Friday, March 31, 2017

An Irrepressible Smile

If only I'd been quick enough on the draw -- with the camera, that is. The group of mountain bikers passing by on the trail would have made a nice photograph.

It has been years since I've seen a half dozen senior-ish mountain bikers riding as a group -- competently, but not competitively. It gave me a good feeling. Why are these encounters so rare?

Location. Terrain, weather, and access to practical things dominate my camping locations. Then I ride on the nearest dirt roads. In contrast, most mountain bikers buy into dedicated single track trails, usually at brand-name locations. So, no overlap.

It feels good to see people pursue a sport without a young male's obsession with competition and 'whose bike cost more.' Millions of people are deprived of the pleasure of mountain biking because of its image as an 'extreme sport' for athletic freaks. They think of reckless stunts for acrobatic geniuses. America has bifurcated into two non-overlapping camps of obese couch potatoes and obsessive athletes.

Actually, mountain biking blogs and forums do a great job in building up this negative image of the sport. 

As for RVers, I sometimes wonder why a sport as slow, hot, and plodding as hiking seems fairly popular with them, while there isn't one in a thousand who rides a bike. When all is said and done, most RVers have rigs that gave no thought to carrying anything other than a Walmart bike that they never ride. They need a pickup truck with a high cap or a van.

As we come down the trail with her frolicking off-leash, we encounter a walker from the other direction. An irrepressible smile breaks loose on their face: "That is one happy dog," they usually say. They appear gleeful. It gives real pleasure and satisfaction to know that we helped to incite it. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Quandary of Consumers

Of all the childish and naive notions a person could have, the one that is the hardest for me to outgrow is believing that the world is supposed to make sense, more or less; that people's way of life is supposed to be -- not perfect -- but at least semi-rational and explainable.

Take consumer behavior. Most of life is gobbled up by work -- one of life's most over-rated activities. Then the wage-slave runs around town or the internet and spends all of their money. And yet, they aren't any good at it. Why don't they want to be good at it?

A local business got a new owner a couple years ago. And I like the way they run the business. It is a trailer repair and parts place. I asked the owner why trailer springs have a reputation for breaking, whereas leaf spring suspensions on trucks seldom break.

This led to me pontificating about the reluctance of consumers to spend one more dollar where it might actually do some good. But the owner 'hijacked the thread' by turning the issue to one of morality.

But I stand by my point: a "good" consumer is normally considered one who does price comparisons. But what good does it do them to split hairs quantitatively if they don't understand the qualitative differences between one product and the next? And how do you do that if you don't understand any of the basic principles and categories of science and engineering?

I assume that it is still the case that a person leaves primary and secondary education with little knowledge of, and no interest in, science. I am not referring to the algebraic scrabble of science, but to a layman's knowledge of the "How Things Work" type. 

What an irony! The modern world is what it is, largely on the basis of science and technology, but a person leaves the diploma factory with more knowledge of Beowulf -- in the old days -- or Afro-American/feminist/lesbian poets in more recent times.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to Handle a Deplorable on the Trail

Oh yea, I can hear it, a ways off. It is a Saturday after all. There is a 50% chance that it will head away from me, rather than towards me. But no, it wouldn't do that. They never do. That hateful sound kept getting closer and closer.

At a bend in the dirt road, a smallish ATV suddenly appeared. "Thanks for stopping and not running me over," was my initial thought. The driver was so velocitized that it took some effort for him to stop that idiot-machine of his.

But he was a good kid, and apologized. And I did my best to smile at the little motor-crazed monster.

As my dog and I kept plugging away on that road, the damned kid seemed to be playing "tag" with us. I had an obligation to both of us not to let this bother me. But the harder I tried to ignore it, the more resentful I became. It was a classic example of the medieval tale of a fairy telling the guy she will grant him his fondest wish if only he wouldn't think of a pink elephant for the next ten minutes.

On the way back I studied his camp, his father, and the truck, to see if there were any of the typical signs of miscegenation of the kind one sees at Walmart or the Dollar Stores. But the father looked pretty decent, even if he was being indulgent with his son. 

