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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Frantic And Angry And Late Is No Way To Go Through Life, Son

I remember the dark days before Nuvi.

Being lost in a car was a fairly regular occurrence for me. I built and repaired things out in the landscape, and I had to find my way to them first. More often than not, I was supposed to meet a homeowner or some other interested person at these prospective jobs at an appointed hour, so time was of the essence. In my experience, a person that can direct you to their location with any sort of accuracy is a very rare person indeed. Most people simply say things like, “Do you know where the… “

Listen, if I knew the local landmarks, I wouldn’t need directions. People rely on what’s familiar to them by and large, and what’s familiar to them encompasses a very short list. Precision in directions is almost unheard of. But I eventually accumulated a substantial supply of gigantic streetmap books in my car, took the “take a left at the rock that looks like a bear” directions with a grain of salt, and carried on, until Nuvi saved me entirely with her curt, clipped directions. She even reads street signs at night for me.

I noticed something about my behavior, and the behavior of many other people, when I got lost. You speed up. The lost-er you get, the faster you go, and the more frantic you become. There is almost no better time to slow down and think things through than when you’re lost, but people don’t do it. People behave just the opposite, almost to a man. It’s the same reason an inveterate gambler lays his last, borrowed dollar on the green baize. He’s trying to win back everything he ever lost, all at once, all the time.

If anyone is in the car with you when you’re lost, they will get an avalanche of fury directed at them if they find the temerity to mention that they told you to go left a mile back, but you didn’t listen. They’ll get the same treatment if they say absolutely nothing, because their silence is an accusation, after all. There is no way to be in a car with a person that is lost and like it.

People’s judgment gets compromised fast when they’re lost. They back up on superhighways when they miss an exit. They take left turns from the far right lane. They tailgate. They drive without looking out of the windshield. They cut through gas stations on streetcorners if the light is red. If they are involved in any sort of fender bender as a result of their situation, there could very well be bloodshed one way or the other by the side of the road. Frantic and angry and late is no way to go through life, son.

But that’s exactly how the general public acts about everything all the time now. They’re lost. Almost everyone is traveling to a location they cannot name, but they seem hell bent to get to. Every milepost, sign, and touchstone that formerly directed their travel through life has been defaced or destroyed by vandals. They have map books that consist solely of dead ends on other planets. They started off edgy but by now they’re entirely unglued. They will turn on anyone that comes into their line of sight; even a Good Samaritan better watch out, as no amount of help is ever enough to turn back a clock. Anything resembling advice is seen as vilification, and even the mildest sort of criticism is an imperative to immediately drop the gloves. Everybody is stretched to their absolute limit, and further, and in every which way — mortgaged and indebted into the hereafter, but still somehow with an enormous budget for dissolution and sloth; overworked and still somehow lazy; fifteen minutes late for being a dollar short; angry, sullen, wound up tight and drugged insensate at the same time. The laziest person in the country is very, very busy being lazy. I see people that look like hobos walking by the side of the road, texting furiously while they walk, as if they were a captain of industry who needs to keep in constant touch with lots of important persons over serious affairs. There’s no rest for the wicked, and everyone’s wicked.

If you interrupt, in any way, anyone’s frantic attempt to get nowhere for no particular reason in order that they might achieve an equanimity they’d reject as boredom, and by doing so become conspicuous in their mind at the wrong time, which is all the time, you can expect the full fury of their frustrations will immediately be heaped upon you — some real, most imagined, overlaid with the dull image of violence and degradation that is their daily entertainment,  and cozened to the top of their to-do list by the buzzing saw of the cocktail of drugs, illegal and prescribed, that they take to keep going, faster and faster, and basted in the inchoate fear that they’re missing out on something.


13 Responses

  1. "Right way’s the hardest, wrong way’s the easiest. Rule of nature, like water seeks the path of least resistance. So you get crooked rivers, crooked men."
    — Sheriff Hank Pearson

  2. Ship to shore,
    Can't see the coastline anymore.
    I shouldn't be here,
    I thought I made that loud and clear.

  3. If frantic and angry is the enemy, the pedestrians around here seem to have him whipped. They step onto the roadway without sending so much as a how-yo-mamma-is in your direction as you lock up and careen towards them on four patches of smoking rubber. Once they amble into the street, they don't seem to have anywhere in particular to get to, either. Lost and proud of it, as far as I can tell. I used to get upset, but now I just envy that sort of impenetrable calm in the midst of several tons of whirling plastic and metal pandemonium.

  4. i once borrowed my uncle's truck for a weekend. the speedometer was broke (along with a good deal else not pertinent to this tale). about a month later i got directions from him to a different uncle's house who had just moved…complete with mileage numbers and references to fields that held cattle last week but were moved last weekend. yea

    i put my company name and personal cell phone number on my van and it's improved my civility on the road somewhat. i've only gotten one crank call in a year.

  5. Friend of mine spent 20+ years in the service, and moved back to where he grew up. Knowing his was a local, others gave him directions by landmarks–that were built after he left.

  6. Around here all the directions are given in land ownership, of three generations ago, which may or may not be the current name of ownership, whether or not the ones of the same name might be relatives of the same name of three generations ago.

    IE the Stoltfuss's that own the farm now, aren't of the same family that owned the Stoltzfoos farm in yer great grandpappy's day.

  7. Down here in Borderland is sparsely populated. Think: sections of land for a ranch. My town, we hafta go sixty miles to get to the next town that's just as small as ours; sixty miles to the closest bigger town; ninety miles to what passes for a city. A lot of directions involve mile markers or odometer readings, with a thirty mile visible horizon other landmarks just ain't there. GPS doesn't always work because of huge mineral deposits and dead zones. Most of the getting around is based on "tribal knowledge" — that is, once you've been here for a while and got lost a time or two you just learn where to turn, how far to go. Basic rules are: carry a lot of water and some survival level food and equipment; sensible to carry some sort of firearm; never have less than half a tank of fuel.

    The nice thing is, there ain't a lot of fools running around. Oh, and everybody waves at everybody else, you never know if you'll be on the side of the road needing help or if it's the other guy needs your help. Courtesy prevails.

  8. Chas I probably missed an earlier chapter. Do you live in tribal areas or down south on THE border?

    These days they cover border securitylike Resident Evil outtake reel.

  9. TmjUtah: I live in southern New Mexico thirty miles from the border. Mostly flatlands, some mini-mountains interspersed in miles of desert or undeveloped range land.

    The term "tribal knowledge" is misleading, sorry for any confusion. Let me try to set it straight:

    A tribe—corporate, social, racial et al.—is a reservoir of both written and unwritten information. This term is used most when referencing information that may need to be known by others in order to produce quality product or service.

    When folks live in an area, they all seem to "know" where this road leads or where that creek is. My last job I was working at a copper mine. Some pump stations or transformer sub-stations were accessed by dinky little roads that were a bit obscure to find. It was only after going to them a few times that one would learn how to get to them. Tribal knowledge is this learning and knowing. It can be passed on when one guy says to another "when you get to that fuel dock, look for a small road that …"

    Hope that sheds some light.

  10. I was always amused at how, in Brazil, directions would be given the manner of; Turn left where the policeman was shot and then turn right where that giant tree used to be, turn left again about two kilometers before the gas station.

  11. Well, it is good to learn I'm not the only one astonished by the frenzied, frantic activities of those deeply involved as do nothings.

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