Friday, December 30, 2005

Inane Chatter

Hello all. Sorry for the delay in updating the Digglings, but I’ve been off in Costa Rica with my sister avoiding the West Coast winter rains. Now, one may think that such a holiday would have lead to several blog entries about endless sunshine and glorious surfing, and that may yet happen. But not now. First, I need to blow off some steam, for I have witnessed countless scenarios that leave me convinced of the ongoing decline of civilization and the impending end to our society as a whole.

My next few entries will discuss some of these observations. The following is the first. I call it:

Inane Chatter

Now come on people. If you’re stupid you should be self conscious about it, not broadcast it at full volume for all the world to hear!

There’s a classic scene in Jim Jarmusch’s film “Broken Flowers” where Bill Murray is riding a bus from an airport terminal to the rental car lot. Sitting across from him are two teenage girls engaged in the most mindless banter imaginable. The look on his face alone is worth the price of admission. He sports a slight grin all the while conveying a sense of absolute exasperation and complete disdain. In the end, however, you can tell he understands because, after all, they are just teenage girls.

If inane banter was restricted to teenage girls, I’d be OK with it, too. They go hand in hand, right down to the incessant repetition of “like” and “oh my god”. My problem is that mindless dialogue appears to be an outbreak of epidemic proportions, affecting every last man, woman and child in America. And they insist on shoving it in your face.

Case in point. Our last night in Costa Rica we went on a guided moonlight stroll down “Playa Grande” to witness a true wonder of nature, leatherback turtles laying eggs in the sand. It’s an incredible spectacle.

Leatherbacks are the largest turtles in the world, some measuring over three feet wide and five feet long. The females struggle up onto the beach at high tide in the dark, and deposit up to 70 eggs into a trench that they dig with their rear flippers. Not long ago, the beach would have been home to over 200 turtles a night going through this process. Today, the average is around three per night, and the overall turtle populations are dwindling fast. The reason is, of course, man’s interference with the turtle’s environment.

In an effort to preserve the leatherback turtles, Costa Rica has designated Playa Grande as a nature preserve, and only a limited number of guided trips are permitted on the beach at night. So, Beth and I signed up and joined a group of about thirty tourists eager to experience the spectacle.

Picture this – you’re part of the only group walking along an otherwise empty 2 ½ mile stretch of pristine beach. The moon has yet to rise, but the sheer abundance of stars cast enough light that you can actually see your shadow. The surf crashes noisily, occasionally splashing your bare feet with warm tropical water as you expectantly approach a leatherback turtle.

Sounds absolutely magical, yes?

Well, it should have been, but it wasn’t. How could such an otherwise perfect occasion be ruined? You guessed it, with stupid, brainless, dim-witted, inane chatter. Our group of thirty individuals came from all over North America, and the one thing they had in common was that they just wouldn’t shut up. It was absolutely mind-boggling.

Like all interactions while abroad, it starts with the absurd mantra of the American tourist, “ Where y’all from?”. The question itself isn’t at issue, it’s the intent. You see, people who ask that question really aren’t interested in where you’re from. They’re initiating a conversation because they’re interested in telling you where they’re from! It’s a time worn tradition. Some profusely sweating perfect stranger blurts out the dreaded question from across a bus or on the street, and before you can say “Canada”, he or she interrupts you to fill you in on everything you didn’t want to know about Tuba City, Arizona. (I didn’t make that up, honest!) And, unless you’re particularly rude, the endless diatribe of gibberish picks up from there.

Our walk along Playa Grande in the starlight was no different. The poor Costa Rican guide finally gave up on trying to fill us in on local lore, because he was continuously drowned out by a barrage of increasingly voluminous idiodicy. It was like a contest. Not to be outdone by a school girl complaining that her legs were going to be sore from this epic hike, a college girl started to loudly complain to her mother that her roommate’s boyfriend wouldn’t let she and some girls watch Sex In The City DVDs because Monday Night Football was on. She was infuriated, and apparently wanted all of us to feel her pain.

And on it went for the entire half hour it took us to get to the turtle. Whatever fleeting thought that leapt into each individual’s mind was immediately blurted out for all to hear. Calling it vacuous is giving it too much credit.

