Old Diary, Travel

Gettin’ Ready to Move

Our 28 days have come to an end.  As I said before, this is one of those rare USACOE where you can get an extension to their 14 day nationwide limit and stay 28 days, after October — and we have used up our time.  It’s been good to be here, but it’s time to move further South.

Before talking about our departure I want to highlight how much things can change in 1 short month.

The foreshortened shoreline when we arrived

The foreshortened shoreline when we arrived

The shoreline now after a month with very little rain.

The shoreline now after a month with very little rain.

When we arrived there had been a period of decent rain.  Since arriving we have seen  significant rain one night and one day of very light sprinkles.  In that time the shoreline of the reservoir has receded a couple hundred feet.  At the time of the top picture I had no idea I would want to document the shoreline so this was taken from a raised section of the campground overlooking the shore in the distance.  The lower image was taken from right down there where the campsite is and the water is easily a couple hundred feet from where it had been earlier.

Also,  In all my days, never did I ever think I’d be a resident of Mississippi — not even for a minute — not even for a month.  But I have to say that living here for a month has been a very interesting experience.  I have totally enjoyed the spirit of the Mississippians we have met.  They have been friendly and welcoming.  Now that’s not unusual in campgrounds — you are, after all, meeting people when they are in a good, getaway, mood.   But in all fairness I have to say that the in-state campers we’ve met here have been warmer than in numerous other states.  (and if you don’t know how I know they are in-state campers — well, all I had to do is check the vehicle licenses).

This campground is profoundly Mississippian.  In 27 days we saw a grand total of 5 RV’s  from outside Mississippi.  I expected more transients — Snowbirds en route to the South — but we did not see them.  What we saw were campers who come back weekend after weekend even into the fall — to enjoy a very pleasant place.   Considering the number of RV’ers out there I am continually surprised that we are as spread out into every nook and cranny as we are.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s CURRENT Racial Makeup

Milwaukee Diversity

The Milwaukee – Chicago Corridor clearly is a melting pot.

Then again,  let’s talk about diversity.  I grew up in Milwaukee WI during the middle of racial reform in this country.  When my daughter was going to public school in Milwaukee we were being told that Milwaukee had the worst racial segregation in the nation.

As a guy who has always gotten long with pretty much everyone that has always bothered me, and it had a lasting impact:  one thing I notice when I travel is what sort of racial diversity exists in a place. I am accustomed to diversity and I miss it when I don’t find it.   Now, don’t get me wrong…. I’m not a novice traveler.  I know from experience that camping in general and RV’ing in particular are activities that are far more popular among Whites.  But frequently we will find some other ethnic group mixed in among the campers.  For example, during our stay on the Oregon Coast there were significant Hispanics and Asians sort of balancing out White population — no in equal numbers but enough to be noticed.  (And to cause consternation because the Forest Services signs and literature was written only in English — and our volunteers often ran into problems with Spanish speaking campers)

US Population Diversity

National Diversity Map. Click on the link to go to the City-Data Interactive Chart

So, it was very apparent to me when we arrived here that diversity was something missing.   In spite of Mississippi having the second highest Black population in the country (after Washington D.C.) we saw NO Black campers, and only 1 family of Asians.  ?????   Considering how noticeably mixed the town of Grenada is — 6 short miles away — I found that perplexing, perhaps even troubling.   From the map it’s easy to see that we are moving into areas with more diverse than what we are accustomed to.  I’m eager,  curious,  to see what we find, and maybe to taste some more interesting food!  Right here it’s been a little bit bland.

Time to move on

Nov12

A simple route

We have no reservation for our next stop.  We’re hoping to find a place at Bayou Segnette S.P. for 5 days. Checking recently they were 50% booked — so we should be OK. You may remember that our early plan had been to spend two weeks there and two weeks in Grand Isle but changing family plans have resulted in this fore-shortened stay.

Bayou SegnetteAs you know we aren’t big nighttime people; we’re pretty low key.  I’m looking forward to some seafood,  a little time in NOLA and a drive to Grand Isle to check it out — all within 4 days on the ground — and without breaking a sweat.  That’s some tall order.

However, this won’t be our only visit to NOLA. I feel no compulsion to see a lot.  We’ll experience whatever we experience of New Orleans.  The immediate draw for me is checking out Louisiana State Parks! So, this as less of a visit to the City and more of a chance to get to know the two parks, and get the lay of the land for future visits.  Doing that on our way to S. Texas; two birds, one stone:  sounds like a bargain to me!

