Sunday, August 28, 2011

Romancing the Storm

It appears the latest Armageddon, Hurricane Irene, has safely passed over our home. Is it because I smeared goat blood over my doorway to avoid the pestilence? No. We just happened to be far enough away that it never really materialized into anything but a fairly light but continuous 24-hr rain. I imagine folks along the coast may have taken a pretty good beatdown. Like the guy's credibility below. Oooh. Scary hurricane. Manly and daring reporter.

Boy the media loves to whip us into a storm-fearing, apocalypse-looming, dogs-and-cats-living together, disaster-of-biblical-proportions fearing frenzy, doesn't it? No AA batteries, water, bread, milk or TP at the store! 30+ miles from the bay for AN EFFING RAINSTORM.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that decides "fight or flight" among other things. And we love to tickle it apparently, so let's get the machine rolling and start with prophecies 4 days ahead of landfall just to be sure all stocks are depleted! Give people something to fear!  Then let's go out in the horror and fan the flames!

Now I actually was watching this guy at one point and the wind was really tearing at him. I thought it was pretty impressive until I saw the video, which brings me to today's point.

Behavioral modification is a funny thing. Now I have been exposed (in Dilbert space) to a model known as the P-I-C, N-I-C model of behavioral influence that I have found to be revealing. Yes my sheep, we are trying to influence your behavior! Just as you suspected!

As it turns out, people are most likely to modify their behavior when conditions are either Positive, Immediate and Certain or Negative, Immediate and Certain. This means that you tend to modify your beahvior either toward a positive outcome, or away from a negative one, when the consequences are both immediate and certain. If the consequences are neither immediate nor certain, we tend to just keep on doing whatever we feel like.

Meteorological events offer a great laboratory for this phenomenon, and they tickle the amygdala. What a great opportunity!  Apparently everyone likes to toy with risk to determine where they are with the whole PICNIC thing.

Until now I've always thought that only those seeking risk are getting the dopamine payoff in acting out. But it could be that those staying home, tucked in their comfy bomb shelter, hoarding all the batteries and water while rearranging their sock drawers, are getting a similar payoff. And the payoff is what it is all about, make no mistake about it, even when you are paying it forward and not telling anyone else. We are only human after all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Holiday Road

The title of this post should have already triggered the chorus of the theme from National Lampoon's Vaction running in the background of your mind. You're welcome. If not, click the link to YouTube and come on back for the rest of the post.

My quest to find America started with a flight into Los Angeles. An evening arrival made for a cosmic landing. The darkness of the mountains was severed by a few golden strands of traffic connected to hubs of light. It was an electrified neural network without any local connections. Crossing the mountains, the fog roiled on a single plane below the flight. Beneath the churning clouds were glowing centers of activity that illuminated the blanket from below. As I looked across the night, I saw another flight, as if fishing the blanket from above.

My son and I left the next day to cross the Mojave without AC and the windows up. After loss of nearly 8-10 lbs of body weight and consciousness, we unrolled the windows to take in the air of America. It was hot.

Thanks to Jack Kerouac, we had our mantra for the road trip. Yes, we were balling the jack. I think Neal Cassady used the term most thoroughly, combining his love for jazz, fast driving and railroad background.

We made the Rasor Road service station, paid top dollar for gas and got ice cream. We got out and walked across the O'Callaghan bridge to view the Hoover Dam from above.

On to Bryce Canyon. I learned National Parks remain open 24 hours. When you arrive after midnight, you pretty much have the park to yourself.

Under a full moon and a cloudless night, we conducted our surreal tour of the Canyon Rim trail in solitude. The full moon provided stark shadows and a night vision goggles effect. We balled the jack and arrived in Green River, UT at 230 AM. The Super 8 motel awaited.

After a fine Continental Breakfast we collected the cheesiest postcards we could find, and returned to the road for a day of hiking at Arches National Park. After a brisk ascent across an 800 meter sandstone incline, the Delicate Arch (above) revealed itself in a natural amphitheater. People like to get their pictures taken underneath it, as you can see. Worth the hike.

