Showing posts with label consumerCulture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label consumerCulture. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When Is It Time to Renounce Folly?

I've had thousands of chances to drive off, after a bicycle ride, and forget something -- like a front wheel. And yet I never did so until recently. Although I knew the spot where I left the front wheel, it wasn't lying there when I returned two days later. Infuriating!

Add this wheel to other casualties over the years, such as the $120 hiking poles I left behind, once.

After this incident I have started to put the front wheel in the van first, since forgetting the rest of bike is less likely. How much thinking was required to make this trivial improvement? And yet, it takes a surprising amount of persistence to form a new habit.

So why didn't I think of this 40 years ago? When my grandfather was in his seventies, he once told me, 'A young man just lets things happen to him. He doesn't think about the consequences of what he does.'

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I own several pricey cylindrical flashlights. They were purchased after a great deal of 'deep thought' about the best flashlight to buy.  Apparently I was impressed by the advertising slogan of "aerospace grade aluminum" or something. 

Duh. Why does that matter? Have you ever owned a flashlight whose aluminum failed? They fail because of a cheapie plastic switch or spring.

Recently I saw a selection of flashlights in an outdoor equipment store. It's a wonder that it doesn't take a license to buy one of these things! They are dangerous. But they can't wait to tell you how many lumens of retina-blasting power they have. One of them has the batteries installed, and a little sign invites you to "try me."

Of course they repress how quickly the two or three AAA batteries wear down. 

Now really, does it take deep thinking to realize that cylindrical flashlights are a nuisance? Forty years of being a middle class consumer should be good for something, shouldn't it? They roll around as you try to use them.  So you end up running out of hands, by carrying it. Or you stick it in your mouth and chip a tooth on the "high grade aerospace aluminum."

Duh. Wouldn't the ideal shape of a flashlight be rectangular and roll-free? After all these years I have finally switched to $5 rectangular flashlights, as opposed to the $25 roll-around-the-trailer jobs.

Perhaps all flashlight marketing is done by Sigmund Freud.
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It is so easy to mouth platitudes about 'living like it is the last day in your life.' But it is difficult to put an end to incompetent shopping habits that have been allowed to endure far too long.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Purple Papoose, Part 2

Bounteous. It is a pretty word that doesn't get used much. It has an interesting etymology. It is the best word I can think of for a recent experience with a seamstress. That isn't where you would expect to have a memorable experience.

Consider how difficult it is for travelers, especially unmarried men, to get any garment repaired. Even if they are married, most gringas these days can barely sew; or they consider it beneath them because it is sexist and traditional, almost to the point of being neolithic.

First of all, you must find the seamstress. They tend not to have webpages or billboards. Sometimes there is a simple, hand-written card on the bulletin board in a laundromat. That is where my luck started. If the seamstress is more of a tailor, she will be busy with wedding dresses, and not have time for old-fashioned, low-cost repairs.

Woe unto you if you bring her an unclean garment for repair. That is the sort of blunder that a male neanderthal is prone to.

I drove up to her house. It was hard to park on the steep gravel driveway. The place was a dump -- not just the house, but the yard around it, with all the detritus of hillbilly heaven, especially a dozen yapping curs. But I preach decomposing situations into their component parts; this was certainly a chance to practice what I preach.

What a relief it was to find the seamstress pleasant and well-spoken. I could tell she didn't have many customers. Perhaps many potential customers had been scared off by first impressions. Glad I wasn't.

She worked fast and did great work. So I returned home and cleaned out my 'dead and wounded' garments. Why not throw everything I had at her? What a strange, powerful feeling that was! A long overdue feeling of relief; and a feeling that all things are possible in this sorry old world of ours. Besides the tip I gave her, do you think she got satisfaction from doing something tangible and beneficial to another human being? Remember that somebody who travels in a small space has exacting requirements on their possessions, no matter how they look, superficially, to the casual observer.

