Friday, September 30, 2011

Social Experiment and a Few Theories

So, related to my last post about loving convertibles, I took my mom's 'Stang out for a drive tonight.  I had some food with me but I didn't want to wrestle with the food, the driving, and keeping my clothes stain-free, so I pulled over to eat and enjoy the night sky and some tunes.  I stopped on a dark two-lane road, but it's well-traveled, so I didn't feel too alone or anything.  I put my parking lights on and enjoyed my chicken sandwich and french fries when all of a sudden, the radio stopped playing and the lights went dim.  I had killed my battery.

Like I said, there's usually a lot of traffic on the road, so I wasn't concerned about getting some help.  It was late and my parents were headed to bed as I was leaving the house, so I assumed that they'd surely be asleep by then, and since I was close to home, I decided not to call them for help.  I had jumper cables and someone would be along to help me soon.

Well, I turned off the parking lights, set up a warning triangle, and popped my hood so people would know I needed some help.  Cars passed.  More cars passed.  About three dozen cars passed.  I had waited for half an hour with no assistance rendered or even offered.  I finished my food and thought about calling in a favor from a friend, when I decided to make a social experiment of the evening.  It's been said that the more people there are in the vicinity who have the ability to help, the less people actually do help.  For example, if there are ten people surrounding an old woman who needs assistance, two will help her.  Logically then, if there were twenty people surrounding her, four would offer to help, but the paradox in the theory says that only one would, because the other nineteen would wait for someone else to help.  It's called the bystander effect and it gained international notoriety in the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese.  Kitty was brutally murdered in Queens, New York, and even though many of her neighbors heard the goings-on, no one called the police, according to popular report, simply because they assumed someone else would do it.

There are two explanations for group inaction.  One is called pluralistic ignorance, which states that, in a group setting, individuals will look around and gauge others' reactions to decide if action is necessary, but since everyone else is doing the same thing, no one acts. The other theory is called diffusion of responsibility, which is probably the theory that supports the events of Kitty's murder. The more people there are to do something, the easier it is for the individual to assume someone else will act.  I believe this is the case in my circumstance as well.  The leader of a pack of cars can easily assume that someone behind him will stop and help me, and the tail of a pack can assume that some other pack will be coming over the hill soon, and therefore, no one need help me.

Diffusion of responsibility also has other manifestations, but I don't care to go over them here and no one cares to read about them anyway, haha.

In any case, while waiting, I started pondering on some other contributing factors.  I was parked on the outskirts of an affluent and crime-free planned community, where there is a palpable (and quantifiable) attitude of entitlement and paranoia among the residents. In my theory, the two work hand in hand.  If we take the idea to its logical extreme (and it is just that), a driver leaving the community will fall into paranoia, assuming that places outside his utopia must be crime-ridden and dangerous.  Or he may think that he's above getting his hands dirty by jumping a battery or that his time is too valuable to be spent on the roadside.  Again, these are extremes and generalizations. I don't actually think someone thinks like that.

But pondering those generalizations, I began to believe them, which brings me to another epiphany I had. As I waited and watched car after car after car pass by, I began to hate the drivers just a little bit.  I assumed that they were too big for their britches and couldn't possibly deign to help a pleb like me.  Or I assumed that they saw a well-dressed, clean-cut kid driving a nice, expensive looking Mustang and still had the gumption to think I was a hood rat. I fell into a trap of generalizing and assuming others were out to get me and that every driver on the road must have been cooperating to keep me immobilized, and thus became as paranoid and entitled as the extreme in my head.  After all, what possible reason besides group ignorance could explain such behavior towards a person as deserving as me?

To make a long story short, a nice girl stopped, opened her hood, and let me jump my car with hers.  I even saw her pass by, make a U-turn in a neighborhood, and double back to help me, thus disproving my theory that all people are scum.  In the end, I got home grateful for her help and was brought back to reality that most of my theories are based in logical extreme, rather than fact, and I felt encouraged to give others the benefit of the doubt, rather than assume that they're selfish and timid sheep.

Not a bad way to spend the night, as it turned out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Car of the Moment- VI

I'm a convertible guy. Dennis Simanaitis, engineering editor for Road & Track magazine (dream job!) once said, "A convertible top forgives a multitude of automotive sins," and ever since my first top-down experience, I'm inclined to agree.