We checked out the Wolf Ranch and the Petroglyphs. Then on to the Landscape Arch and the Primitive Trail to the "Double-O" arch. They rocked. We balled that jack into Moab then on to Aspen, across the Continental Divide at Independence Pass, and finally landed in CO Springs and another Super 8 at 230 AM. Brand loyalty was starting to set in.

At Colorado Springs we hung out with Grandpa for a day, rode the tram to the top of Pike's Peak and tasted the famous high-altitude donuts. The rain dampened our tour of Manitou Springs so we pressed on to the Cliff Dwellings. Pretty cool place if you leave out the fractured skull from standing up under the low balcony. Max got to ride Old Paint.

The next day we balled that jack all the way through Kansas with a stop for gas in Kanorado. We learned not to trust the GPS at Branson Missouri when looking for hotels, for you might end up in the Port-O-Call. Complete darkness didn't help, but there was a definite similarity to the Bates Motel. We ended up in a really nice Comfort Inn, that had this fine, anatomically correct elk statue out front that I'm sure my friends the Texagermanadian and Eden will appreciate.

Well enough travelogue I'm sure you've said to yourself. After all Shoji Tabuchi was not having any shows in Branson until September 12th, so we balled the jack the hell out of there for the final 19 hours to home. We bounced to ShamaLamaDingDong more than once, and I observed that the majority of the Recovery Dollars seem to be getting spent deploying traffic barrels and little else.

In the 1984 film Repo Man, Tracey Walter commented "the more you drive, the less intelligent you are". And while I have never doubted a single truism uttered in this classic film, I now have to say, it depends on the company.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Great Expectations

Great Expectations is not on the Modern Library's list of top 100 novels. Not that I think it should be. But at least I don't have to read it. Again. I did have to read it in High School. Chris Bailey and I turned it into a contest to see who could finish first. Other than that, I didn't find it that great.

I did however have Great Expectations for my drive back from Kansas. Kind of a dry run for my upcoming x-country road trip with my son. I got a nice new U-Haul 30-foot truck. It's always a surprise to see what picture you get on the side. And I got...

Ghost Orchids! Pretty freaky right? They grow in the Florida swamps. And they never touch the ground! This you could read on the side of the van as I motored my way across America's heartland, enlightening all who happened to be stuck next to me for 20+ hours of nonstop driving fun.

OK I did stop for about a 4 hour nap in a Dollar Inn. $29.95! Free HBO!

I chose to ball that jack across 9 states entirely without the radio. Or CD. Or iPod. Just me and the committee in my head, doing a filibuster. Were the great questions of the universe answered? The riddle of the Sphinx solved? Hardly. But I do have quite a playlist in my head, it seems. More like an 8-track unfortunately, for those of you who remember them, and it turns out I don't know too many lyrics. So it was kind of like 20 hours of the Kingsmen doing Louie Louie.

I was prepared for boring Oh My Brothers, but the road had other plans. 20 hours of no calls or text messages (to speak of), no email, and no trying to figure out what people are saying to me. Just the road and the whine of an underpowered engine. Suddenly I realized I could do an awful lot of that.

I thought of my Dad. Sitting alone in his shop in the basement. Hours and days. Then weeks and months and years. Thinking up new experiments and bad jokes. There is no doubt he enjoyed that time, but I think he was happier among other people. When he could stand it. It helped him get outside of his head.

Isolation in moderation is probably a good thing. It gives one time to take inventory. Make adjustments. Weigh values. But we are not solitary animals. We need each other, if for no other purpose than to restore balance. To share our lives and our jokes with one another. And get out of our heads.

"With great power, comes great responsibility." - Peter Parker's Uncle Ben
"To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

In this life I have shirked responsibility, and given less than my best at times. It seemed like there was a good reason at the time. Which just proves what can happen if you listen to yourself too much.