Research Trip, Day 1

One fine day, in the middle of the night, a certain Vance departed Waco at 5:00 AM, headed to Missouri in search of information on the history of Butler (along with a co-author and some 180 photographs worth publishing). Thirteen hours later, he reached his destination, having–as per the back road philosophy expressed in an earlier post–spent the day lost in small rural Oklahoma and Kansas towns, and had a lovely “stuffed burger” at the Midway Cafe in Bartlesville, OK. (Stuffed, by the way, meaning a patty with mushrooms and onions mixed in–nothing terribly special, just a good, down-home, greasy hamburger.)

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It occurs to me that I may have offended some of my twittering friends with my latest post, and if so, I sincerely apologize. Still, as a matter of personal choice, I refuse to participate. As I made my way north yesterday, I was reminded of one of the reasons for this choice.

I turned off of I-35 on Texas 380, at Denton, right around 7:00 AM, and began to thread my way through the various small towns on 377 as it heads for the Oklahoma line. Of course, as usual my mind was half a day ahead of me, dwelling on the things I would be doing once I reached Butler. To interstate drivers, this would not be too much of a problem, since that sort of driving is almost more an exercise in not falling asleep than anything else. However, having forgotten where I was and what I was doing, I was jolted into renewed awareness by a flashing yellow light: school zone. I was driving through the beginning of a school day, and doing so dangerously fast.

Before I reached the Texas-Oklahoma line, I passed through about ten of these school zones. As each one came and went, I thought about my surprise at the first one. I concluded that I had become so used to going around small communities rather than through them–which is the norm with high-speed, four-lane travel–that I had in my mind dissociated the act of driving from the process of social interaction. In the days of Route 66, travel was about communication: people traveled for the experience of traveling, not just to get where they were going. Perhaps a better way to say it is that, wherever people were is where they were going. Now, the goal seems to be getting from start to finish with a minimum of hindrance, which requires a minimum of contact. Put DVD players in cars, and suddenly lack of contact becomes lack of awareness. Why look out the window at whatever natural scenery may present itself when we can stare fixedly at a fake image on a plastic screen instead?

The school zones jolted me out of my interstate-induced stupor and forced me once again to recognize the lives going on around me as I moseyed down the highway. Which brings me back around to the whole Twitter thing. Sometimes we’re fooled into thinking we’re doing something when in reality we’re doing nothing at all, in the name of doing something. Are we truly travelling if we don’t ever see the places through which we blindly speed? By the same token, are we really communicating when we encounter people by way of a telephone display instead of looking them in the eyes? So much of communication rests on the give and take of physical closeness–what I say and do is mediated through what you say and do, my reactions based on your reactions, on establishing an emotional connection rather than a digital one.

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And now, I’m told that Wednesday is the preferred deadline for my finished proposal, so ta-ta for now. More when I’m finished (hopefully).

Wish me luck…

One thought on “Research Trip, Day 1

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