If we get an early start we’ll stop in at Camping World in Hammond LA. It’s not far out of the way. A little RV store window shopping might do me good.  Inspiration is where we find it, right?  Maybe they’ll have a Flagpole Buddy in stock, and I’m still puttering around trying to store our belongings in places where we can remember where we’ve put them so ideas are always welcome.  (God’s Honest Truth though — we have a better idea where things are in this coach than we ever did in our HOUSES!)

Back to the subject of overnight stops for a moment.  As you may remember we thought  stay at more campgrounds along our way South.  There are other Louisiana and Mississippi State Parks.  But the decision not to do so was based on the idea that good old RV’ing adage:  SLOW DOWN!  We were having a good time where we were. We didn’t need a change, so we decided to save those other stops for another trip/s.

Yet another example of how PRE-mobility ideas about RV life morphs over time.  We transitioned from single nights in one place (even from TWO nights in one place) in favor of longer travel days and fewer setup/departure days. Neither of which changes the number of intriguing places to visit or the things to be done in every state.  Next time through we’ll be free to choose either new stops or you’ll hear us spout nonsense about returning to places we have liked in the past claiming them as our ‘favorites’ when in fact we have no idea of the other options.  < no, I’m  not really being sarcastic, just thinking about some of the comments we’ve heard along the way. >  It’s a wonderful luxury not to feel the need to see everything or do everything on the first time.  All that we need to remain happy RV’ers is to enjoy each stay to the full, and while there to do a little reconnoitering for future visits.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

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Old Diary, Travel

What’s Up With Morbid Curiosity?

Why do I do it?  I can’t seem to stop myself.

Internet-addiction-300x200I know I don’t want to follow through.  I’m still shell-shocked from our recent experiences  (not literally ‘shell’-shocked, but  metaphorically tired of having to deal with people as a representative of anyone). I am not ready to put myself back in the same situation.  But I can’t help looking at the listings on Volunteer.gov!

I guess I’m no different than thousands of drivers who slow down to look at car wrecks or who go to boxing matches hoping to see boxer beaten to a pulp or going to a stock car race to see a collossal wreck.  I just get weird kicks checking out volunteer gigs on offer.

Morbid Curiosity:
When curiosity and common sense collide:
Enquiring further about a subject
when you know you really
don’t want to know the answer
The key here is continuing to enquire after you have already drawn a negative conclusion.  I’m a junky on Volunteer.gov. So, other than spending too long on Thursday looking at gigs I wasn’t really interested in anyway it was a good day.

Lonely Camp Hosts and Other People

It’s good to have friends.
It’s better to have a partner who’s really your friend.

In the last two days Peg and I have been accosted by lonely people.  I’m sure it’s happened to you;  someone comes up to you and no matter how hard you try you just can’t break away from them!

Wednesday it was Don from Missouri.  Don’s a nice guy; Don’s a lonely guy.  He knows more about fishing than I know about a lot of things; he makes his own lures — by his own admission he has some 1,000 fishing lures; and he loves telling fishing stories.  Peg and I had decided to take showers at the campground showers and Peggy went ahead of me while I finished up what I was writing. I headed off to the shower a few minutes later and by the time I showered, dried, dressed and walked back to Serendipity there was my poor wife trapped by a talkative old guy.  She’s way too polite to break away abruptly and so she had to stand there listening, or pretending, while Don went on at length about topics she couldn’t care less about and there was no getting in a word edgewise.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust

Thursday it was the both of us trapped during our morning perambulation around the campground by…. you guessed it… the camp host.  Charles is a real Southerner — a lifelong Mississippian  — a hard worker all his life and quite the chin-wagger!  We learned about HAM radio on Thursday.  Did you know at 10 miles distance the earth’s curvature is dropped 66 feet.  No wonder you can’t see much more than 7 miles straight ahead on the surface of the earth — in that distance the earth has curved some 34 feet and anything shorter than that would be hidden by the curvature of the earth.  We learned about Charley being on his army unity’s  Rifle Team, and the fact that he was a records clerk…. we learned all sorts of things about Charley and scarcely had a chance to actually share anything from our own lives.

