Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Pause on the Rapid Tracks

                                      First printed in Design Magazine  2001

"Well in our country, " said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else - if you ran very fast for a long time."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."
                                       Through the Looking Glass

It started out as an ordinary morning.  I got up early, knowing I'd have to hit the ground running.  I had plenty to do during this Cleveland family visit before meeting the 255 Nonstop at Hopkins International Airport.  I grabbed a quick shower and pulled on a jogging suit and running shoes. With hair still wet, I hurried into the kitchen to "nuke" myself a fast breakfast.  Though the directions said to microwave the Quick Quaker Oatmeal on "HIGH for 2 minutes, 30 seconds," I hit "222" on the control panel.  Everyone knows its faster.

I gulped my breakfast and grabbed the car keys offered to me. I was told I could use any of the cars parked in the driveway.  I considered the Dodge Dart and the Chevy Blazer before choosing the Pontiac Grand Prix.  I noticed with satisfaction that it was equipped with cruise control so I could drive as fast as legally allowed.  It also had a fuzz buster if that wasn't fast enough.

With a grocery list in my mouth, I accelerated past the Quik Trip, turned left at the Jiffy Lube and parked at the Shop n' Go.  I dashed in and picked up Bisquick, Minute Rice, Quick Draw garbage bags, instant pudding, Soup To Go, One-Step Stuffing, Hi-C Blast, Mennen Speed Stick, Quick Pot Pasta, and Suddenly Salad.  Because I had fewer than 12 items, I got to use the Express Lane (yippee!)

Rolling again, I passed the Insty-Prints, parked by the Sprint building, and sprinted into the Educator's Music.  They had the sheet music I wanted: Chopin's "Minute Waltz" and Pagannini's "Perpetual Motion."

Steering towards the airport, I stopped at the red light before the rapid Transit Authority tracks. I glanced (honestly, just glanced) down at my list as the light turned green.  Just as instantly, the car behind me honked with a loud, rude blast.  Honked!  I was furious.  How dare someone decide I wasn't moving fast enough? I was always hurrying.

Paused there on the Rapid tracks, I suddenly asked myself "why?"  In the cosmic sense, what was I rushing from and where was I hurrying to? Had life just become one headlong dash from the cradle to the grave?

Unaware (and unappreciative) of the epiphany I was having, the rear driver screeched his car around me and sped off, brandishing obscene gestures.  They do that in Cleveland.  I didn't care, because I was reflecting on something important; noting that from the time babies are born, we begin preparing them mentally and financially for college, and it's rush, rush, rush, throughout their childhood.  College graduates are handed their diploma along with the advice that they better get busy working towards retirement, or they won't have any.  And retirees can't let up.  After all, they need to plan for their "final expenses."

It seemed that we Americans spend our entire lives doing as much as we can as fast as we can, using any service or product that promises to be quick and easy.  Without questioning, we equate fast with good.  The truth is much like Tater Tots; it's usually one or the other.  And what ever happened to all the time we save using time-saving conveniences?  We should have more leisure, peace, and serenity.  Yet we don't.  We just find more tasks listed in our planners and feel increasingly exhausted.

In a thoughtful mood, I steered the car toward the airport exit, passing the Gold's Gym.  The treadmills were in the front window, full of people running and sweating, yet going nowhere.  At the airport curb, signs announced "No Stopping or Standing" and an annoying loud speaker voice repeated the same warning.  With so many messages telling us to "keep it moving," no wonder we've become a nation in motion.

The airport interior was abuzz with activity.  People were scurrying around, toting their wheeled luggage behind them.  The conveyors down the concourses were full of people who were being transported, yet were simultaneously striding purposefully, elbowing people to the side who weren't moving fast enough.  I felt like hollering, "This is what's wrong with America!"

Instead, I checked with an agent to see why the 255 Nonstop wasn't in.  "It's been delayed," she said, "and I think there's also a gate change.  Let me check." She typed rapidly on a computer keyboard.  It took all of three seconds for the screen to come up: one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. "Sorry," she said, annoyed, "but this #^#% computer is so *^#%^#  slow." They talk like that in Cleveland.  She continued, "It's only got 700 megahertz; I can't wait until they install new ones with 1.5 gigahertz."

It only took a nanosecond to firm my resolve.  When three seconds is too long to wait, whether for a driver to recognize a green light or a computer screen to come up, it is time to slow my world down.  I knew it must begin with me and it must start in small ways. Perhaps others would gradually join me, starting a groundswell movement of people with a healthy skepticism about anything marked as "quick," "instant," or "jiffy."  Furthermore, should we manage to save time, we would keep it.  We would no longer over-schedule ourselves and no longer rush.  We would recapture serenity.

We'll know we've succeeded when Madison Avenue starts marketing to "a new, more serene consumer." Just imagine.  They might promote breakfast foods like Whenever Waffles, and Slo-Simmer Cereal.  Detroit might come out with the Mercury Meander, the Lexus Lallygag or the Dodge Dawdle.  People will reflect on their lives and regain patience, even in Cleveland.  It could be wonderful.  At the very least, we could determine never, ever, to honk at drivers in front of us when a stoplight turns green.  We'll just give them a minute.  They'll figure it out. I did.

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