Volume 12, Issue 13 ~ March 25-31, 2004

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Bay Reflections

Too Much and Not Enough
Henry David Thoreau makes a wake-up call
by Pat Piper

I was sitting in a Wednesday morning traffic jam at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, listening to Howard Stern explain how the White House had leaned on Clear Channel to boot him off six of their stations, when my passenger door opened up and a guy with a beard got in.

(There’s a Spanish proverb for a moment like this: If your house is on fire, warm yourself by it).

So I introduced myself.

The guy asked if I could turn the radio off, which I did. We shook hands and he said, “My name’s Henry David Thoreau.”

“Congratulations on the 150th anniversary of Walden,” I said.

He shook his head, held up a hand and asked, “Do people still read it?”

“It’s required reading in middle schools,” I said, lying through my teeth. I didn’t really know, but I also wanted to be polite.

Thoreau looked around at all the SUVs, up at the Delta Shuttle coming in from Laguardia, at the huge cranes building the new bridge. Then he looked at me.

“I don’t think anyone’s reading it.”

“How can you say that?” I asked. “Look, they were gonna build condos on Walden Pond a few years ago, but Don Henley of the Eagles came out of a drug-induced stupor for a summer to do a bunch of concerts and raised enough money to buy the land from the developer. The woods are still there. He was keeping with your theme: simplify-simplify-simplify.”

Thoreau took this in. He nodded, smiled and said, “Yeah, I heard about that.”

There was a pause and then he said, “Never really could get into Hotel California. But I appreciate what he did.”

Traffic hadn’t moved one inch. I had to ask.

“So, what do you think of our world in 2004?”

“Well,” he began, “I’m not sure anyone can drive life into a corner these days and learn its real meaning. Is it good? Is it bad? There’s too much and all I hear is the word more. That word never gave us anything. Instead, there are all these things — all this stuff — between people and the ability to live deliberately.

He looked at a tanker truck to one side and a Fed-Ex van just ahead. “I’m not sure anyone can see what’s essential in life.”

I looked around at everyone in their SUVs, at the traffic jam, at the people talking on their cell phones, at the lane markings, the road signs, the orange cones on the shoulder.

“This is important. We do this everyday because it adds to the economy. At night we watch Donald Trump’s hair tell someone they’re fired, we have white men on TV arguing with other white men on TV about abortion and talk show hosts interviewing former attorneys about whether Laci Peterson was killed by her husband. We watch drama instead of looking out the window because that’s how we learn.”

Thoreau listened. “I thought the new season for the Sopranos was pretty good.”

“Exactly,” I shot back. “Our culture is driven by more and bigger so we don’t have time for a simple life.” I looked at him, adding “It’s a new world now.”

The sudden blare of a horn from the BMW behind me didn’t let up. In my rear view mirror I could see the driver turning red around his collar and waving his arms. I looked ahead and traffic had actually started to move.

“Okay, here we go,” I said to my passenger. But he wasn’t there.

I drove across the bridge wondering if this had been a dream. Or could this have been the proverbial wake up call that lands from time to time in the real world to say wake up?

Long-time contributor Pat Piper spends weekends crossing the Wilson Bridge in order to touch the simplicity of a sail on Chesapeake Bay.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated March 25, 2004 @ 2:37am.