In Search of A Column

Boy, this column writing stuff is fun! But, this time out, I have to admit something: I’m stuck. Yes indeed, I am stuck for a column. A lot of ideas come into my head, but a lot of them are just not worth writing about at all.

As late as last week, I was going to do something about how silent the Mac Bashers have been lately, and the possible reasons for it. Nope, not a peep out of them for many moons, and then, POW! Apple, like all the other tech companies, “Warned on lower than expected earnings”. That brought them out. At my place of biz, a well-known Mac basher was practically dancing a hotfoot number worth of “Riverdance”, He was doing all the usual things, saying “Apple’s going out of business!”, and telling any Mac users in the given area that “You’re all going to have to start using real computers!” And always, there was that horrid smile, and facial expression that tried to tell everyone that “I use Windows, so I’m more computer literate than you.” (Yeah, right.) I was tempted to ask him what his definition of a “real computer” might have been, but I decided that such an action would be a colossal waste of time and energy. ( Did I mention that this nitwit is in his late thirties? I think his mother should make him go and stand in a corner.)

And never mind that all the tech companies, including such big-butts as Dell and Intel, also “warned on lower than expected earnings”. The thing that really killed my desire to write again about Mac Bashers, was when the High Priest of Mac Basher’s, John Dvorak, surfaced. He wrote two articles for his usual employer. PC week or something like that. (Beats me as to who signs this turkey’s pay checks.) The first was some sludge about how the Mac should be discontinued. The second, running a week later, was a slam against Apple’s new ad campaign, where they feature real people, explaining why they switched from windows boxes to the Mac. He stated something about how “desperate” Apple had become, and how this ad campaign is proof of this. Really? And Microsoft’s ads for XP, with the flying people, and a Madonna tune in the background, was a fine example of marketing? Please! ( And from what I’ve heard about XP, the slogan “Yes, you can!” should really be, “No, I don’t think so”)

If I were a “Harvard Gray Beard”, I would call Dvorak’s articles a “primitive fear-threat reaction.” But, I’m no gray beard. (Besides, I hate those sports jackets, and I refuse to drive a Volvo station wagon.) It’s been so long since anyone has heard from Dvorak, that myself, and several other Mac folk around here, thought that “he wouldn’t be coming down for breakfast”. But, Apple warns on a bad quarter, and there he is. Coincidence? You decide.I was going to wind this up by hurling a personal insult or two at Mr. Dvorak. But no, instead, I’ll just say this: Mr. Dvorak, somewhere, probably somewhere close, is a rocking chair, or a trout pond and fishing pole, with your name on it. It’s time for you to go there. No, I won’t write about Mac bashers this time.

I’ve made a rather interesting discovery of late. What I have learned, mostly on my evening bike rides, is that you can learn a lot about our society, simply by what you see discarded in the street, and in public waste receptacles. It’s really amazing.

For example, I don’t really know what the heck “Red Bull” is. I have been told it’s an energy drink, but that is dubious, I think. I do know it’s marketed at kids. How do I know this? Simple, really. I spot the crushed, empty aluminum cans in the gutter, anywhere where there is an elementary school, or junior high school. Yep, there they are, one, two, several of the small, blue and silver cans, in the gutter, right near an elementary school. Mixed in with the gum wrappers, and cigarette packs, of course.

At lunch the next day, I decided to test my new-found theory. I asked some coworkers who I knew were parents of preteens if they had heard of the stuff called “Red Bull”. Sure enough, they all had, and one told me that his kids usually buy it at a local convenience store, over the objections of his wife. Apparently, “Red Bull” is quite the craze. (Just what kids need: More sugar-caffiene stuff in their diets. I’d love to know exactly what it costs to produce a single can of the stuff. ) This guys wife would much prefer that the kiddies drink milk or fruit juice. No mom, not until they can market it like Red Bull.

Oh yes, there is some sort of “Red Bull Car” I see all over the area on weekends, mostly parked in places such as the Arsenal Mall, in Watertown, Massachusetts. Like most Malls, this one is a powerful magnet for teens and preteens. Yup, if it’s a summer weekend day, and the weather is good, that car, painted blue and silver, and with an enormous Red Bull can built onto the roof, will be there, giving out t-shirts, frisbee’s, and free samples of the stuff. (Whoever controls youth, controls the future.) I’m guessing there are several of these cars prowling around.

So, what else have I learned with this new theory of mine? Well, there are always huge deposits of losing lottery scratch tickets in the gutter, and all over the sidewalks, in areas where working-class people live. Yep, there they are, bunches of them, along with more cigarette packs, beer cans, and the occasional pornographic magazine. (I’m just guessing with this, but I think these guys buy the magazines, and knowing their wives/girlfriends will go ballistic should they find them, they simply have their jollies with the magazines on the way home, and toss them out the window of their pickups. Just a guess of course.) So, lottery games are targeted toward the working class stiffs who are the backbone of this country, as are cigarette’s, and cheap domestic beer.(There’s a late-breaking bulletin.)

I know, I know: Rich people smoke too. I guess they do, but my “trash test” is proving that very few rich people smoke. One of the richest towns in suburban Boston, and the entire northeast, is Wellesley, Massachusetts. A bike ride around Wellesley reveals not a single discarded lottery ticket or cigarette pack. Ditto for the neighboring town of Dover. (Very old, white, money here.Money which was acquired the old fashioned way: Inherited.) Driving around in an old, well-worn car will probably result in you getting pulled over by police. Being of a racial background other than white will probably result in you being asked if you work for one of the families in town.No, I’m not joking at all. There is plenty of local folklore about it. Even cyclists get “the hairy eye” in Dover. I know, it happens to me when I cruise through, which I don’t do much.