The funniest part, however, was that as we walked past Charles 5th wheel I could hear him inside scrambling to get his shoes on and get outside to talk with us before we got too far!  Charley’s a peach of a guy!  I like Charley.

But Charley and Don highlight a fact of RV’ing.  Don’s an itinerant — he travels about here and there as the spirit moves him. Charley and Dot have been camp hosts for more than 2 years.  They don’t move around so much.  But Don is lonely, and so are Charley and Dot.  There are a lot of lonely RV’ers.

i-dont-like-himWhen we were at the Oregon Dunes part of our Volunteer job was to spend time talking with volunteers.  I did not do that part of the job as well as I might have.  As so often happens with me I had “things” to do and I didn’t spend as much time with the people as I might have.  It’s a character flaw.  But it’s also a reality that volunteers need encouragement — they’re out there on the firing line and they need some personal contact with people they aren’t supposed to be overseeing.  The nature of volunteering sometimes means that they are ‘stuck’ in a campground much of the week and they just want to talk with someone who doesn’t want something from them and at a time when they want to talk too.

Old-womanI suppose I could say that there are a lot of lonely old people.  While that may be  true it’s the RV sector that I’m thinking about.  By virtue of having gone RV’ing they display that they are facing aging proactively.  They are trying to keep themselves young and alive by keeping life interesting and varied.  But in the words of the Old Testament, “Time and chance happen alike to all” and some RV’ers are a lot better off financially than others.  I see some of the new RV’s going down the road and the difference between them and us is  a whole Fort Knox.  Then again I think back on the RV’s that some of our volunteers on the Forest had and there’s a Fort Knox of difference between what they had and what we have…. and our coach is 10 years old already!

Lonely-SeniorFor some RV’ers volunteering is their own choice.  All RV’ers can’t afford to be driving hundreds of miles very often.  Some can hardly afford the fuel it takes to keep their pickup filled with fuel   They live humble lives and the contact they have with campers may be their primary human contact at this point in their lives.  That’s not an easy situation to be in.  Some of our volunteers at the Dunes were a lot like Don and others were a lot like Charles and Dot:  nice people, vibrant people, but lonely ones.

Many-older-peopleThere have been times that I have thought about returning to the Dunes — to see if we could do a better job for the Volunteers and not as much of a job for the Forest Service.  But the fact of life is that loneliness is a factor of old age regardless of where you are in the world.  There comes a time when the world is going faster than you are and your contemporaries — your friends — pass from the scene one by one.

Peg & I are lucky in that we are each other’s best friends.  We don’t have to go out and catch people to talk to because we talk with each other.  We are also lucky in that we don’t need a lot of people around us to feel content; whereas those who like groups, who have been part of groups all their lives — for them the transitions of age can be challenging.  And for those who are considering the move from Sticks & Bricks it’s another factor to consider:

  • can you be happy with the people you are going to cross paths with along the way?
  • will there be enough of them?
  • will there be too many of them?

old-man-cThursday morning when I was browsing the Volunteer.gov postings I had been looking at a number of BLM listings.  A common factor with many of them was their remoteness;  not just being nearly off the grid, but being entirely off the grid.  I wonder about the kind of person who volunteers to be that reclusive.  This past Spring I had hired a volunteer caretaker for one of the Dunes positions.  He was in his early 40’s; a vet with disabilities, wanting a way to make a difference in the world and he had just completed a year long volunteer gig for the BLM out in the middle of nowhere where he was 100 miles (one way) from the nearest town, with spotty cell service (only at specific locations on the BLM property).  He’s a great young man (by comparison to myself), but I can’t imagine shutting myself off that much from humanity.  I suspect I’d go mad — even WITH my wife around!  I need contact with people.

There are no conclusions to today’s blog.  I’m just thinking about the folks we’ve been meeting — the Don’s and the Charles’.  There have been similar individuals in pretty much every campground/RV park we’ve visited.  I think too about those volunteers we left behind at the Oregon Dunes — dear people I learned to care about — a lot!

