Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The trash in the pool was more of a protest, really. (Driving Really Fast Past Things)

Driving Really Fast Past Things used to be called "Vacations" before I decided this was a more apt name.

Also, this post turns out not to be about vacations, much.  Sorry, or you're welcome, depending on your attitude. 

Continuing the story of my [not so] recent vacation to Florida... 
read part one, "In Another Universe, I Am In Birmingham, Alabama, For Some Reason," by clicking here
or part two,
"Why Would Anyone Want To Drive Through Illinois?" by clicking here
Or part three, "
We Are READY TO GO. Well, almost", by clicking here.
Or part four, "Sometimes, a house" by clicking here

Or part five: "Superman and the Albino Squirrels vs. The Dentist" here. 
Part six: "Dwight The Lady GPS Takes Us On A Tour Of Metropolis" here. 
Part Seven: The creepy guy in the dark.  

SO we were at the hotel, we were tired, and we were going to have to stay in a creepy, rundown place where some guy stalked the hallways while carrying a little dog.

You wouldn't think someone carrying a little Pekingese type dog would seem menacing, but, then, you probably aren't tired and hot and worn out from eating fast food all day and haven't just hauled about 5,000 suitcases into the hotel because for some reason you need every one of them in the hotel room even though you are just sleeping there, so don't judge me.

The hotel had one amenity we were all looking forward to: The pool.  All day long we had been promising Mr F and Mr Bunches they could go swimming when they got to the hotel, a sentence that I realized was probably so much gobbledygook to them, beyond the words "swimming" and "pool", which sent the message I wanted to in a sense.

Since Mr F and Mr Bunches are not crazy about changes in routines, suggesting something to them suggests the entire routine to them. So if I say "When you get to the hotel, you can swim in the pool," they first of all have no idea at the time what a "hotel" is because the few times they've stayed in a hotel before this they were two, or younger than two, and while they seemed to enjoy themselves it's doubtful they knew what was going on.  The only exception to that was once when they came and stayed overnight in Eau Claire with us, when I had to give a seminar early the next morning, and that hotel room was pretty boring for them and they didn't really sleep.  So I am pretty sure they didn't know much about what this "hotel" thing was, but they do know pool, and what they heard was me saying You... swim... pool.  But what they know is the pool by our house at the health club, or the larger pool on the other side of town.

That had been causing problems with Mr Bunches, because he recognized that wherever we were, it was not the pool.  He knows the route to the pools, knows them perfectly.  He knows he can walk to one pool and drive to the other and he knows that none of those pools involve driving for hours and hours and hours and none of them are in a weird city with a big bridge near it, and it had been getting him more and more upset, this disjunction between what I was saying, and what he was seeing.

That was alleviated a little when Mr Bunches, at least, quickly learned what a hotel pool was when we were checking in, because you could see it from the hotel lobby, and he was excited to head down to the pool, so excited that we had trouble getting his swimming trunks on him.

Mr F, too, had trouble getting his swimming trunks on, but for an entirely different reason: Mr F was tired and did not like the hotel room, not one bit.     He stood off in the corner, recognizing, perhaps, that we had stayed in a room like this before -- all hotel rooms look similar enough, at least at our income level, that if I showed you one you'd know it was a hotel room and not a regular room, and even Mr F can recognize that.  He knows the double beds, TV-on-the-long-flat-dresser-nobody-actually-owns-in-real-life, the picture on the wall, the nightstand with the double lamp that has screwy controls you'll never figure out, the clock radio... those are hotel items, not real life items, especially the clock radio.  

In my mind, I associate the clock radio with the 1970s.  I don't actually think, outside of Groundhog's Day, that anyone uses or has a clock radio anymore unless they are staying in a hotel, when we have no choice but to use the clock radio because that's the only thing they have for us to use.  Even then, I don't entirely trust the radio, not least because I don't know how they work, really, and have to test it out a few times, and then you get into the whole should I check to see if the phone is ringing thing.

You know what I'm talking about, or you should. The Should I Check, etc., has largely gone the way of the dinosaur, not in that some people think it existed side-by-side along Adam and Eve but in that it is not here anymore because of modern technology and the twenty-three zillion ways we have to get hold of someone.  