As luck would have it, this thought ties in perfectly with a string of books I recently chanced onto, by Matthew B. Crawford. I read the preview of his book, and have paid him the ultimate compliment of shipping a dead-tree version of the book to the post office, with all the agonies that involves. (A first, for me.)

There is no better travel experience than one that combines with some other part of your life. What does [a travel experience] + [a book] = ?  Think of how two-dimensional and sterile words are, on a page. But a real life situation animates dull words. Where was it?, in the movie "Roger Rabbit", when birds on the page of a child's coloring book were suddenly brought to life, and began flying in circles above the book, while cheeping and chirping away. I am getting to enjoy a pleasure of that type now. I can't wait until Crawford's book shows up!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Retro-Grouch at the Laundromat

I thought it was a bad idea whose time had come...and passed. But there it was, staring at me, once again.



Quarters aren't accepted by an ultra-modern laundromat, like this one. Now you must waste money to buy a plastic card even before putting a balance on the card that lets you do laundry. Yea, like that is really advantageous for the traveler who is only going to be there once.

Of course there were complex instructions for paying for the card itself, then putting a balance on the card, then inserting it into the washing machine (once chance in four of getting it right), and then pulling it out at the right speed so it actually begins working. I have seen a poor attendant have to help every other customer with these damn things!

I actually groaned out-loud when I walked into this business and saw the bad news. I was traveling with a European friend for a week. Recognizing all the telltale signs of an incipient rant, they started looking for a fire extinguisher to spray me down.

This isn't the first time I've seen this type of setup. The first time was in Yuma. Obviously charging you $5 for card -- with zero balance -- was an integral part of their business model. They were counting on a certain fraction of their elderly snowbird clientele leaving for the summer, losing the card, or croaking during the summer.

Besides the technical annoyances, which admittedly are short term, what bothers me the most is what this scam represents: another way to financialize daily life and hide price increases. When you have been putting 7 quarters into the washer for a few years, you are used to it. If the price is raised to 8, you will notice it and consider trying the laundromat down the street. Even worse, when our 'non-existent' inflation pushes the price to 9 in another year or two, all of the hardware of the washers will have to be changed because they only have 8 slots. What a nuisance that will be to the laundromat -- clearly an advantage to the financialized approach.

Step by step, the customer is meant to lose track of how much they are actually paying to do laundry. Perhaps the machines can be upgraded to use EBT cards. Perhaps putting more money on your balance will be done with a smartphone app. If you don't have any more balance on your app, PayPal, or EBT account, perhaps you can get a short term 'bridge' loan, based on your car title. Recently I saw progress in shifting from car title loans to car registration loans.

It pleases me to report (and I have a witness) that I made three nice compliments to the laundry attendant about how clean and fast her new machines were.
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But let's face it: going to the laundromat is never going to be a traveler's favorite chore. Recently I was at a laundromat near an Indian reservation. (Oh no...) Recall the book "Kabloona", which I twisted into my nom de plume.  In the book the French anthropologist was living with the esquimaux in northern Canada. He admitted that he never fantasized over having a harem of esquimaux women. But after two years of living amongst them, he was noticing that they were starting to look better to him. (What do you expect, for a Frenchman...) As I looked around at my laundromat's clientele, it seemed that two years might not be quite enough.

With that churlish thought in my mind, in comes a youngish Indian woman, with interesting shoes and leggings. They were not ostentatiously retro; in fact they looked like they came from a thrift store; but they somehow suggested traditional clothing. She was short, had bronzed skin, raven black hair, and high cheekbones. It didn't take much imagination to think, "Bering Strait." Quite a handsome woman, in a rugged sort of way. Except for being a hunchback...

But wait, it wasn't a hump. It was a young daughter -- a papoose -- carried in a vivid purple towel. I wish I knew more about knots because the purple towel was tied in a way that was both ornamental and functional. It was all that kept the papoose from falling to the ground. But the mother moved freely around the laundromat, as if the papoose were just a part of her body.

What a spark that woman had to her personality, to take something traditional and make it look so natural and un-forced. Personally I have never paid much attention to style. Perhaps I should have.