On the last leg of the ride back to my van, the little Deplorable kept playing tag or leapfrog with me. By now I was really getting angry. I fantasized about getting off the bike, and stoning the dumb kid.

When my dog and I rolled into the trailhead/parking lot, the monster drove up one last time. I really wondered whether I was finally going to tell him off, or maybe, control myself and give him some kindly grandfatherly advice.

He shut off his motor and removed his space-alien helmet. With a big smile, he told me how much he liked my dog. It reminded him of his dog at home.  We talked about his machine and the road and a few other things. I don't have children. I haven't even talked to children for years. How do you do this? What would a lad his age want to talk about? I didn't want to sound condescending.

He was actually a fine lad, polite, well-spoken, and intelligent. It seemed kind of cute that he had cowboy boots on to drive his ATV. I was astonished that he could transform so suddenly from a little monster to a cute friendly kid.

One of the nostrums of modern, squishy social science is that Anger is a "negative" emotion. Experiences like this illustrate that the popping of a malevolent bubble is charming beatific. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Pilgrims of Gringo Road

They plod past my driveway, the last one before heading out to the remaining 750 miles of the Arizona Trail. One part of me wants to open up to the spirit of adventure emanating from them. But it is difficult.

It would be easy to fantasize about camel trekking in Morocco, or riding long sections of the Silk Road, or sea kayaking between Asia and North America, across the Bering Strait.

But walking, plodding, and trodding in Arizona heat? They are visualizing something that I can't, although I would like to. All I can see is a slow-moving sport that lacks all pizzazz or sex appeal. Their sport is the perfect activity for a puritan's Sunday.

Perhaps I am being unfair, for demographic and cultural reasons. Hikers tend to be Greens, urbanites, Democrats, veggies, etc. 

A few of them had real panache. For example I have seen a couple hike with silver umbrellas fastened to their backpacks. Correction: parasols. And of course that appeals to the romantic imagination of a retro-grouch.



One day I even saw a man and woman trying to coax their German short-haired pointer across a cattle gate on the Trail. Oh sure, I rolled my eyes, thinking, "Damned city slickers. Their dawg ain't even seen a cattle gate before!"

But at least they had a dog, rather than a cat on a leash, which is about what you would expect from a city slicker. Later in the day I ran into the same couple in the town post office. They had wrapped duct tape over the dog's pads to try to protect them. I told them about real hiking shoes for dogs, made by Neo-Paws. She was interested, but it was too late to do her any good.

On another day I saw a hiker running from side to side on the road (the Trail, for a short distance). She was picking up empty plastic bottles. Didn't she know she could buy a plastic bottle at the upcoming grocery store?

But there was something else: she seemed so ostentatious about it. Was she a Green picking up litter, and enjoying it a bit too much -- perhaps because somebody would see her? The more you think about this whole activity, the more it seems analogous to religious pilgrimages of yore. Weren't they supposed to Suffer, even if they had to indulge in self-flagellation to do it?

But what Sins are these modern urbanite metro-sexual secularists trying to expiate? How does it work, that is, how many units of sin are erased by how many units of heat and drudgery?  

For those who haven't seen it, I recommend Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." The march of the flagellants might make quite an impression on you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Annual Battle of Classicists Versus Romantics

During my annual visit to Mayberry-for-Hippies, AZ, I fall back into the polemics of a classical approach to life, rather than the romantic approach. Oddly enough, it is the scenery that crystallizes the issue for me.


This is ranch country, as well as mountains and forests. Therefore it is useful for grazing cattle. That leads to food, a practical and unromantic thing. The land isn't just here to gush over as scenery, although in fact, I love it as scenery.

 
It has never interested me much to try to 'solve' the conundrum of classical versus romantic. A reductionist approach to life seems unappealing.  To hell with looking for magic recipes that explain everything. 

All that interests me is to watch this dualism operate on different things, and to see how the balance changes over the years. Indeed, I do become more classical every year, but that doesn't mean that the classical approach to life is some sort of philosophical monad. 

