Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mother Theresa has nothing on this woman. Image via blog.freepeople.comLongboat Key, Florida, where I hang out with my family every winter, is about an 1 1/2 hours from the Tampa airport.  On the drive, we pass through 2 tollbooths.  Growing up in suburban Chicago, these types of long, tollbooth-speckled drives were normal.  I decided as a child that working in a tollbooth would be the worst imaginable job:  performing a repetitive, mindless task while inhaling exhaust fumes.

My childhood assumptions have been replaced by an adult observation:  tollbooth operators seem inordinately happy—not just in contrast to my preconceptions, but happy in a standalone sort of way.  They are almost universally cheery, smiling and courteous.  This is not just a Florida phenomenon.  The Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the GWB, Midtown Tunnel and other Tristate toll plazas are filled with damn happy folks.  Sure, there’s a surly cop manning the booth every now and again, but for the most part they are courteous, pleasant and cheerful.

I walk 3/4 of a mile every morning to work through my fancy Brooklyn neighborhood.  I typically do it around 8:15AM, right as children are going to school.  My walk down Clinton Street takes me past a couple crossing guards.  Like the toll operators, these women (and they’re all women) seem preternaturally happy.  They know most of the names of both parent and child.  They seem untroubled by the weather, which is pretty damn cold right now.

On the walk I pass many well-dressed people on their way to work.  Perhaps they betray a different affect at work, but going there they look pretty miserable.  Few smile.  Most have sad or anxious eyes.  If I smile or look at them, they don’t seem to know what to do and look away rather than smiling back.  Most of them wear headphones and/or are tapping away on their phones, sending texts or emails; their fixation punctuated by obligatory glances at the sidewalk.

I just finished reading an article by David Brooks in the New Yorker called “Social Animal.” The subheading is, “How the new sciences of human nature can help make sense of life.”  The article uses an imaginary case study of a couple’s courtship and all of the neurological mechanisms that inform its development.  I can’t do justice to Brooks’s article, nor his argument (you should definitely read it), but I’ll tell you what I got from it.  It’s the same thing I get from seeing the smiling tollbooth operators and ebullient crossing-guards, people whose job is to interact with other people:  humans want and need to connect with one another. Continue reading “Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

We Are All Going to Die!

Watch video for perspective.

Sometimes we find ourselves doing, and enjoying, things that totally oppose our sense of aesthetic congruity.  For me, this happens every Tuesday at spin class.  Once a week I enter a glass-enclosed studio where 20-or-so of us pedal stationary bikes, showering sweat, while our instructor Elgin, a fun, femmy, tall and lean, dreadlocked dude, pushes us to exhaustion as top 40 music—Lady Gaga, Kate Perry, Rihanna (music I fortunately hear at no other time)—blares in the background.  It’s the human equivalent of a hamster wheel.  Lots of exertion and movement in a completely artificial environment.

The class is broken up into several portions that include hills, sprints, breakaways and flats.  Last night I felt good.  I was able to exert myself harder than normal.  This hamster pushed the wheel really fast. Continue reading “We Are All Going to Die!”

Have an Unispired Week!

Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for Shaq to grant you three wishes.

“Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”
Woody Allen quotes

After opening my computer to write this morning I read emails for 10 minutes, typed a couple replies and emails for 10 minutes, searched for a vacuum cleaner for 30 minutes, searched for parking lots around LaGuardia for another 15 minutes, searched for a new pair of cycling shoes for 10 minutes, made several pitstops on Facebook for a total of about 15 minutes, read a blog post about Raghava KK for 3 minutes, watched his TED talk for 18 minutes, took a crap for 5 minutes.  After nearly 2 hours of extraneous mental activity, my mind felt totally sapped of inspiration.  I didn’t want to write the words you are reading.

In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine.  I started the trip physically unprepared, getting exhausted after riding a few hours.  This would have been easier to endure if the weather hadn’t been so shitty or if there were any people in Wyoming, the first state I passed through.  Instead, in addition to an incessantly throbbing body, I contended with temperatures in the 40’s, grey skies presaging frequent bursts of freezing rain, epic winds and desolate roads leading to few towns, whose populations seemed indifferent to my arrival. Continue reading “Have an Unispired Week!”

Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post

Madea and David Friedlander
Don't mess with me or Madea.

Yesterday I wrote a post about Peter the bore.  It was essentially a diatribe about his inauthenticity, his desire (and resultant failure) to impress, his lack of interest in those around him, and so on.  It was a warning to all the boring people in the world to straighten out and fly right.

I was pretty proud of myself for such lucid thinking, deconstructing the aggregates of boringness.  I thought I did a real mitzvah to all the bores or potential bores of the world.  They could read my post and reflect on and alter their behavior.

Last night, I headed over to my girlfriend’s where we were to have dinner with a couple friends.  I printed out my post, eager to serenade her with my mellifluous excoriation of the intolerable.

When I got to her place, I asked if I could read it to her.  She said of course.  I read it aloud and after the first few paragraphs I noticed something that I didn’t reading it to myself:  the author sounded really pissed off. Continue reading “Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post”

Enlightened Complaining

Chris was the company clown at a mail-order bike shop I worked at.  Unlike the clownery he perpetrated on other employees of the company, the clownery he directed at me was evil-clownery, like the time he put bike grease under my desk.  Even though my legs glided easily under the desk, his prank ruined my pants.
He also like to insult me, calling me a baby and other names related to the fact I was the youngest salesperson there.  In truth, I think Chris was duking it out with me for the title of most socially irrelevant person in the company.  He wanted to make sure I won.
Continue reading “Enlightened Complaining”