Sometime during the last year, my cell phone morphed from being a oft-annoying gadget to an occasionally annoying virtual appendage. I am not a likely candidate to have made this transition. I have cursed cell phones more than praised them. Multiple days have gone by when I didn’t even bother turning on my own phone.
But now it’s fully accurate to say that my cell phone has largely supplanted my landline and office phone. After some four years of owning an iPhone 4s, I am finally using it like so many other people deploy their smartphones. I use it for calls (the ear buds free up my hands), texting (I finally gave in and started texting), taking pictures (the 4s camera isn’t state of the art, but it does the job), and checking online sites (mostly e-mail and Facebook).
I haven’t come close to exploiting all of its features. When it comes to technology, I’m the opposite of a “first adopter.” But it’s now close to being an indispensable tool. It has become especially valuable while traveling.
Before this transition, I couldn’t understand why people went into a panic if they feared that they lost or misplaced their phone. What’s the big deal? Just get a new one, I’d say to myself. Not anymore.
I still don’t get how some folks basically live in their phones. I shake my head when walking the streets of Boston turns into an exercise in dodging people looking down at their phones. And I think it’s unfortunate when people can’t be in the moment with each other because their face-to-face social interactions are interrupted by ever-present pinging and furtive (or not-so-furtive) glances at their phones.
That all said, the technology contained in the average smartphone is nothing short of remarkable. Our phones shouldn’t be ruling our lives, but they sure can make certain aspects of life more convenient. Call me a qualified but devoted convert.
My current visit to northwest Indiana marks the first time I’ve driven a car since, well, my last visit there over a year ago. As a city dweller who hasn’t owned a car since Air Supply’s earliest U.S. hits, let’s just say that driving is not my forte. Night driving is a special adventure, during which I’m reinforcing unflattering stereotypes about Asian drivers.
The last and only car I ever owned was a hand-me-down 1968 Buick LeSabre that got about seven blocks to a gallon of gas in mileage. I gave it to my brother Jeff when I left for law school at NYU in the fall of 1982. I had learned during an earlier trip to New York City that, unlike your typical Indiana campus, universities in the heart of Manhattan did not have parking lots adjoining their residence halls.
Since then, I have been a creature of the subway, first in New York, and now in Boston.
This, of course, brings the adventure back to driving on those rare occasions that I do rent a car.
Oh, and speaking of Air Supply, I’ve once again used the unique experience of driving to listen to an oldies station that plays a lot of stuff from back in the day. As I wrote last year:
Concededly, I am positively masochistic when it comes to self-inflicted nostalgia. During much of this trip, I had my rental car radio tuned to an oldies station that played songs mostly from the late 70s through early 80s. Like many, I associate old Top 40 songs with memories of earlier days, so I basically had a series of mental videos going through my head, prompted by whatever was on the air.
And so it is with this trip, as the pop sounds of Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Olivia Newton-John, Styx, Hall & Oates, Cheap Trick, and others waft through my rental vehicle. I usually don’t immerse myself in this music at home — I’ll take the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Sinatra, and the like over more recent popular music anyday — but the post-adolescent oldies do bring back memories.
The other day I was getting ready for a short trip, and I went online to print out my airline ticket. I was delighted to see the TSA Pre-check designation on it. Pre-check means that you can go through a shorter, faster security line without removing your shoes, belt, computer, and small liquids. It saves some time and hassle and makes a plane trip a little bit more pleasant.
Of course, I could also send Uncle Sam a check and a completed form to fly Pre-check all the time. Maybe I’ll do so, because it does restore a dose of civility to the air travel experience. In the meantime, I greet the printing out of my ticket with hopeful anticipation that I’ll win the Pre-check lotto via whatever process the TSA folks use.
I call Pre-check one of life’s little scratch ticket wins: You know, those lottery tickets or customer cards where you scratch off an opaque covering to see if you’ve won a little something. Maybe it’s a small payout, a free sandwich, or a discount on your next purchase.
Life’s scratch ticket equivalents can pop up anywhere. Maybe you’re running late and you make the next subway train with seconds to spare. Or perhaps you discover that the very thing you want to buy is on sale. Until they went with all-day breakfast, making it to McDonald’s just before the morning menu ended would count, too!
