1) I was walking along University Ave. in Berkeley and had my way blocked by a group of people. There was something odd about the scene that took a moment to comprehend. There were eight people standing in a circle, but no one was speaking. They all appeared to be in their twenties and they all had an electronic device in their hands that they were intently staring into. Seriously. I noticed a couple smiles, but was still a little weirded out by it. This habit of being transfixed by an electronic device has become an obsession. It looked like a scene in a comedy skit making fun of modern youth.
2) I was sitting on a concrete wall, engrossed in a book (by Carlos Castaneda) and witnessed a group of about 20 boys led by a few young men walk into a store that sells communication devices and “data plans” according to the huge lettering screaming from the windows. They were all wearing identical purple t-shirts. I assumed the shirts were from a school, sports team or youth organization. A while later they noisily exited the store and a few taunted a dog tethered to a post out front. I was about to intervene when one of the men finally said something. This happened two more times.
One man walked away from the group and held his phone in his hand while another had the boys line up in front of the store. Then the one with the phone prompted a group cheer by yelling “metro!” and snapped a photo as the boys responded with an enthusiastic “pcs!” I was confused until I noticed the name above the store window and on the t-shirts was Metro PCS. Corporate cheerleading is very creepy.
It’s disturbing that these men found it difficult to reprimand abusive behavior, but happily enforced corporate conditioning.
3) I met a weather-beaten homeless man one morning on the Embarcadero in San Francisco who held a sign that read “help out an old goat” on his lap while sitting on a bench. I gave him money and spoke with him for a while. We had a very interesting conversation and I found him to be considerably more balanced than most people I meet – people who have a home, a job, a bed and plenty of food to eat. He didn’t tell me what transpired to land him in the streets, but he did tell me that he sleeps in Golden Gate Park at night and hangs out in tourist areas to collect money and food from generous people. He smiled as we spoke, though I detected a slight feeling of defeat beneath the smile. I wondered if it was because of the fact that people look at him with revulsion despite the fact that he hurts no one, has minimized his “footprint’ on the planet and has accomplished the enviable task of surrendering to life’s circumstances. This particular day was a rough one for cash for him, but good for food. As I was leaving he asked if I was hungry and offered me food. I declined, but thanked him and was impressed by his fortitude to survive the streets as well as his gratitude for what he receives from people.
Is he humble because he lives on the streets or is he living on the streets because he’s humble?
4) I was on a bus in Las Vegas and suddenly five plainclothes cops got on. They told everyone to stay seated and explained they were going to ask the passengers questions. The interrogations were done in English and Spanish. They asked everyone the same questions:
Where did we start our journey?
To where were we heading?
How many pieces of luggage did we have?
Did we have any guns, bombs or drugs on the bus?
Would we allow our luggage to be inspected?
The final question made my skin crawl.
I heard no one object to physical inspection of our belongings and felt extremely uncomfortable about either potential answer.
Do I stand up for my rights or do I cause suspicion to be cast upon me for being the only person to object? Do I demand some semblance of democracy or do I succumb to the threat of a police state?
As it turned out, I was the only passenger who requested an explanation and was given a predictably vague response (and an annoyed look in the eyes of the officer I spoke with – despite the constant smile).
Funny thing. They had a dog sniffing the luggage while they were asking for permission.