(A gay guy who likes convertibles?  Oh my stars, who would have thought?)

I can't say I exactly remember how old I was or what we did, but one night, my uncle took me and his sons, my cousins, on a top-down drive in his red 1966 Mustang convertible, like the one in my avatar. I remember watching in awe as he pressed a button and the top folded neatly in a little pile behind my seat.  I remember that warm, southern Utah air passing across my face as we drove. And even though I was too young to grasp that his car had woolen brakes, unreliable bias-ply tires, and a finnicky roof motor, I still suspect that those sins would be forgiven with every al fresco drive.

The rest, as they say, is history. Since that drive, I've owned a 1989 Saab 900 convertible, a 1996 BMW 318ic, and a Jeep CJ-7, and I've shared garage space with my mom's 2006 Mustang GT convertible, a near-twin for my uncle's classic. In fact, now that I'm looking back, I realize that I've never even owned a car that didn't at least have a sunroof. In short, I'm addicted to putting the roof down, no matter the weather. (Personal record? Either the 35-degree winter sunshine I routinely subjected the interior of my Saab to or the torrential Hawaiian downpour my back seat passengers had to endure in my Jeep.)

Last week, I saw a car that had me hurting for that old Swede.  Parked next to my BMW at the grocery store was a sunflower-yellow Saab 900 Monte Carlo Edition.

Now, to be sure, the yellow is a bit much (I'm not that gay), but this thing was in such cherry condition that it almost overpowered the color.  And there's always the Catholic Indulgence that is a retractable roof.

I got home and started researching the Monte Carlo 900 and it got me lusting after a new top-down ride.  My finances aren't nearly as solvent as they have been in the past, so some snooty European ride is probably out of the question, but what about an old Celica? Perhaps a black VW Cabriolet? Or, how would the virtuous convertible roof stand up against the vice-ridden Geo Metro?

Hmm, I fear I've gone too far.  I'm not sure anything could forgive that car of its sins... Perhaps it's best to wait till I can afford...


or even...

 Someday, eh?

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons,,,, and

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This weekend was filled with still more traveling.  My sister shipped her very beautiful, very new, and very loaded Ford Flex to our house, as she had been living with us for a bit while her husband got their home settled in Minnesota, but the Flex wasn't shipped in time so she had to leave it behind and let me drive it up.  14 hours across some of the most beautiful landscape in America in a car that parallel parks on its own, plays music via voice command, and has enough power and control to keep up with a Corvette in the Black Hills?  Fine, twist my arm.  Also, don't ask me how I know that it can keep up with a 'Vette and I won't have to tell you any lies.

The drive went exceptionally well.  The cherry-red Flex ate up the freeway, my Bluetooth-linked iPod spilling everything from Ke$ha to Linkin Park to ABBA to Snow Patrol. The drive through the Wyoming prairie, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the badlands of North Dakota was breathtaking, relaxing, and exhilarating at times. All was well.

As I got deeper into North Dakota, I noticed some clouds overhead.  They were thick and grey, hanging low over the horizon, so I assumed I'd pass under them pretty rapidly. The moon was still shining behind me, casting an impressive glow over the flat landscape. I drove and drove and drove, but the clouds still loomed in the sky. I thought I saw them moving about, so I pulled over to observe them without the light pollution of my headlights. I needed some fresh air anyway.

I looked ahead to the clouds and saw them stretching, thick and ribbon-like from the east to the west. I studied them a little closer and was surprised to see them dancing, up and down, subdivided into little columns that moved and oscillated, independent of the night sky surrounding them.  My heart jumped into my throat as I realized that I wasn't looking at clouds, I was watching the Northern Lights!

Chills instantly ran up and down my back and out to my periphery.  Seeing an aurora has been on my bucket list from day one of my life, it seemed, and now I had the chance. I had looked forward to them till that moment, seeing pictures of those green and blue and occasionally red lights in textbooks and on Google, and so looked forward to seeing them that I would surely be disappointed when I actually got the chance.  But even though the lights I saw were partially obscured by the full moon and the aurora above me was mostly grey and devoid of color, I was thrilled by my discovery.  I felt like the first person on earth ever to see them and nothing else could compare to their brilliance.