As an educator, I used to think of snow days as being a scratch ticket win. But then came Snowpocalypse 2015 in Boston, with so many class cancellations that we had to have monster make-up classes once we dug out of winter. Suffice it to say, I greet snow days much less enthusiastically than before we got hit with 100+ inches of snow that winter.
Obviously we’d all like to win Mega Millions, but winning scratch tickets can put smiles on our faces as well.
Over the weekend I was fiddling around with some photos using the editing tools on my computer, when I reminded myself of an important lesson, buttressed by scientific research: When it comes to using my discretionary cash, I am more likely to derive longer-term happiness by spending it on experiences than on material possessions.
Jonesing for bad weather
The photos were taken during a 2012 storm chase tour with Tempest Tours, a company that offers storm chasing expeditions into America’s tornado alley for enthusiasts of bad weather, led by highly experienced storm chasers.
I have been drawn to tornadoes ever since I was a very young child, when one passed through our NW Indiana neighborhood. (I’ve told the story in more detail here.) This fascination has continued well into my adult years, to the point where I’ve devoted to several vacations to storm chase tours with Tempest. In fact, one of the most exciting days of my life was the first day of my first chase tour in 2008, when our group intercepted a single supercell in northern Oklahoma that spawned multiple tornadoes throughout the afternoon and early evening.
My summer 2012 tour happened to deliver a great week of storm chasing, even without the benefit of post-facto tornado verification. We had a wonderful group of people that simply jelled, and thanks to our expert lead guides, we witnessed memorable storms, including several tornadoes.
But just how many tornadoes remains uncertain. One of the notable characteristics of that tour was encountering a number of “Is it or isn’t it?” views of possible tornadoes. You see, not every tornado is a sharply defined funnel from cloud to ground, with a visible debris field at the bottom. Light, distance, and angles may make it difficult to discern whether a funnel has actually reached the ground, thus becoming an “official” tornado.
So here I am this past weekend, playing around with photos from the 2012 tour, especially the “Is it or isn’t it?” shots. By using the photo enhancement tools on my Mac, I was able to make out various funnel clouds and apparent tornadoes on the ground. Four years after the fact, I now understand that we witnessed more tornadoes than originally met the naked eye!
Studies tell us…
I have great memories of these chase tours, and I’m still in touch with many of the professional storm chasers and fellow tour guests. Now, I don’t blame anyone for questioning the wisdom of someone who wants to spend precious money on a week of traveling thousands of miles in vans, eating grab & go meals from fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and staying in motels that will never be highlighted in travel guidebooks.
But for me, it’s an awesome experience that gets into my bones.
As I noted above, this isn’t just me talking. A growing body of psychological research suggests that, when we are making discretionary spending decisions, using our money to create good experiences rather than to accumulate more “stuff” will likely create greater happiness over the long run. Experiences, studies tell us, have staying power. They become a part of us, sometimes even more positively as time goes on. (Remember that vacation when everything seemingly went wrong? Now it’s the stuff of great stories.)
New possessions, by comparison, may give us a momentary new morale boost, but after that, the happiness they bring tends to level off. (Think about the fleeting pick-me-up of “retail therapy.”)
This is not to say that we do not derive satisfaction from buying nice things. After all, how we use, consume, or view them can provide ongoing pleasures, i.e., they may help us to create experiences.
Think about a favorite book, movie, game, item of clothing, or piece of art. Or new cooking utensils that lead to delicious meals. And, yup, the computer that enables us to sort out and play around with our collections of photographed memories.
Sometimes good experiences overlap directly with buying stuff we like. For example, I love checking out used bookstores and used book sales, and I confess that I get a little soggy over some of my book buying expeditions.
I get it
But I understand the larger point. As I scroll through this personal blog, I sense my energy levels rising when I write about favorite experiences, which include singing with friends, extended visits with friends and family, quick weekend trips, holiday rituals, and even academic conferences in the company of great people. They contribute to the fabric and richness of my life, often in ways that my latest purchases cannot.
That’s something to think about whenever I walk into a store or browse the retail world online. Better to seek out stormy weather, yes?
One of the benefits of being in academe is the opportunity to travel to interesting and new places for various academic events. I had the pleasure of making a quick trip to Boise, Idaho, to participate in a conference on equality in employment at the University of Idaho College of Law. The conference itself was excellent, and it gave me a chance to see something of this beautiful, compact city.