Nowadays, if you want to get in touch with me, you could call me on the phone, sure -- my cell phone, which is my only number, unless you count my office number.  And unless you count my direct line at my office, which doesn't go through the receptionist but goes directly to me.  If you don't feel like calling me on one of the three phone numbers I have, you could always email me at my business email, my home email, or the email I have that's not really home or business but I set it up because one day I needed a new email to create a new account at The New Yorker because for some reason you have to have an account to enter their caption contest.  I don't know why you have to have an account.  You don't win anything.  You get your name in a magazine.  That's it.  But you have to have an account.  An "account." To give them a funny line about a cartoon.

I digress.  IMAGINE THAT! If you don't want to email me at one of my three emails you could also text me or direct message me on Twitter, all of which helps alleviate the Should I Check dilemma, which is a situation I lived through twice back in the olden days of phones that plugged into other things and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

The Should I Check dilemma is this: You are waiting for a phone call, and the phone call is not coming in.  It keeps not coming in, and keeps not coming in and so on until you are going crazy and wondering whether someone has disconnected the phone or maybe cut the lines, they still do that, don't they, but who would cut the lines to your house what if The Boy unplugged the phone, maybe the power is out do phones still work when the power is out you thought you heard that somewhere why won't they call?

And so you wonder: Should I check to see if the phone is working? because that's the only reason they haven't called yet, right? But here's the problem: What if you pick up the phone at the exact moment they try to call?

You could get that awkward thing where you pick up and it didn't ring but someone is on the phone anyway.  That happened to me once in my life.  Just once, which is remarkable when you think about how many phone calls I get.  It might happen more often, I suppose, if I ever called anyone but I don't. I never call anyone.

But you could block that phone call by picking up just a hair too soon and then the person on the other end would never call back and you're DOOMED, you won't get to meet Regis.

I went through that private torment twice in the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (ME! I DO!) when it was on TV only thirteen times a week and Regis hosted and you could call in and pass a test and if you did, they told you they might call you the next day and if you passed that test the next day they would fly you to New York that week and you might be a millionaire.

I passed the three question phone test twice, and each time had to spend the next day sitting around in our house waiting for Regis, or somebody -- it was probably Regis, I imagine -- to call me and give me the second test. 




And then ultimately picking up the phone to see if it is working.

Consider that, for a moment, as I get even more sidetracked and less likely to get to the trash in the pool.  Consider how little we trust technology, that we immediately suspect it isn't working.  Louis CK does this bit where he talks about how ungrateful we are for technology, how we want to check something with our phone but it takes a while and people complain and he points out that the signal is going up to a satellite so maybe we could be patient.        

I get that.  I do.  But that's not what I complain about.  I complain about the fact that phones, 100 years (more or less) after they were invented, still go out at random times, and about the fact that about 1 in 10 times, my cell phone will simply blink out and cut me off the Internet, or won't work when I tap the "GPS" button to get to Dwight and her directions.

1 in 10 times, more or less, something I have completely fails to work.  Just the high-tech stuff.  Low tech stuff, like a spoon, never fails to work.

That makes me think about something, something I began pondering along this line not just when the clock radio in our room reminded me of how I don't know how to work clock radios, back in June, but when last week the doctors had to reboot the MRI machine I was lying in, resulting in me being there a lot longer while they (no lie!) restarted it.

That had never happened to me before.  Every other time I went to the doctor, the doctor at least pretended that everything was working fine.  They'd hook me up to an EKG or a this- or that- or whatever monitor and then do some stuff and say "Okay, you're fine" or shrug and say they didn't know why I couldn't breathe.

But this time, the tech or nurse or whoever came in and said they were having problems with their MRI and were going to have to restart it and I'd be there a little while.

So I sat in the metal tube, staring at the white walls and listening to the tinny music, and thought "Restart it? Like I have to do on my laptop?"