As we took a walk today I was saying to Peggy that before we retired I really WANTED to volunteer and to have an impact on others in ways I could not when I was working.  After having done a couple gigs I find myself saying “I would like to volunteer, but I don’t want to do THAT.” I’m wondering whether this is going to become a sort of pea under our mattress thing?  I’ve always given a lot to others — it’s been who I am — but I’ve been looking, wondering, waiting for a new outlet. And I’m wondering why this one aspect of life has been weighing on my mind for months now.  I don’t know if it’s something I want to change about how we are RV’ing, or just about how we spend out days while RV’ing.  I don’t know.  It’s a topic on my mind.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow. 🙂

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Old Diary, Travel

A Fork and a Spoon

2014110308564703

Sitting on the table they aren’ all that different from the rest of our silverware.

A simple fork and spoon.  But in them I find continuity with anyone, and everyone,  who have has travelled.

On the surface I have very little in common with an 18 year old Canadian girl. Ah… but life is not about the superficial details: life is about the intricacies and details that make living possible; it’s about the muscles that bring oxygen into our lungs, about the chemicals that digest our food; and the experiences we take away from our travels.  On such a level I have a great deal in common with one 18 year old Canadian girl!

You see, I was reading a new (to me) blog: les Voyages du Monde.  It is written by…  guess what…. Yup! In an article entitled The Fears of an Empowered Traveler she talks about bringing home a napkin  from France.  And that little tidbit shared reminded me of a thousand other takeaways from innumerable trips: including a single fork and spoon.

France MapIt was 2003. I was on a solo photo trip in France.  I took about 6 weeks to travel and shoot; expanding my library of images, adjusting my world view, and improving my technical skills.  Two weeks in Paris at the end of the trip preceded by 4 weeks making a grand tour of France.  Not long enough to see the entire country but long enough to see things I’d researched and decided were interesting to me during three previous visits.

I rented a car for the first weeks, then turned in the car before settling into the last 2 weeks in Paris.  Even though I had a car I was still traveling light:  1 suitcase and 1 camera case with a single camera body and only 2 lenses.

I was also traveling on the cheap. I ate out about once a day and usually took advantage of free Petite de Jeuner offers at my hotels, but I also planned on buying from bakeries, cheese shops, and groceries as opportunity afforded.     20141103085659042014110308570905So, to avoid eating with my hands, shortly after arriving in France I stopped at one of the hypermarche’s that have sprung up along so many French highways — One of them, Carrefour is sort of the Fred Meyer of France on steroids.  I didn’t go to the posh silver service section.  I don’t think the hypermarché even had such a section!  On that first day I looked around in the store for a cheap fork and spoon. I was looking simply for function, and what I found was a simple elegance that I have been unable to equal in the U.S. even in higher priced products.  Lightweight, well balanced, fitting the hand nicely.  I bought one of each thinking no further than the 6 weeks of my trip.  And yet on reflection those two pieces of flatware are not only reminders of the trip, but also of a different way of life, a different way of thinking.  And every time I pick them up I’m transported, and changed all over again.

Foie_gras_canned_2 I’m sure you do the same… bring things home from your travels.  sometimes it’s just a jar of …. something:  maybe a jam we don’t have in Milwaukee, or a jar of sauce, a tin of  foie gras,  or perhaps a can of instant English custard powder.birds custar  I have a regular relationship with some of them.   For example Keiller’s Dundee Marmalade — which used to be sold in a crock pot with nothing more than a piece of paper on top held in place by a piece of yarn (before the days of product adulteration) and in later days by a plastic open-topped cap over the paper.DundeeOrangMarm

My point simply is this… When we travel we return home with things we experienced along the way. Sometimes they are tangible.  Other times they are experiential.  Travel changes us.  And it changes ALL of us.  The 18 year old  Canadian girl, the 65 year old American photographer, the old man who wants to go skydiving for the first time on their 100th birthday (I knew one of those!).  Revel in the changes travel brings about in you; and in the souvenirs you bring back with you — or carry forward with you!  Whether it’s a napkin, or a spoon and fork, a whirlwind weekend, or a hero met and hands shaken. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is Broadening.”

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

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With all the cold we’ve been having I have needed a mental break.  I was looking back at images from one of my trips to France and this scene of two young women enjoying a summer afternoon’s sun in the Jardin de Luxembourg.  One of these days we’ll be doing this…

030915373e26e14… I hope…

Images, Old Diary

Reprise From the Cold

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Old Diary

Flaneur-ing Right, Flaneur-ing Left

Oh, Flaneur—

portrait-of-a-man-sitting-on-a-park-bench7I don’t speak French.  I have a few phrases and sentences that I own.  And I can order really good food, for sure. I could probably insure that I wasn’t sold into slavery (not that anyone would want me). But I’d be hard pressed to live in France.  Or the French West Indies.  None of which prevents my loving aspects of that language and culture.

