you don't see it in places like Chicago, LA, Boston or St. Louis.

Strangely, though, such politeness and consideration is not seen in solo drivers of cars on the streets
and freeways in Minnesota.  In Minneapolis, car drivers treat pedestrians like passenger pigeons to be hunted, and I can count on one hand the instances where a competing driver slowed to assist my entry onto a freeway.  Typical driving speed is at least 10 mph above posted speeds, and God help you if you block some speed demon's free path in the fast lane on the freeway. I've wondered a little bit about why this highway behavior contrasts so starkly with the behavior of people on the mass transit, or, for that matter, among pedestrians walking the streets, where holding the door for one another is common etiquette. The socialist in me has suspected that this is evidence of some kind of class difference—more working class mass transit users are inherently nicer to one another, while the wealthier management classes with their automobiles are inherently more selfish.

But my GOP friends would accuse me of Commie bullshit nonsense for that interpretation, and I think they'd be right.  The difference, I think, is in the anonymity that comes with driving alone and isolated in an automobile, where it is much easier to let your inner asshole see the light of day. In situations where you are rubbing elbows with your fellow citizens and looking them in the eye, as is the case on a public bus, a certain degree of sympathy and compassion is fostered.

I do know that arrive at work calmer and in a better mood when I ride the bus than when I fight traffic by driving myself. So whenever possible, it will be the 4F bus for me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mad Marvin, Episode 2

It's with some trepidation that I allow another short piece by Mad Marvin to see the light of day. He was mightily impressed by the fact that his earlier piece got a fair number of responses, and I fear his submissions to will become increasingly insistent and vile and threatening unless every so often we vent the steam cooker that is his brain. This piece is one of the less inflammatory among the two dozen or so he's submitted to date.  And we now feel obliged to begin running the following disclaimer:  "the views expressed here are those of the contributor, and do not reflect the beliefs, policies or recommendations of the management."   —the editor

I'm Mad Marvin, dammit.

The problem with this country is that we're too (censored) nice.

No, that's not it.  The problem is that we're phonies about being nice. As a society, we really ought to say what we think more often, and stand up and say so when the people around us full of horse (manure). As it is, too many people are living a lie, trying to act like saints when they secretly are entirely mean SOB's. This isn't fair to the genuine nice people (there are some, and I ain't one of 'em). How can we know who's really nice if everybody is pretending to be that way?

But my thoughts wander.

Last month I was down in Denver visiting my brother, and one day after the ballgame it was still really nice out so we planned to walk all the way down to the park by the capital. My brother has an old friend who hangs there.  On the way we stopped at the Yard House for a beer, and when we came out, across the street on the corner in front of the Barnes and Noble store, a nutcase was standing on a little suitcase yelling out a bunch of stuff about how God hated us all. God especially hates gay people and he also hates everybody who allows gay people to live.

Now, Denver is not Boulder, but it's still a decent enough place, and I was pretty sure that 9 out of ten people who passed by this creep must have felt a little sick about him. Yet (censored) nobody told him he was a (censored) (rectum). They all pretty much ignored him. (Feces). Since when is it a good thing to tolerate evil? Anyway, we went into Barnes & Noble to use the bathroom and buy coffee at the Starbucks inside, and when we came out, the old (rectum) was still standing on his stupid suitcase, still ranting.

We watch him for 20 minutes or so, and in all that time, the only person to throw a cup of hot coffee at him was me. Don't you think that if this dumb bastard was dowsed in scalding coffee by 30 or 40 people an hour, he'd get the message that his dumb (feces) wasn't acceptable? I really don't think tolerance is the great thing everybody thinks it is.

Like I said. We're too (censored) nice when it comes to ignoring and tolerating dumb-ass stupid (feces). If somebody is full of bull (feces) we should tell them so. And if they're truly evil, then we should scald them with hot coffee.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Rainy Night in Manhattan, June 2

Manhattan, NY is not an easy city to get lost in, since the streets are numbered in an orderly fashion, and with rare exception they run north-south and east-west.  But any city on a rainy or snowy night can pose challenges, and the last three days in Manhattan have been rainy indeed. Tonight after dinner with sales colleagues, I roamed the streets alone for a short time, and soon found myself just slightly lost, a little confused whether my destination was to the east or west side of Fifth Avenue. It was strangely interesting and rewarding to first be slightly misplaced among the drizzle and fog clouding the street signs and familiar landmarks, and to then to find myself back to the Hotel Indigo on 28th St, where a glass of Scotch in the bar with friendly colleagues awaited. There is nothing that leaves a person with such a feeling of basic human competence in the world as to independently discover one's way to any destination—geographical, metaphorical, mental, spiritual.

I read somewhere that some psychological study determined that the reason men refuse to ask directions is because they can't bear to look uncertain and indecisive in front of others. It is a hallmark of leaders, apparently (or maybe insecure leaders) that they never ask for directions.

Maybe so (who am I do argue with USA Today psychologists), but frankly I think there are different reasons I behave this way.  I kind of groove to the low-level excitement of being lost and then finding my way.  The feeling of uncertainty followed by discovery is  pleasing and much more rewarding than if some body tells you how to get there.  And I don't think it has much to do with impressing anyone else, since I'm much more likely to deliberately lose myself when I'm all alone. It's a habit born our of purely private, selfish reasons. When I'm with people, I'm much more likely to ask directions or reach for the I-phone app, because other people sometimes are unnerved by feeling lost.

As a kid growing up in the countryside, I sometimes deliberately headed off into ravines and deep woods, walking for a couple of hours until I had no idea where I was, then try to find my way back home. Mind you, this was rural countryside in southern Minnesota rather than the Pacific Northwest wilderness,  and it was not all that dangerous really, especially if you've grown up in such an environment. I do remember my parents, though, getting a  little freaked out by this behavior.

When traveling on business with a free afternoon with a rental car these days, it's great recreation to simply drive aimlessly, not worrying where I am,  just to see the neighborhoods and businesses and lifestyles in Virginia or North Carolina or Irvine California, or Boston. With enough time before a flight home, there's not much chance getting so hopelessly lost that you can't come back. There is also another profound advantage: you often find things you didn't know existed at all. New restaurants not in any guidebook, hiking trails, public gardens.

There was a time during the early adult years where I was quite lost in ways that weren't geographic at all, but that were phenomenological, philosophical, spiritual—maybe even neurological. Or maybe all those things.  Lost in such a way that for awhile it wasn't even clear that coming back was possible. Oddly, finding a way through that period required that I first embrace being totally, utterly lost.  In any case, in retrospect I'm glad for that experience so long ago. It was as though the universe was offering me a chance to see how lost a person could get and still find a way.

So sometimes the benefit of getting lost is the satisfaction of competently finding your way back to the world you left.  But there are also times when you need to lose yourself in order to push on through to the other side. Which is probably a good thing to remember for Geezers who will become Really Old Geezers, in a future that's not all that distant anymore.