The Internet, aka That Great Tamer of Expectation
Every once in a while I am thunderstruck — gobsmacked if you will — by the overall change that the internet has wrought on our lives. It affects us on a grand scale of course, with real time world events, online banking, and a constant stream of ADHD via Twitter et al. But sometimes I am still awed by the effect it has on the little things, such as the unchecked arc of expectation that used to make up our daily lives.
Take, for instance, this story from my youth. It came up last night and I was hit with the realization that it never would have happened today.
Our story takes place in 1983. I am six. My family of five is embarking on a 2-day, 18-hour car trip starting in the fire ant infested bowels of Dallas, TX and ending with Jello Pudding Pops at our grandparents’ house in Salt Lake City, UT. I am sure our car sucked, as these were the lean years. Personal Blu-Ray players hadn’t been invented even if we could afford them. There was no infinite distraction of Game Boys or YouTube or streaming Netflix. All I could count on were 2 annoying little brothers guaranteed to make anyone crazy, and a motion-induced puke about three hours in. Awesome.
But wonder of wonders — this trip had a new adventure built in! If we were good, and promised not to fight or breathe or ask to go to the bathroom for the whole trip, then we would make a detour at…Four Corners National Monument! (Quick aside: Maybe my poor parents didn’t realize how crappy this stop would actually be. They grew up in a time that charts even lower on the thrill scale than my own childhood. My mom saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time on something like a 12-inch black and white TV. It’s all about context.)
Cue my wild expectations. With no concept of Four Corners other than the unfathomable idea of being in four states at one time (just imagine!), I transformed this sad roadside attraction into a live-action version of the “It’s a Small World” ride. I would tap this stop for all it was worth; wandering from state to state, eating a giant caramel apple, chatting with the abundant local children of one state before I moved on to make new friends in another. And I was fairly sure these kids would ply me with gifts indicative of their local culture. I held my breath, and my urine, and aimed my hopes at unattainable heights.
So we loaded into the car. And we drove. And…finally…we arrived!
Imagine my enchantment.
|“FourcornersMonument”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FourcornersMonument.jpg#mediaviewer/File:FourcornersMonument.jpg|
I know, right? Even the picture radiates heat, boredom, and the deafening silence of wind. And this picture was taken post-1992 renovation, so it was even more rundown when I was there.
My sad six-year-old self took one look at what Four Corners actually entailed, burst into tears, and refused to get out of the car. The rest is family history.
I will say, with absolute certainty, that this never would have happened to my kids. Not that I am a better parent – I’d probably use the same “attraction” on said drive if for no other reason than to extract myself from the car, escape the constant chatter of two competing video players, and snap an appropriately ironic picture for Facebook. No, this wouldn’t happen now because my 5-year-old would be able to see Four Corners via a simple Google Image search (like the one I did to find the picture above), realize how bogus the stop would be, and choose to focus on his Transformers instead. Tears averted.
But my story isn’t unique. I’m not the only one who suffered from ideas born in a time when ignorance fueled imagination. Take this tale from 1996. I’m 18 years old, the world is still a few years shy of widespread internet use, and my family takes their first real vacation to the Bahamas. (Which beats the pants off of Four Corners, by the way, and was unlike anywhere I’d ever seen.)
While on said vacation, my mom and I met a local woman who was enchanted to learn that we were from Denver. (Who wouldn’t be, right?) It turned out that her church group would be traveling on a ministry trip to Denver at the end of that year. “The Mile High City!” she marveled, “Aren’t you ever scared that you’re going to fall off?”
Living at sea level, on a flat little island in the ocean, the poor woman had absolutely no concept of elevation. We tried to explain, but words don’t do justice when what you picture in your head probably looks a little like this:
and reality looks a lot more like this:
Cue the crushing disappointment.
I don’t have any big wrap up here, just a weird nostalgia for ignorance that might have been. And also this warning: If you visit Denver any time soon and happen to lose your footing, try to fall wheat-side.