Among those things I hold dear is the flaneur.  My neighbors might think it a strange concept; it’s not exactly Cudahy WIsconsin. But, it’s an old idea.  White upper-class French-men had the opportunity to appreciate it; but probably not a lot of others.  It’s custom tailored for retirees however.  And I love it.

The art of the flaneur is a specific take on observation.  Wikipedia describes the word using terms like  “stroll” or “saunter” or “loaf.” That’s a start on a cross cultural idea but it only alludes to core principle of flanerie.

Flanerie is to do nothing; to have no objective, no destination, no prerogative or goal in mind, except to observe in any way you might like the surroundings you encounter.

Doesn’t this sound like our RV plans? We don’t have “destinations” per se. We don’t want destinations.  We want to discover what we can find along the way. For us, seeing IS the destination, not a physical place.

Historically, the flaneur has been a significant academic thought touching such areas of thought as urban modernization, class conflict, and architecture. Theoretic contributors have included Charles BaudelaireGeorg Simmel, Susan Sontag, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Feel free to let your mind wander — perhaps to flaneur mentally….. But for myself, I must proceed.

old woman sitting on bench

Park Bench Sitters seem to have a line on flaneuring

Each day we get closer to our goal of RV mobility.  This waiting-to-sell will not last forever.  (No matter how it may have seemed over recent months.)  We started making plans for this year’s travel. I’ve been tackling RV maintenance so that  Journey is ready to roll when we are.  My mood improves with every moment of activity in air warm enough for me to be comfortable.  It may appear that my time for flaneuring has evaporated.

But do not be deceived!  Soon I will have taken care of these short term projects. I will soon once again have unstructured time.

Enter, the flaneur

I have always loved productivity.  It’s that Puritan Work Ethic I grew up with.  You have to be productive; have to be doing; have to be learning.  Almost all my life I have been busy. Frenetically busy.  Either busy or asleep.  Literally.

Occasionally, I have wondered whether I knew how not to be busy.  But I’m learning. Retirement helps to be sure. I was doing nicely when we were in Journey last summer.  I am learning a new and different appreciation of Thoreau’s concept that  “It matters not where you look but how.”

A woman sits on a park bench with her dog along the waterfront beach of Ambleside Park in West Vancouver

Can a dog flaneur? 🙂

There is a tremendous drawback to living with purpose, to being productive.  You too easily develop tunnel vision. Concentrating on accomplishing one thing leads to neglecting the option that other things are possible, or desirable. Purposes can give us spectacular clarity, yet cause utter blindness to something that might be even a degree off-course.

There is a nice parable that illustrates this idea, in which a rich man leads a crowd of people to see that he had laid out a trail of dollar bills on a sidewalk stretching as far as the eye could see.  Immediately the crowd swarms, racing and elbowing each other to pick them up first.
When they arrive, breathless, at the end of the trail, the rich man points so as to lift their gaze ever so slightly, to see that he had also hung hundred dollar bills from the trees on either side of the sidewalk.
In the distance, not yet far from the starting line, a single man had noticed the hanging money and was about to climb the fourth tree.

I look to be a part of the crowd.

You look to be part of the crowd.

Baudelaire, too, looked to be part of such a crowd:

“To be alone in a crowd to be one with its ebbs and flows, its conflict and resolution; to notice and admire each grand story as it marches past, mysterious forever.”
                                  – Charles Beaudelaire (1821-1867)

Ah, but being apart from the crowd while among the crowd is a unique perspective; a perspective  essential to the idea of flaneuring. How do you step away from your life — from the busy-ness, from the purpose, from the intent that IS everyday life? When I first started my career it seemed that my co-workers lusted after vacation time from work.  They even TOOK those precious days of vacation their employer gave and got away for as much or long as they could, or could afford to get away.

Times seem to have changed.  I know more and more people in responsible positions who are almost afraid to take vacations.  Jobs are hard to come by.  Competition is stiff and there is fear that something might happen in the employees absence that would threaten their job. Representatives give out their phone numbers to clients; bosses to their subordinate, etc.. I can understand how that happens, but I grew up in a world where the sign of doing my job well was that if I left for my vacation those same people would know how to take care of their own needs. But today people seem to feel constantly needed — lest the boss decide they are not needed at all.