Even worse were the questions that people asked the guide after we had spent 15 minutes watching the turtle lay her eggs. The guide had been adamant that we keep silent while in close proximity to the turtle, a task which I’m sure was torture for our group. We then moved about a hundred feet away so the guide could field questions. I was more appalled than during the walk. I’m convinced that people only ask questions so they can hear themselves talk. It has absolutely nothing to do with learning. It has everything to do with exposing oneself as a complete imbecile.

In my mind, our guide showed Herculean restraint. Check out some of these questions:

“What color are the eggs?” What?!? You mean the white eggs you were just looking at less than 30 seconds ago?
“What size are the eggs?” Once again, we’re discussing the eggs you just saw. They were mere inches from your nose. There was no illusion of any kind going on, so if they looked to be just slightly larger than a golf ball, then they are probably just slightly larger than a golf ball.

The questions were fired at the guide faster than he could answer them. But, I had the utmost confidence in his ability to answer all of them because he had already told us the answers in his preamble talk before we started walking. People were making up questions to information that they had already heard. What size is the turtle? Why is it called a leatherback? How many eggs does it lay? Unbelievable! Each and every one of us had a hand-out that the guide had read to us before we started, and the answer to EVERY question that was asked was on the handout.

Every question, that is, except one. And it is with that question that I will end this rant. A rather slight, spectacled, middle aged fellow had been silent for most of the question answer period, but towards the end he had to prove to all of us that he held knowledge that was exclusive to the rest. With a nervous giggle, he asked the guide about how long “the act” took between the male and female turtle. The guide said he wasn’t sure. So, in front of the whole group, including children, the man started to describe to us in great detail that it went on for a really, really long time. Perhaps not as long as it took for him to tell us, but for a really long time just the same. His long winded answer to his own question was often punctuated by Mr. Burns style laughter, leading me to believe that at least one member of our group wasn’t a total idiot. Certifiably insane yes, but not necessarily an idiot.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Today's Moment of Zen

Researchers studying the drug content of the River Po in Italy concluded that the 5 million people living in the river’s vicinity must consume about 200,000 lines of cocaine per day.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Stop Don't Go Traffic

Oh to be the guy who sells traffic lights to the city of Vancouver! He must be making money hand over fist. This holiday season, who needs Christmas lights? We’ve already got plenty of flashing red and green lights for as far as the eye can see!

For those of you fortunate enough to not have to drive Vancouver city streets each day, let me explain. Back in the early 70’s, Vancouver city planners made a conscious decision not to build freeways. Their vision was one of a city with lots of green space, minimal cars and effective transit. Considering Vancouver’s idyllic location on the west coast, I’d say that wasn’t a bad idea.

However, there is a not-so subtle difference between vision and implementation, and Vancouver is a textbook example of how the one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. In fact, it more closely resembles an example of how bright ideas can get totally screwed up.

The original plan was to discourage people from commuting by making driving in the city as frustrating as possible while at the same time providing efficient and cost effective transportation alternatives. Pretty simple, really. If driving is a pain, people will take another option.

Well, they got it half right. Driving in Vancouver is indeed a pain. You can’t get anywhere quickly because all the roads are clogged city streets. There are no freeways or thoroughfares. Moreover, there are hardly any left hand turn lanes or advance turn signals! As a result, rush hour lasts from 7 AM to 7 PM.

Of course, making life hell for drivers was the easy part of the plan. The city has saved a bundle on highway construction (there is none) and has obviously put no money or even thought into improving the infrastructure of existing roads. About all they seem to have done is to initiate a plan whereby traffic lights are being installed at every single intersection in the city. It’s infuriating in its idiodicy, but it sure adds to the goal of snarling traffic and exasperating drivers. Good job on task one city planners!

Meanwhile, the city collects some of the highest civic taxes in the country. Now, it was my understanding that the reasoning behind the high taxes was that the city was going to build a world class public transit system. Remember that part of the plan? The bit about effective and efficient alternatives? Instead, the city appears to be spending the money talking about building a world class public transit system. Apparently, talk doesn’t come cheap here on the west coast. So, while city planners talk, the number of cars on the road multiplies like rabbits, and drivers have an increasing number of stop lights where they can get out of their cars and clobber their fellow motorists with golf clubs.

On a recent trip to Seattle, I heard that they are looking to Vancouver as a model for the redevelopment of their downtown core. I hope they’ve stocked up on traffic lights.