A scissors with two countervailing and reciprocating blades cuts paper better than a knife.

In the mean time, chalk one up for the importance of visual representations of abstractions that would otherwise seem like uninteresting homework.  In fact a local artist has painted some spots around here where I may have paused the mountain bike, just to admire. 


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Opening Up to the Charm of Other People

Learning to appreciate a variety of things is important for what I call an independent lifestyle, that is, one in which sheer busyness, phony pragmatism, and chasing after toys and status symbols is not the 'meaning of life.'

I had a couple examples of appreciation that were new to me, recently. My dog and I were returning on a mountain bike ride. Therefore we were cruising downhill. Another dirt road 'teed' into ours. Coming down this road were a half dozen large beautiful horses, with riders. I guessed that the horsewoman who led the troupe was the employee of a nearby (dude) guest ranch. 

I asked and she confirmed it, in four or five words.  That's all it took for me to bike away, cooing, and fluttering my eyelashes at the sheer prettiness of her voice. This effect was so exaggerated that I had to wonder about it.

Was it just the usual joy juice in my blood that comes from mountain biking? This has happened so many times. Sometimes it almost scares me. Certainly, that is some of the explanation.

And yes, some women really do have lovely voices. Their voices can be amazingly clear on the telephone when the man's voice sounds like mere mumbling. I thought I was only knocked over by the hit-arias sung by the soprano in Puccini operas.

But maybe I was just being a dirty old man, and was imagining that woman in tight blue jeans, riding her horse away from me? Or maybe it was seeing people enjoy a traditional western experience?
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It is rare to find a town in America that has any individual character. For the most part, they are all the same. It fits in with the massen-mensch mindset of democracy. And the consumption of mass media. And besides, there is barely enough freedom in modern America to display individuality.

Despite all that, Mayberry-for-Hippies, AZ, allows dogs in their public library. One day a reader came through with their miniature schnauzer in tow. He was grey and older, and so sedate. His whole personality reminded me of a little old man who runs an antique book store in London: you know the image, a cardigan sweater, nerdy eyeglasses, and maybe a little mustache.

I simply cannot forget that little dog. It's like he was born to work in that library. Of all the times I have been charmed by dogs, that experience is still my favorite.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Retro-grouch Gets His First Smartphone

Just in case I haven't said it often enough: late adopters rule, and early adopters drool. That is how I am feeling after finally finding a telephone/internet plan that I liked. Walmart was offering a pre-paid Verizon plan that can serve as my internet and phone plan, after I bought an inexpensive Android smartphone to serve as a hotspot for the laptop computer.

My goodness, I have held off for years! Because some people think a retrogrouch is either afraid of new things or is just a chronic curmudgeon who aims his curmudgeon-ness at technology, allow me to say a word in their defense. The problem was always the high price of the plans, not the smartphone itself. 

Actually it was fun and easy to learn how to use the Android smartphone. (Must I add that I wasn't even tempted to debauch myself with an overpriced iPhone?)  

Better yet, there was a certain vindication in being a cranky preacher against excessive motor vehicle usage. Look at how everything on the smartphone is aimed at tracking your location, and tailoring advertisements and maps towards getting you into the next fast food joint or Starbucks. It confirms what I have always said: that the car keys are the enabling technology for setting off a chain of unnecessary spending.

Because the 'medium is the message,' smartphones exacerbate bad habits, besides driving around in a city and squandering money. They bend your communications into one-liners and quips. They encourage you into an addiction to trivial, bite-sized 'news' and distraction: "Dude, how R U? Howzit hangin?" Eventually it will be deemed too slow or inconvenient to say, "Howzit hangin?" so it will be replaced with an emoticon-hieroglyphic. We can only imagine what that will look like.

Actually you can do just about everything better on an "old-fashioned" laptop. 

The smartphone is so synergistic with driving a car that one wonders how long it will be before old-fashioned key fobs are no longer needed to unlock and drive off in your car, and instead, there is an app on your smartphone to do it.