You don’t have to give up your job in order to flaneur. The truth of the matter is that you don’t have to flaneur continuously.  For me, it’s often more about stopping what I’m doing and starting to do something else — even if only for a few minutes.

We can each flaneur in ways that are appropriate to us.  Now, I’m not so out of touch as to suggest that you with busy lives and money-trails should stop and squat on city corners for hours each day. If you are working then you have to work.  In retirement I may be able to have days without goals other than to have observed.  That’s a blessing.  I know. 

However, I have not always been retired.  I lived the busy life, and this mindset has not only just occurred to me in these spare minutes. Why?  Because it is, simply, a mindset. From time to time I used to take photo trips. I’d head off to some destination in search of images.  But, along the way I had hours and hours in the car.  Alone.  With only my own thoughts.  Even when I have been shooting, there are often times when I arrive at a location and I set aside some time to do nothing.  Just to absorb what there is in that place.  And having done that I approachmy images with a completely different point of view than I would have if I began shooting right after arriving.

These moments produce very unpredictable results.  Sometimes the location speaks to my in horror.  Other times in beauty.  I might see surprising things, or totally boring ones.  But that is why flaneuring is so valuable.  To flaneur is to retain your ability to be surprised, to live in the moment, to discover the undiscoverable.

Cyberflaneuring

Our new electronic world has brings us a opportunity for a new manifestation of the flaneur.  The cyberflaneur is our opportunity to beak out of our always purposefull use of the Internet. We seem to be trending towards a strictly functional use of the Internet. We go there to DO things.  In an article published in the New York Times last February, Evegny Morozov commented that our increasing societal single-mindedness is reflected on the Internet:

Something similar has happened to the Internet. Transcending its original playful identity, it’s no longer a place for strolling — it’s a place for getting things done. Hardly anyone “surfs” the Web anymore. The popularity of the “app paradigm,” whereby dedicated mobile and tablet applications help us accomplish what we want without ever opening the browser or visiting the rest of the Internet, has made cyberflânerie less likely. That so much of today’s online activity revolves around shopping — for virtual presents, for virtual pets, for virtual presents for virtual pets — hasn’t helped either. Strolling through Groupon isn’t as much fun as strolling through an arcade, online or off.

(Side-question: is social media helping or hurting our
discovery of interesting things? Morozov seems to
think that it’s a distraction from our own perusing,
but technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci doesn’t quite
agree
; is there a ‘filter bubble’? Is seeing new and

exciting articles from our friends on FB a new
flaneurism, or is it the ‘daily me’?)

Again, not that I think we should all sit around flipping through page after page of Wikipedia or Redditor TED, but in actuality, I do! Not all day…. but for a time each day.  Everything in moderation.  These tools of modernity can connect us with treasure troves of brilliance and creativity, information about history, art, all of academia under the sun, etc. This cyberflaneuring is not my favorite form of the flaneur — but there is a place for it.

Set parameters. Fifteen minutes. Forty-five. Don’t allow yourself to over or under-do it. If you get so wrapped up in a Wikipedia binge that you only look up two hours later, the next time you might have ten minutes free, you’ll think “I don’t want to start, because then I won’t be able to stop.” Not that self moderation is easy for everyone, but give it your all..

Be an active observer of your world. Loaf both on the curb outside Starbucks and then again inside; sip your latte, but use their WIFI to read about the folks that might have a cure for HIV in infants. Follow your money trail, but look to the trees! You might see a monkey or a mantis.

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Old Diary

The Six Sisters Dauphin Aren’t Rude At All

The Sisters Dauphin greet you as you enter Dauphin Island (AL).  They are a pleasant, and (to me) unexpected welcome to a small resort community just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.  As I sat working on this image in the wee hours of the morning I got to thinking about greeters… the human kind.

Walmart has greeters.  Sometimes I see them at Target and Home Depot.  But wouldn’t it be interesting if greetings were a part of normal american life?  I say that as a typical american; one who sometimes jumps straight for the jugular when encountering others.

