Real Life Travellers
February 16, 2018
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I flew across the country today and experienced three random encounters:
- Saw an older lady on the bus with this almost zen-like look of beaming contentment. I broke in remarking on how beautiful a day it was. (It was dark and rainy, natch.) This developed into a wide-ranging conversation covering what we especially liked about each of the Northwest, Alaska, and the South. We consoled each over on having to do without coleslaw and butterbeans. When she mentioned she was from Texas, I remarked that only people from the South really grasp how to have a talk. When we changed buses, I went out of my way to mention to her how much I’d enjoyed meeting her. (To not do so would have been tacky, of course.)
- Guy next to me on the plane turns out to be a Microsoft developer. He tried to feel me out on how much I might despise the company when I said positive things about particular open source tools. I misread this, thinking he wouldn’t care for any flak on this point. But when I later mentioned which Microsoft products I currently get paid to use… he went cold on me. It’s like I suddenly became persona non grata to him. Later I noticed he was a musician and we had a fair discussion about jazz and so forth, but he never made eye contact or even any sort of facial expression. There is evidently a fair scene for that sort of thing in Seattle, but I could never get the emotional energy up to go check it out. The preponderance of people of his sort in the area would defeat the purpose of going out in the first place.
- Getting closer to my old stomping grounds, I expected my luck to change. It didn’t. A thirty-something woman sits next to me and I give out the minimal amount of pleasantries, but she turns out to be a scientist. A physicist delving into materials science. She really wants to talk about that, so I ask her a few questions. At some point I remark that it really is unfortunate how physics turned out during the twentieth century. “The more strange and counter-intuitive results would seem to undercut the very philosophy and mindset that gave rise to science in the first place,” I said. “Honestly, the entire enterprise has been all downhill ever since Newton.” She looks back at me and says, “you mean you prefer science when it was white and male.” Needless to say, this was the worst repartee I’ve ever witnessed in my life. All you can really say in response to something like that is, “well I nevah!”
One thing I will say about such pronounced regional and cultural differences is that we really have not been well served by filtering the bulk of our culture through two or three urban centers. American science fiction and fantasy from before 1940 has a much greater range of tone, style, accent, and feel because of its greater amount of regional diversity. And the people that created it had much more in common with the sort of people I enjoy spending time with.