site index          

Picture of the Day
<< back to main

December 26, 2009

   An obese wheezing woman plops down and complains about the long walk from her sleeper to the dining car. She joins me and a woman who tells us her parents at age 93 recently signed a lease with oil company to get at what might be under their family farm--a piece of the vast Bakken Reserve in North Dakota. Wheezy is delighted, proudly declares she is all for drilling in Alaska, too, because "they've been cutting us off at the knees." I'm sure she has developed an entire mythology in support of this regurgitated soundbite, probably involving a cabal of Arabs and environmentalists, but I don't want to encourage her so I stare out the window. Montana under snow is lovely.
   But she has more to say on the topic and continues unprompted. "I've heard some new findings that oil might be a renewable resource. It's not fossils. It comes from the grinding of the earth's platelets."
   The snow still looks good but she asks me directly, "Have you heard anything about that?" I was thinking about the difference between blood platelets and tectonic plates but I take a different tack: "No, I haven't. But aside from the issue of supply, don't you think we're burning too much too fast?"
   She swells with defiant certainty, "No, I don't!" I'm glad I had finished my meal because I flushed hot with anger, put down a tip and left, saying, "All right then. Good day." I wish I'd kept a cooler head and found some Socratic way of engaging her but my revulsion was a reflexive response to her proud ignorance, which I sensed was perfect and impenetrable. The only tools at my disposal were facts and logic--no match for the propaganda and pseudoscience which evidently formed the foundation of her unreasoning faith.
   I live in a bubble where there is consensus that conservation is never a bad idea so I was caught off-guard by this waddling metaphor for unrepentant waste and overindulgence. She is certainly not alone in her selfish shortsighted mindset and my simply walking away from such encounters isn't going to help things any. Unlike oil, patience is a renewable resource and I need to learn to tap my reserves in times of need.
   They sat me with a heavyset man who was already into dessert. He was on the aisle, I sat by the window across from him. I said hello and he gave a little nod without taking his eyes off the scenery to the south. Maybe he didn't speak English. I wasn't going to start so I looked out the window north where a herd of small ungulates bounded across a snowy field away from the train.
   My meal came, I ate in silence. He finished, got up without a word or glance and laid down a tip--a folded bill and a coin partially concealed by his pie plate. When the plate was taken away I could see it was a $2 bill and a gold dollar coin. I do the same thing sometimes.
   Silent eater, unusual tip leaver--my soul brother.

   ...With three charmingly nerdy midwesterners--a bachelor accountant, a web developer, and his business-to-business chemical company records keeper wife.
   Best exchange:
   Wife: Honey, would you like my tomato?
   Husband: No, thank you. Would you like mine? Oh wait--of course not or you wouldn't have asked that.