Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Road Tripping





Back when I was a tadpole, our mothers used to broom us out the back door and tell us to roll around in the dirt, eat grubs and play kickball in traffic. We lived by our wits, such as they were. Ultimately, this led my entire generation to engage in a little thing called a "road trip," wherein groups of large children who had obtained sexual maturity, if nothing else, piled into cars and took off for the hills. Maps were free from the gas station, but the cars were guaranteed to fail, telephones were scarce, there were no machines that spit out money, and, for that matter, there were no credit cards. Survival was all up to you and whatever common sense and resourcefulness you had accumulated through the years of parental benign neglect. Drugs and alcohol upped the ante. Natural selection worked as it was intended to, and those of us who remain topside are more or less able to think for ourselves.

Things are different now. Children are carefully supervised, padded against peril and sent out with wicking underwear and weatherproof outfits and enough electronics to replace every part of their brains. A child plunked down in the wilderness now would spin in place for a few hours, and then make an art project out of acorns and mud and wait for praise from the rescuers. This method of child-rearing produces grownups like the ones here in Oregon who, last month, headed down unmaintained roads in the grip of winter until they got stuck, far from civilization, because that's what the little voice on their GPS system told them to do. The modern version of the old scold is no longer rhetorical. "If Garmin told you to go jump off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff?" Why, yes! Yes we would!

One stranded couple knew exactly how to get over the mountain to their destination, but they faltered when the GPS lady insisted they take a short cut. The GPS lady was so sure of herself
that when they passed by the shortcut because they couldn't see it, since it was all covered in snow, she admonished them to make a U-turn. Which they did, and proceeded to plow their way into a snowy oblivion several miles in. Their cell phones didn't work, either. This poor family was so baffled by the failure of their electronic neuron supply that they did the only thing they could think of. They made a nice video of their surroundings and waited to die.

Technology may be a snap if you're born to it, but it can be very frustrating to those who had been raised to rely on their own brains. We will never forget the scene of Dave's mom crouching in front of the oven one Thanksgiving. That fine woman had, by then, roasted about fifty Thanksgiving turkeys in her life with complete success, but there she was with her new-fangled Butterball, prying at the button with a paring knife and muttering, "Dang it, I know it's done."

So just when I had despaired of children ever being exposed to the consequences of their own actions, bless their hearts--they went and invented tree-surfing. A California teenager recently rode a Christmas tree towed behind an SUV, and the driver took a turn too fast and sent the surfer out on a tangent that culminated in his hitting a parked car and suffering entirely redundant head injuries. The driver fled. The other kids riding in the SUV said they have no idea who she was. Natural selection, if given free rein, will cull every one of these people. This will cause momentary sadness, but then thanks to a variety of indulgent satellites, we'll know just where their bodies are.

10 comments:

  1. Elizabeth BrewsterJanuary 13, 2010 at 8:03 AM

    I notice that is two GPS-related moron stories in a row. Maybe GPS needs to add a feature to the "turn right" and "turn left" commands....like "Hey Moron! Wake up! Use your brain!"

    Also you are spot on about the kid-rearing thing. We fell out of trees, crashed our bicycles, and generally caused havoc while the adults drank martinis on the porch, as they were supposed to. It was a perfect system for all involved!

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  2. Perfect! What is it that makes these people over-schedule and over-supervise their kids, yet take them to the store without outerwear in ten-degree weather?

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  3. We used to go "rafting" on a rickety contraption made of sticks, all around a local pond that had no fences, no warning signs, no nothing but kids having fun. No one ever got hurt til they fenced it and put up signs saying stay out...THEN the pond got drained, the dumb kid died, and the law suits started. Only ones having fun now are lawyers.

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  4. As a kid growing up in northern Idaho, I think my parents must have said: "Go up into the hills and play in the snow, and don't come back until you are hypothermic!" 'Cause that's exactly what we did, day after day. Ah, the memories.

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  5. A-MEN! And we played OUTDOORS (imagine!!!!) with other REAL children - not sittiing in a room watching a vision on a screen.
    I think the past generation or so has been so overprotected - child locks on everything, seat belts, helmets - and sanitized beyond healthy that they have no idea that there are consequences (or even what a consequence is) - it's not their responsibility to protect themselves, someone else will. And even though you don't mention it - I'm betting that the parents of the tree surfer no doubt sued the tree seller!

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  6. At age 16 I drove from West Palm Beach to Rockford, IL, alone, for a friend's wedding. Stopped along the way to visit relatives in KY and a girlfriend in IN, did the wedding thing and drove home again. Worst thing that happened was a speeding ticket for doing 3 miles over the limit in East Chicago Heights, IL. (They just couldn't resist a teenager in a red MG convertible.)

    That single trip did more for my self-confidence and -esteem than any single thing in my life, I believe. Had I been deprived of it, I would almost certainly have been an entirely different person as an adult. While some folks would maintain that wouldn't have been a bad thing, what do they know? They never did a 3,000 mile road trip alone at age 16. Children of lesser parents.

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  7. Technology or no technology, evolution will continue to find a way to get it's way. Idiot-proofing can only do so much, but some questions will never die, such as "what does this do?", "mmm, button", "it's like, totally safe, dude", "I dare you", "shiiiiiiny" and "chicken", and evolution will continue to work its magic.

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  8. Technology or no technology, evolution will continue to find a way to get it's way. Idiot-proofing can only do so much, but some questions will never die, such as "what does this do?", "mmm, button", "it's like, totally safe, dude", "I dare you", "shiiiiiiny" and "chicken", and evolution will continue to work its magic.

    ReplyDelete
  9. A-MEN! And we played OUTDOORS (imagine!!!!) with other REAL children - not sittiing in a room watching a vision on a screen.
    I think the past generation or so has been so overprotected - child locks on everything, seat belts, helmets - and sanitized beyond healthy that they have no idea that there are consequences (or even what a consequence is) - it's not their responsibility to protect themselves, someone else will. And even though you don't mention it - I'm betting that the parents of the tree surfer no doubt sued the tree seller!

    ReplyDelete