In France it’s expected that you’ll open any encounter with Bonjour. It’s quite rude not to do so. It’s only one among many reasons americans are disliked when traveling abroad.  We’re just plain rude.

I can’t begin to count the times I have heard, and have done this myself.  You walk into a store.  You are greeted by a smiling employee and the first words out of your/my mouth are:  “Where do you keep….” as if whomever is being spoken to is nothing more than an information machine. I’m ashamed every time I catch myself doing it;  but next time in the door I do it all over again.

The problem with being goal oriented is that you are…. duh… goal oriented.  People get in the way. Especially if you aren’t naturally gregarious.  (author raises hand sheepishly)
2013011812352098I sometimes wonder what life is like in a family with siblings. I had no siblings.  Most of my parents friends had only one or two children, and as I was growing up I spent a lot of time with adults. Some of my friends had multiple siblings — the family down the block had 8 kids in the family but interestingly enough when I played with the boy my age in that family he always wanted to play at my house. When I was a scout I don’t know if I learned any manners or not.  I don’t remember much about my interactions at that age — though to tell you the truth I don’t know how many guys pay attention to things like that.

New-Season-3-Promo-the-big-bang-theory-7445896-1500-2051I have been aware for a long time that I am socially obtuse.  I tend to miss social signals and plod on through not altogether unlike the nerds on Big Bang Theory.

A few years after we were married I had a job at Furnas Electric.  I was a “sales correspondent” — meaning that I expedited production and deliveries for customers and distributors.  One day I was expediting a particularly problematic production delay and walking through the factory lost in thoughts about how I might pull off the impossible.  One of my co-workers came up and asked if anything was wrong because I looked sad.  To tell the truth, I wasn’t sad at all — I was just focussed on what I was doing and it never dawned on me to smile at someone just because they were walking past… I was in another world.  As I say, I can be pretty socially obtuse.

Wal_Mart_Greeters

And yet when I was working; when I had clients or models in the studio we (client/model and myself) always had a good time.  We laughed, we joked, we told each other stories — always a good thing to keep the mood light when you’ve got a nekkid woman right in front of you.  I’m not unpleasant to be around — but I have to turn on my social skills for that to happen. I can shoot my camera instinctively but I have to think about being friendly.

It’s just not an unconscious, habitual thing for me. It’s also not something I react naturally to.  There are times when being greeted isn’t a welcoming feeling at all. Don’t you ever have times when you don’t want to be noticed — when you just want to go about your business and get done what you want to get done?  At the time we drove past the six Dauphin sisters I never thought of them as “greeters.” They were just six houses dockside.  They were just six old houses, six skinny houses, six semi-dilapidated houses.  Nothing special, nothing noteworthy.  But the truth is that anything can be noteworthy — even six plain little shacks.

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Old Diary

Meet Roscoe

Let me tell you a story.  It’s not earth shattering, its about a small incident that happened yesterday.  It’s also an allegory.

Wait!  Allegory?  Do they even teach allegories in school anymore?  I don’t know.  We read all sorts of stories that were allegorical in school. I don’t know what they teach kids today, but I don’t think I’ve heard the word in a decade or two.

I could say this story is about why the French are so rude to Americans, but the truth is, this story is about a lot more than that. The name’s haven’t been changed to protect the innocent in this story.  There aren’t any innocent in this story.  And maybe that’s part of the problem.

Meet Roscoe

SilhouetteRoscoe is a hotel desk clerk.  Let me be precise: Roscoe is a BIG,BLACK desk clerk. I say that because I’m a good sized guy and not many men strike me as being “BIG” and Roscoe is BIG.  I mention his color only because it’s germain to the story. He’s also retired military — so he’s been all around the world, and he knows how to handle himself.

I was checking in to the hotel last night.  I was dressed like a tourist:  denims, polo shirt, my new Teva Sandals, suspenders, no hat, but I had my prescription sunglasses on when I walked in the door.  As soon as I was inside I took my glasses off, and let them hang around my neck so that the clerk could see my eyes.

Croakies

(Croakies are great — I wear them when I’m shooting because I can’t focus the camera as well with my glasses on, so slipping them off and letting them fall onto my chest is better than getting them all greasy with hair oil from putting them up on my head.  But that’s not part of the story.)

At any rate, I made eye contact with Roscoe, we did our business, he started out completely business-like and professional, but after exchanging a few personal stories each way when I was ready to leave the lobby we were laughing and joking like friends.