There are other things to spot, and other ways to spot them. An early morning ride past a large recreational field reveals several overflowing barrels of beer cans. Almost every can was a “Lite” variant of a certain domestic brand. (You already know which brand.) I know that at this particular field, a local companies softball league holds their games. So, this particular brand of “Lite” beer is aimed at dudes who join company softball leagues, and spend their “game time” playing softball for perhaps an hour, and the rest of the time drinking cheap lite beer. Oh, this particular brand of lite beer is also aimed at teenagers, despite the brewing companies claims to the contrary. I know because I spot the empties near high schools, along with the cigarette packs, and the occasional used condom. (Sorry parents, I’m not joking with that.)

What else have I learned? Companies such as “Starbucks”, “Seattle’s Best Coffee”, and something called “Breuggers Bagels”, always have outlets in areas where there are plenty of young, affluent yuppies. Again, the empty cups totally fill public trash barrels in areas where you see lots of SUV’s and BMW’s. But a cruise of a few miles into a working class town reveals only “Dunkin Donuts” cups. (I’m a “Dunkin Donuts” man myself. I think their Double chocolate donut, loaded with chocolate sprinkles, could conceivably, bring about world peace.Just give everyone one or two, and see of anyone feels like doing anything violent after eating them.)

And it’s not just trash barrels. No, a lot of information can be gleaned by taking a look at the Morgan Memorial / Goodwill collection boxes, and Salvation Army boxes. Now, it is a great thing these organizations are doing, there is no denying that. But, not too far from where I live, there is a Goodwill attended donation center. It’s really just a large trailer, with the hours posted on the door. A cruise by in the late evening will yield people leaving things they no longer want, after the center is closed. Heh, what they are doing, is leaving behind the items that are not accepted when the center is open. These things included such items as PC’s, monitors, and old TV sets. No, I have never seen an abandoned Mac.) I’ve also seen appliances such as microwaves, outdoor grills, and, on one occasion, a small refrigerator.

It’s almost comical to watch these people work. They back up to the donation center, in their SUV’s and Volvo wagons, and look about, suspiciously, wondering if anyone is going to spot them. Then, they go to work, depositing the junk that the Goodwill worker would tell them cannot be accepted, if such a person were present. Oh, as I have stated in a previous column, us cyclists blend into the background very well. These persons, sometimes male, sometimes female, look about, but apparently don’t see the guy on the bike. (Beware, the rolling silence.)

So, what have I learned from this? Well, it seems that well-heeled, affluent yupsters just can’t stand having anything that is not brand new, or “the latest thing”, be it clothes, or computers, or appliances. Disposing of these items is somewhat problematic, given today’s more restrictive rules on waste products. But, a charity donation center, after hours? Perfect.

It’s the Fourth of July holiday, one of my favorite times of year. It’s hot, generally, and perfect for night time riding.You get the fun of warm-weather riding, without having to fight the sun, always a losing battle. And, there is plenty to observe at night

Massachusetts is one of the states where fireworks are illegal. Sorry folks, but they are, and for good reasons, which I’m sure everyone knows already, and that is because they are deadly when misused, not to mention the extreme fire hazard. Now, I’m no angel when it comes to this. As a teenaged male, with more hormones than gray cells, I screwed around with fireworks, including some big ones, a lot.(Teenaged males, and some adult males, seem to have a weird fascination with things they are not supposed to have.)

Myself, and my companions in crime, were always trying to outdo each other with creative stunts, including the classic, “cherry-bomb-in-the-toilet” trick. A favorite of mine was to take the device known as the “report chaser” (It’s also known by another, unkind name) and let it loose in such places as stairwells and multilevel parking garages. A friend’s specialty was tricks with bottle rockets. He had a knack for making a bottle rocket go pretty much anywhere he wanted it to go. It’s a wonder he didn’t set a school building on fire.

And that is why, as an adult, I think it’s a far better idea to take in a free fireworks show, run by professionals, with the approval of fire chiefs. Every year Massachusetts residents make what has become a holy pilgrimage to New Hampshire, for the purpose of buying fireworks. The schemes some of these guys (always male, it seems) come up with are amazing. The Massachusetts State Police are always waiting on the MA side of the state line, to catch those who adamantly insist on breaking the law, but for their efforts, they are trying to hold back a flood with a single sandbag. And every year, there are the tragic reports of someone, usually someone young, getting seriously burned, injured, blinded, or killed, as a result of fireworks accidents. And sometimes, something very funny happens. Last year, I was handed this rather amusing story. Yes indeed, these guys who like their fireworks are surely a smart bunch.

This year, my plan is a simple one: I’ll be riding my “fixie” (That is slang for a fixed-gear bicycle) in to the Cambridge side of the Charles River, to observe the preparations for Boston’s massive celebration, truly one of the best. Being me, I’ll be observing the things that most people miss. Oh, okay, I’ll be “observing” females too. Hey, I’m a guy, it’s what we do. And ladies, we know you do this as well, so there will be no denials.

Hope you had a safe and happy Fourth!

Bruce Black

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