The unexpected bonus was the delicious food. The University of Idaho treated us to a couple of wonderful dinners at local restaurants, including a first-rate steak at a place called The BrickYard.
In addition, I met up with long-time friends and colleagues Gary and Ruth Namie, founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute, for breakfast on Saturday before catching my afternoon return flight to Boston. They took me to their favorite breakfast place, the Original Pancake House, famous for its apple pancakes that take 45 minutes to cook. I managed to polish off my plate pretty quickly.
In case you want photographic proof that I saw more of Boise than its eateries and a university conference room, here’s a shot of the beautiful State Capitol building, located in the city’s downtown.
And although you can’t see much of it, here is Boise State University’s football stadium, featuring its famous blue field.
The 1916 Easter Rising was an armed insurrection centered in Dublin, and led by Irish Republicans who opposed British rule and sought to establish an independent Irish Republic. Although the Rebellion was quashed, it planted the seeds for British-Irish relations during the 20th century and remains one of the most significant events in Irish history.
As I wrote here last year, I became interested in this subject during a 1981 collegiate semester abroad in England. “The Troubles,” as they were dubbed, had reached tumultuous and violent stages. Irish political prisoners were staging well-publicized hunger strikes, and a prominent Irish Republican Army leader, Bobby Sands, was among them. (He would die in prison that May.)
I devoted part of my spring break to visiting Belfast and Dublin, and the tensions were evident. I was in Dublin over Easter weekend, which marked the 65th anniversary of the Easter Rising. A large, boisterous protest and rally ensued in the downtown.
I’ve put together three snapshots from that event. During the protest march, a young man stopped to allow me to take the photo at top.The rebel headquarters for the Easter Rising was the General Post Office, shown in the second photo above. The third photo was taken in front of the Bank of Ireland.
And here’s the 1916 Easter Proclamation:
This 1940s wartime era photo prompts a nostalgic moment for me, even if I wasn’t around back then and my soggy sentiments have nothing to do with the picture itself. This is the old Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the marquee features coming sporting attractions, including basketball games featuring Valparaiso University (my undergraduate alma mater) and New York University (my law school alma mater).
Valparaiso posted the pic to its Facebook page in connection with the appearance of the current men’s basketball team in the semifinal round of the National Invitation Tournament, which will be played in the modern Madison Square Garden next week. This year’s squad has set a school record for wins, including three in the NIT. A victory against Brigham Young University on Tuesday will put them in the tourney championship game, to be played later in the week.
The vintage photo shows VU players arriving for their game at the Garden. VU’s war-era team was one of the nation’s best, thanks to its successful recruiting of talented players who were too tall to enter military service. The team traveled all the way from the Hoosier State to play Long Island University, no small journey in the days before jet airliners.
The second marquee game featured NYU hosting Colgate University. NYU was a major college sports presence during the first half of the last century, and its basketball team played in many of the prominent arenas along the east coast. Today NYU is a non-scholarship Division 3 school, with men’s and women’s basketball teams playing very competitively at that level.
We all have our personal narratives, and part of mine involves growing up and going to college in northwest Indiana, discovering something of the world during a final collegiate semester abroad, and then heading off to law school in New York City. To see both Valparaiso and NYU on that marquee, located on the wondrous island of Manhattan, symbolically brings together two educational institutions that have played important roles in my life.
As for Madison Square Garden, when I lived in New York I watched my share of basketball there, mostly Knicks NBA games. It was still possible back then to get cheap tickets (four dollars, then eight dollars) to sit up in the nosebleed seats. But when the Knicks were on top of their game and the Garden was rocking, well, it didn’t matter where you sat, it was quite an event.
After VU’s home court victory over St. Mary’s of California that punched the team’s ticket for the trip east, the public address system played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” That was my song, too. I hope their Manhattan sojourn turns out as well for them as it did for me.
As President of Goucher College in Maryland, Sanford Ungar spearheaded internationalization initiatives that included requiring every undergraduate to enroll in a study abroad program. The school backed up those efforts with travel stipends to make such participation more affordable. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ungar offers a thoughtful essay positing that a major expansion of study abroad enrollments will help to create a more informed and worldly American citizenry:
In the Internet age, the world feels far smaller than it used to. But many Americans still know little about the rest of the world and may be more detached from it than ever.