Jeroen Van Bergejik writes in his book, My Mercedes is Not For Sale, that, while on vacation, very few people have authentic experiences, that is, experiences that are unspoiled and free from the influence of something external. For example, eating at a "traditional" Hawaiian luau and drinking Coca-Cola with your roast pig is not an authentic experience.  In fact, it's so difficult to find a truly authentic experience nowadays because our world is so interconnected, for better and for worse.

However, in spite of the perfectly groomed highway in front of me and the $50,000 station wagon behind me, seeing those auroras floating in the night felt like an authentic experience.  I felt like the first man must have felt, looking up into the night sky, humbled, chilled to the bone, maybe a little scared, but completely enthralled and appreciative of the beauty of this world.

After awhile, I got back in the car and resumed my drive. I started thinking about how easily I almost mistook the Aurora Borealis for clouds and started thinking about the other auroras in my life that I occasionally write off as rainclouds. This life is full of Northern Lights, but sometimes it requires pulling over and studying them to really understand how amazing they are.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Last Chance?

K, so, for the record, I never believe it's too late.  I'm kind of a chronic procrastinator, which in general is a bad thing, but it also allows me the perspective to know that if I miss out on something, I'll probably have the opportunity to enjoy something just as good, because I do believe that eventually, things will work out, even if you miss a few opportunities here and there.

For example, I'm dying to get into a vintage car right now.  I really want a Volvo Amazon or Volkswagen Beetle, but the cash just isn't there.  I found an Amazon on eBay in pretty amazing shape for $2200 and started machinating ways to get the money, but as you'd expect, the car sold 6 hours after it was posted and I didn't even stand a chance to get it.  But life goes on and there will be other cars.  This is my philosophy. 

However, I'm having a hard time holding onto that ideologue as of late.  As I've alluded before, there are exceptionally rare girls who can hold my attention intellectually, spiritually, and physically. There have been girls that I worshiped for their talents, abilities, and unique and uncommon ability to give me the butterflies. But, as I've sat on the sidelines, I've watched them get picked off, one by one, and married into charmingly sweet, happy family lives. I've justified my inaction by acknowledging that even when I finally do get my shit together and feel spiritually confident enough to give my life over to someone else, that someone will still have to wait a few years while I serve a mission, and how could I make a girl wait for her sometimes emotionally distant and "gay" boyfriend when she has a perfectly eligible returned missionary ready to take her to the temple?

I have a lady friend who just got married over the weekend.  She married a wonderful, handsome guy who will give her a great life.  Still, I wonder what might have happened if I took a few swings at the ball instead of watching the pitcher throw strikes right past me.  I had a few opportunities over our years of friendship to tell her how I felt (from day one, really), that I thought she was special and beautiful and she made me feel good. However, most of those opportunities came and went with very little effort on my part. Before long, my caring for her locked me into the friend zone, that elusive, mysterious place where all of my sweet and considerate actions would be met with a, "You're such a great friend.  I will be so jealous of the girl you marry."

I'm not one for regrets, but there's a big, almost infinitely loud voice in my head saying that if I'd stayed on schedule and gone on a mission at 19, I'd be an RM right now and ready to tell that elementary school sweetheart, or this most recent bride, or the one before that, that I am in love (or whatever could be closest to it for me).  If I'd done what I was supposed to do, when I was supposed to do it, then I'd be a more complete individual today and I could feel confident in giving myself over to someone else, or at least asking them for a chance.  As I am, I feel very fractured and unfinished, and it's always been my thought that, even though I don't need to be done growing, I need to be at the very least undamaged to build something with someone else.

I hope I'm not sounding too self-deprecating. I've got work to do, but I'm also right on track in a bunch of other ways too.  I just really feel like the clock is ticking and I'm missing out on a lot of opportunities to live a life (and eternity) with the rare and extraordinary girl who makes me feel like I can do it.

I suppose, as with those old cars, there will be another special girl around the corner.  Still, I can't help but lament that old green Volvo a little bit and wish I was ready to snap it up when I had the chance.

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