Monday, April 21, 2008

People You Meet on Transit #5



Thanks to Jay Morrison for the photo.


Transit Drivers
Bus drivers are an archetype in North American culture. In the imagination they are generous in girth, have staunch opinions about unions and eat 300% the recommended intake of red meat. The odd one adheres to a strict conspiracy theory, which they manage to work into the most innocuous conversations.

At least, that's what's been ingrained in our collective subconscious along with "Han shot first" and "Dukakis, 1988".

But transit drivers, like everyone else, are individuals. Unique, utterly one of a kind from the 5 billion others who roam this spinning mass of molten iron with the cool, carbon life-form infested shell. Sure, you see the reticent ones, who have a 100 yard stare and coolly watch passengers get mild hypothermia while they take their union-sanctioned 15 minute break inside their cozy bus. But there are other, more colourful characters as well.

In my city, there is one that calls out every stop and what attractions might be nearby. "Macdonald street, Safeway, Plenty Clothing store, Exotic Tanning Salon". I imagine he hankers for the heady years of Roarin' 30's, with it's flappers and Prohibition; when a competent elevator boy could make enough to feed his family of 17 who dwell in a one bedroom apartment in the poorer section of the Bronx.

There is something inspiring about that; someone taking the care to make every stop special in some way. Someone who maintains the verve and energy for their work as very few without a limitless Percocet prescription can manage. Of all the jobs out there where one could maintain an enthusiasm, Bus Driver would certainly be down the list (top of the list? Idle Rich, Space Ship Pilot, Lewdness Censor).

Last week there was a fellow who was talking about a Cleanse he had just finished, and hoping that he had flushed his system fully of toxins. If that isn't bursting through stereotypical boundaries, I don't know what is.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Protests



Thanks to pixietart for the photo.


Far be it from me to begrudge someone the opportunity to don $3 dollar Vuarnet rip-offs, a camoflaged bandana, and go toe-to-toe with some riot police. The taste for tear-gas is an acquired one, but I assume the feeling of shining superiority is something we all enjoy.

Oh, I get a little hard on protesters. I actually find I agree with them: WTO, bombing far-off nations with equal measure ordinance and k-rations, overthrowing formerly CIA-supported governments who just happen to be in possession of vast quantities of fossil fuels, the Olympics; both the winter and summer. I really do find many of their points salient, totally true, and honourable.

But, on the other hand, I'm a pragmatist. How could they possibly think that any amount of candle-light vigils or fiery speeches that break Godwin's Law more times than a sitting legislature meets with lobbyists; will in ANY way deter those who have determined that they will bomb, sign economic agreements, and hold games?

I guess I should temper that.

Some things do make a difference. Summer Olympics in particular. Because the POINT of the Olympics is for a country to basically show off. The end result is a change in public opinion. Protest can change public opinion if what they are protesting is simple and heinous enough draw general chagrin. Taking the jackboots to monks. I think most people can say this is Not A Good Thing. So the protests against the 2008 Olympics might do some damage. But they won't necessarily stop the games.

What I do have issue with are the larger, more or less unilateral political and corporate bodies who really don't care what everyone thinks.

Remember all those WTO rallies? Is the WTO gone? No.

War in Iraq. Did the US NOT invade Iraq. No.

Maybe it's the undying cynic in me. But sometimes it seems protests are a great big wank to feel good about oneself, stick it to the man, and have something to blog about.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bragging



Thanks to N/M/A for the photo.

While watching a PBS special on the mating rituals of a South American tree frog, one might be hit by the silliness of animals. Their odd behaviours, constant preening and advertising of themselves as Good Mates; or The Sole Proprietor Of This Selection of Females; or even The Real King Boss of This Arbitrary 3.5 square Meters of Forest. "That's silly", one is tempted to scoff, "dumb animals certainly are."

And yet, here we are, monkeys with a particular talent in tool-making and written language, gawking at "Cribs", or enviously tracing the outlines of our neighbours new German engineered status-mobile. As various philosophers have stated in various epochs, one can't measures oneself in relation to others. Or to put it another way, "[the average dutch citizen] considers the perfect wage to be 10% more than their neighbour".

Most people, most of the time (even if subconsciously) compare ourselves to others.

Which, I suppose is human. Everyone wants to feel like their are top dog. Or at least, you know, not bottom dog. That one's place on the status ladder isn't entirely insignificant. But it's -- to my hippy sensibilities -- despicable. Why can't one be happy just about one's happiness. Why must it be a zero sum gain? Why are we constantly jostling and bumping everyone else in ever shifting completely artificial, self-imposed hierarchy?

Ah, an endless stream of why questions is just the universe's way of telling you that you're a whiny sod. And besides, I hear many of you think. "I'm certainly not like that. I live my life free of comparison and envy!" You apparently also shit perfect 10 carat princess cut diamonds and sweat the sweet nectar of ambrosia from your brow, all the while writing a pithy yet compassionate letters to the editors of Utne and Mother Jones, and a thank you letter to the Paris Review for publishing an entire issue devoted to your iambic pentametric hybrid haikus about the state of chlorofluoro-carbons and their impact on sub-temperate Uzbekistan.

It's not like we mean to do it. But we monkeys are naturally hierarchal creatures. We do not live vast amounts of time by ourselves (like the polar bear), we evolved to live and cooperate in groups. Having structure, having this person above that person, this person below that other person, is a natural instinct. It's why we have/had royalty, it's why we have "Entertainment Tonight", "E! Daily", and whatever other 'news' program out there that feature impossibly beautiful people who have more than 6 hours a day devoted to their skin, fitness, and karmic well being all the while decrying the state of this cause or that atrocity that we huddled masses have until now been blissfully unaware.

It creeps up on us. There are all sorts of ways : talking about how much better you feel being on the 100-mile diet is a pretty subtle one (although the mock suprise as your friend tells you they don't know what it is, after which you barely contain your smugness as you discuss Carbon Footprints and sustainable eco-living is less so); going for that extra degree of discomfort in your yoga class while trying to maintain an aura of relaxed enjoyment; constantly bringing up the Japanese version of every film and talking about how it's so much better (but only in it's subtitled form).

In our enlightened society, the brag has taken subtle, insidious forms. It does nothing more than to show all of us are little more than boors. Not too far removed from the cigar chomping hummer driving nouveau-riche who walks around with a swagger and a well-worn copy of "Atlas Shrugged".