Shortly before I was ready to leave the lobby an average sized black man came into the lobby.  He was being followed — 10 or 15 seconds behind by a two black women who were chatting and laughing loudly — early 20’s.  All were dressed in the fashion of the day, him in slightly oversized mens wear, them in slightly undersized women’s wear.  When the man walked into the lobby he brusquely interrupted Roscoe who was telling me where our room would be.  The man wanted to know where there might be a public bathroom.

Roscoe had noticed the three approaching.  I saw his head deflect while he was talking to me.  His first words to the other man were:  “Are you a guest of the hotel.”  To which the other man replied,”Not yet, but I hope to be.” About this time the two women were in the lobby and they had perched themselves on the furniture. Roscoe pointed in the direction of the hallway and scowled.

Roscoe (That really IS his name — I didn’t make that up) turned his attention back to me.  We went back to joking and getting our business done and he kept his eyes on the folks who had just walked in.  He was clearly on alert — in a very different way than he had been when I walked in.

I wonder sometimes, how often we every really think about how our approach to someone else affects our entire relationship with them?

An hour later I became the troublesome customer.  We had been in our room for a good 45 minutes when the smoke detector began to do that little one-minute-beep thing that detectors do when the battery needs recharging.  You know how it goes…. one tiny beep, then a minute or minute and a half of silence, then another tiny beep — ad infinitum.  I took the alarm off the wall, saw that it was hard wired and had no battery and went down to the lobby again to ask if it could be fixed or our room could be changed.

No ranting or raving, just a very neutral inquiry about smoke detectors which let him ask ME if everything was ok and to maintain his position of authority without being put down by an immediate complaint.  Next thing I knew he was on the phone to see whether the maintenance guy was handy, and upon finding that he wasn’t we had a different room in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Walking in and interrupting isn’t a good way to start a relationship.  Walking in and treating the furniture like it’s trash isn’t a good way to start a relationship.  But these people were going to end up doing twice the business with the hotel that I was.  Yet they ended up getting much frostier treatment than I did.  I spent a couple minutes looking at the tourist brochures in the lobby while the other man went up to the counter and proceeded to rent two rooms.  As much of the conversation as went on before I left was in very terse language.  The only thing going back and forth between Roscoe and the other man was tension and attitude.

How could I have such a completely different experience from this man — except for the fact that I treated the hotel employee very much differently than the other man did?

I don’t get why “attitude” has become such a common way to treat strangers. I don’t get why so many people seem to live in everlasting anger.  I’m glad Roscoe didn’t treat me the same way he treated those other folks, but then I didn’t treat him they same way they treated him.

Ya know, the last time I returned from France — some years ago — people would tell me their horror stories about how badly they had been treated when they were in France.  And I would ask them, did you try to speak the language?  Inevitably they would say they did not. And I didn’t really need to go any further with my questions.

People, anywhere and everywhere, like to be, deserve to be, and often demand on being treated with respect and dignity.  If you attempt to communicate with them they will almost always go out of their way to be helpful.  If you expect them to communicate with you they will most often disappoint you.  But if you allow them to be who they are, instead of whom you want them to be, you’ll always have a very different experience.

Attitude. It’s a very neutral word;  not good, not bad.

“ATTITUDE” — now that’s something quite different.  Look it up in the Urban Dictionary:  An arrogant or hostile state of mind or disposition. ATTITUDE has become cliche for bitchiness and arrogance. And I don’t think people realize that by greeting someone else with ATTITUDE you alter  the nature of your entire relationship with them. And not for the better.

Is “ATTITUDE” a specifically black way of being?  No, of course it isn’t.  You can find it in a lot of places including board rooms and country clubs.

Why am I telling you this story?  Don’t forget I’m a white guy who’s career often involved taking nude pictures of absolute strangers.

All sorts of people walked in my studio from all sorts of backgrounds and I had to deal with every one of them based on who they were when they walked  through my door.  There were doctors, lawyers blue collar workers, housewives, professors, waiters, gang members, and strippers among them.  You’d think I’d have to treat them each differently.  But that’s completely wrong.  I treated them all the same.  With dignity and respect –and no matter where they were coming from when they walked through the door they soon dropped their public face and treated me the same way I was treating them:  like a long lost friend.

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