. . . One symptom of Americans’ new isolation is a sharp contrast between the positive, even zealous views they hold of the United States and its role in the world and the anti-Americanism and negative perceptions of U.S. foreign policy that flourish almost everywhere else. This gap persists in part because relatively few Americans look beyond, or step outside, their own borders for a reality check.
. . . Luckily, there exists a disarmingly simple way to help address this problem and to produce future generations of Americans who will know more and care more about the rest of the world: massively increase the number of U.S. college and university students who go abroad for some part of their education and bring home essential knowledge and new perspectives.
Of course this is music to my ears. As I have written several times on this blog (most recently here), my own undergraduate semester abroad in England was transformative. I cannot imagine my life today without that experience as part of it.
Study abroad is not the only way to see the world and become a more globally informed individual. Military and volunteer service, jobs with international travel components (e.g., working for an airline), and extended trips abroad can all be world expanding experiences.
On this note I turn to travel writer, educator, and entrepreneur Rick Steves, who long has touted European travel on a middle-range budget and strongly believes in the transformative power of international travel. Here’s a snippet from his statement describing his global travel philosophy:
Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity. It helps you understand and appreciate different cultures. Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life. Many travelers toss aside their hometown blinders. Their prized souvenirs are the strands of different cultures they decide to knit into their own character.
“Travel changes people.” Indeed.
Last week on Facebook, I saw friends from my native Northwest Indiana posting stuff about “219 Day.” Of course I recognized 219 as the main area code for Lake County, Indiana, but I had no idea what this “Day” was all about. I would learn that 219 Day is a new “holiday” created by Hammond, Indiana mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr., mixing local pride with a little tongue-in-cheek. The first 219 Day was marked by a food, drink, and entertainment event that drew thousands to the local Civic Center.
The humor is in the logo. As you can see, a rat is a part of it. To explain, Lake County and the City of Hammond are located in the heart of what is called the Calumet Region, named for the Calumet River that flows through it. Denizens of “Da Region” have long been called “Region Rats.” So the Mayor (and/or his public relations team) incorporated said rodent into the overall theme.
Although Mayor McDermott caught some flak for including the little fella in the logo — apparently some of the more refined residents didn’t fully appreciate the association — on the whole 219 Day was a rousing success and will now become an annual event. Personally, I thought it was a clever way of saying, hey, we’re going to celebrate our region without taking ourselves too seriously!
In fact, when I saw folks posting stickers for 219 Day on Facebook, I contacted one of my Region schoolmates, Dave Woerpel, now Chairman of the Hammond Democrats and a close associate of the Mayor, and asked how I might get my hands on one. Well, not only did Dave send me a couple of stickers, but also to my surprise he sent a 219 Day t-shirt (“219 Day, It’s all about Da Region”), which I proudly show off in the photo above. It is a fitting addition to my leisurewear collection. Perhaps some Bostonians will ask for an explanation!
I left Indiana in 1982, bound for law school in New York City. For a long time I thought I’d never look back. But I have come to appreciate all the chapters of my life, and growing up in Da Region is an important part of it. Over the years I have kept in touch with a handful of people from Indiana, and now — often via Facebook — I have reconnected with folks I had lost touch with for decades.
So yes, I enjoyed the humor imbued in that 219 Day logo. But I also regard that t-shirt with genuine sentiment, a welcomed connection of my past with my present.
If you have eight minutes to spare for a fun little historical video, go to this New England Historical Society page to view a streetcar ride in the heart of Boston during the early 1900s.
Those familiar with Boston will recognize a fair number of buildings that remain intact (more or less) today, including the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library, pictured above. With some unfortunate exceptions, mainly parts of the city where a myriad of “urban renewal” projects and other monstrosities (like the unsightly City Hall) supplanted fine old buildings, a lot of Boston’s vintage structures are still with us. Some happen to be of great historical significance.
As you watch the video, notice how the people are dressed. Perhaps reinforced by the grainy quality of the black & white video, they look very much the same. I was tempted to attribute this to Boston’s historic lack of fashion variety. But I think it has more to do with the fact that some 110 years ago, a lot fewer people expressed their individuality through choice of clothing, at least to the point where it would be noticeable on old film footage.
I love old films like this. They are typically raw, soundless, and absent any sense of story, but they’re the next best thing to being able to jump into a time machine for a quick walk through a city over a century ago.
Hat tip to Rosina-Maria Lucibello for this video.