That really made me question this technology, and all technology, we use.  I figure I have had about 10 MRIs in my life, and this time they had to reboot the system because they got a 404 error or whatever the MRI equivalent was, which suddenly meant that the MRI technology, this giant machine that you have to go through three locked doors to get to and the lab techs stand in another room behind glass like they are those people watching the Shrink Ray work just before Gru steals it in Despicable Me which we are watching a lot lately,  so it's my go-to analogy, that MRI machine is about as reliable as my cell phone, which is not reliable at all.

And it was that machine that was going to tell me why I couldn't breathe.

My cell phone was going to decide whether I lived or died.

Scary, right?

Technology sucks sometimes.  As wondrous as it is to be able to instantly watch That 70s Show on a tablet computer while I load the dishwasher (I am making good use of high tech), it sucks sometimes in that it doesn't work everytime.

Even the highest-tech stuff fails an awful lot in critical conditions.  The space program has had, by my count, four major breakdowns.  Four.  And that is stuff built with no real cost constraints and operated by the best and the brightest people, we assume, but something like 20% of the time the space program suffers a fatal error.

And now I am doubting every medical test I ever had, even that one where the doctor presses his hand into your neck and then rubs your head.  I began thinking about how when I was lying in the ER with my heart attack they kept telling me I was fine and giving me Nexium and were getting ready to send me home but thought they should give me a stress test real quick before I went "just to be sure" and then a cardiologist said "He's having a heart attack right now" and all those tests before that "didn't" show a heart attack were probably just wrong, weren't they?

They were tests run on the equivalent of my cell phone, by people who might have been having a bad day or were hungry or tired or about to get off of work or something else, and if the space program can kill you 1 in 5 times, what can we expect from technology made by the lowest bidder?

Scary.  And here's the other thing: a good proportion of you people probably thought "Well, that is the price of having high tech stuff, sometimes it's going to fail."  Which brings me to the spider eggs, and food.

What if food failed 20% of the time?  What if 20% of the time you ate a sandwich and it completely failed to provide you with nutrients, and you had to say to your wife "I'm going to have to reboot that sandwich?"  Would you shrug and say "that's the price we pay for having bologna"? 

What if, worse, food killed you 20% of the time?  Would you ever eat bologna again?  I mean, I probably would because bologna is delicious, but I'd be pretty suspicious of it.  20% of the time, anyway.

We set standards of 30 fly eggs per 100g of pizza sauce.   I've always been told, by the kind of people who enjoy telling me things like this, that there is a maximum amount of spider eggs in peanut butter, a stat that people use to point out, further, that that makes it a near-certainty that there are spider eggs in my peanut butter.  (I hate people.)  That's a pretty high standard: 30 fly eggs per 100g of pizza sauce.  (I don't actually know how big a gram is or how big a fly egg is, so I don't know.  Maybe it's a terrible standard and I've just blown the lid off what will be known as Flygate someday.)

But by the same token, it's an admission that we cannot keep those things out of food.  If we expected perfection, we'd never eat pizza sauce, and so we say "This level of error is acceptable," to us, whatever that level of error is: 30 fly eggs in a sandwich, four fatal space missions, one rebooted MRI and missed heart attack per lifetime.

That's the kind of thing I start to think about when I see a clock radio in a hotel room and wonder whether I should set it to wake me up, and so I try to set it, but I'm not sure I did it right, and so I test it, setting it for one minute from now, and then it goes off, and I think "Okay, I know how to do that." So I set it again for the "real" time I want to get up, and then I wonder "Did I do it right this time?" but the only way to know is to wait and see if it was right, if I did it the right way.

That could be a larger metaphor for this vacation, of course, which is what I'm talking about: did I do it right, taking the boys on vacation? Did I plan sufficiently, ending up in a hotel room at 9 at night and the hotel is creepy and Mr F is upset and we're going to try to go swimming? There's no way to know, at least until some garbage gets dumped.

But I'll have to get to that next time.  (Get it? It's because I was talking about clock radios.)   

1 comment:

Rusty Webb said...

I've seen the Louie CK skit. Is that the same one about the internet on the airplane? Really, one of the funniest things ever.

Geez, I should really have something to say that is more on topic with this post. Good work.