Friday, January 22, 2010

Traveling without moving

Thursday afternoon, while working on my laptop at a local Starbucks, I ended up having a conversation with a couple nearby. It turned out they were from Paris, in the U.S. on vacation. Nothing too odd about that, but this particular Starbucks was tucked into a stretch of U.S. Route 46 chockablock with hubcap shops, fast food restaurants, hourly-rate motels, used car lots, a couple of BYO strip clubs, and a recently-demolished massage parlor. I go to that Starbucks sometimes because it gets a lot of late afternoon sunlight, but it's not somewhere I'd think of taking friends from out of town. Not exactly a tourist hotspot.

The couple explained that they had taken a year off to travel around the U.S., and had bought a used minivan (for $3k) at a used car lot near that Starbucks last spring. Now they were back after circling round the country and taking a detour into Mexico. They were planning to drive up to Canada for a couple of weeks to renew their tourist visas, but first they wanted to take their new American friend -- the guy who sold them the minivan -- out for a nice French dinner.

They asked if I knew any good French restaurants and I gave them a few ideas, and then let them borrow my laptop to book a hotel for the night. The husband gave me his business card: back in Paris he's a r├ędacteur en chef of a magazine. His wife was an editor too. The night before, I had been arguing with Trumwill on his blog that the class distinctions he and one of his guest bloggers frequently make are mostly pointless, partly because the demarcations they try to draw are so porous. And here, as if to underline my point, were two Parisian journalists befriending an American used car dealer.

Recently, on the 4HWW forums, someone mentioned, a site built to connect couch surfers with hosts willing to let them sleep on their couches. In one of the testimonials on that site, a host said that hosting a foreign couch surfer was like "traveling without moving". Meeting that French couple in the Little Ferry Starbucks reminded me of that line, which in turn reminded me of where I'd first heard it: in Dune. Embedding is disabled for this one, but click the link and see 1:47-1:57 of the clip.

Dune: Folding Space


Anonymous said...

Here is a fascinating site by a man who's spent over three years in almost non-stop couch surfing in Latin America, Europe and Asia, actually managing to acquire a girlfriend and then a baby along the way. He hasn't updated his travel diary in several months and according to his location reports he's been back in America since early autumn, so he may have finally called off his odyssey. It's fun reading.


DaveinHackensack said...

Thanks for the link, Peter. I am too swamped to check it out right now, but I'll try to give it a look later in the week.

JK said...

The conversation about class was interesting, so I'll leave my 2 cents here.

I think I'm somewhere between you and Truman/SheilaT/HalfSigma in regards to the class distinctions.

Yes, there are no clear lines separating the classes (at least in the US), but fuzzy boundaries does not mean there isn't a significant difference between a neighborhood of single family ranch homes / loading dock work environment, and a neighborhood of Tuscan 3 story homes / investment bank work environment. When I ran a post-construction clean up company on the side during the RE boom, for example, I quickly tired of the extremely blue collar work environment. It wasn't the manual labor, but the people. They weren't dicks, for the most part, but just seemed completely crude and uncultured to me, even as someone with prole tendencies himself. More on that later.

If anyone remembers their biology lessons about emergent properties, I think that is what class distinctions are, new properties that emerge from interactions creating a new organism greater than the sum of its parts. For example, I may be able to get along just fine with Joe, but an environment filled with people similar to Joe creates a different standard of interactions than one with people like Wolfgang. Of course there are exceptions to this, however these exceptions only highlight the rule. (i.e., how many proles really become millionaires?) To continue with a analogy from biology (since biological rules apply to humans too), nobody standing in an oasis is going to be fooled into thinking he is really in a tropical rainforest.

Further complicating this is the fact that many of us are not of any "pure" class, we have features we've absorbed from the different class environments we've spent time in. For example, I have more prole tendencies than my parents. They would be agast at any cursing or crude humor. I indulge in it from time to time, with drinking buddies for example. Exhibiting such behavior around children is far too low-class for me, however, but many proles see no harm in it. So my mixed behavior leads me to associate with other class mutts, and thus my friends tend to be other class mutts, usually middle class people from prole backrounds. We can appreciate good vulgar jokes, and don't find it necessary to pretend to like classical music made hundreds of years ago, but take things like raising children and education very seriously, and enjoy political and philosophical discussions, all things proles tend not to do.

It is true that there are tools and polite people everywhere. But you seem to be equating "class" purely with politeness and moral behavior, but that's not the same definition they are talking about.

Where I am more on your side is the general pointlessness of harping on class distinctions and the like. To me, that is loser behavior for those with nothing productive to do. It makes for interesting observations (like Paul Blart, Mall Cop video rental patterns) but beyond that, discussion usually takes a turn for the worse, like Sheila Tone's often sneering, condescending attitude. It's just not mentally healthy to obsess about these sorts of things IMO, it can turn you into a snobby misanthrope who can not enjoy life. Since class is mostly an emergent property, we can not expect individuals we meet to be stereotypes, so we should only judge people on their individual merits or vices.

Mark Essel said...

Enjoyed the post and the class distinction as an emergent property comment, am finally I hugged my phone while dreaming about folding space.

Digging steamvault Dave (with Disqus!!)

DaveinHackensack said...

Glad you liked it, Mark.

The Sleeper must awaken.

Hackensack Florist said...

It's the little things that are so amazing.