Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pioneering

The comedian Louis CK does a hilarious bit about people getting impatient with technology. He makes fun of people who can't wait fifteen seconds for their computer to get a signal from space (!!) when in the "old days" we used to get by just fine with rotary phones and typewriters. My favorite part is when he talks about airplane travel:

"New York to California in five hours? That used to take thirty years. A bunch of you would die on the way there. People would have babies. You'd be a totally different group of people by the time you got there!"

As I was thinking about the details of my upcoming car trip from San Francisco to Syracuse, I was reminded of Louis CK's bit and then started thinking about some of the first American pioneers and what inspired them to risk so much. I thought of some of the pioneers who came to California during the Gold Rush. The cross country journey didn't take thirty years, but it did take many months and people faced much hardship along the way. I can't even imagine setting off in a covered wagon for parts unknown, knowing that I literally might never return again to the place I set off from. I wonder how many of them thought they were in for an amazingly wonderful adventure at the offset only to later realize how difficult the journey was becoming on their bodies and souls. I wonder how many of them turned back. And, I wonder how many of them with doubts kept going out of stubbornness only to discover how difficult it was to make a new home and how difficult the process of panning for gold really was and how much less of a fortune they were really able to make than they had hoped for. I wonder how many of them were filled with regret when they realized they would never again see some of their beloved family members and friends*.

These days we have detailed terrain maps that are accessible in seconds via the internet. If traveling by car, we can plug our cellular phones into USB ports on the dashboard and receive satellite updates to indicate our precise location. If we get lost, we can adjust our coordinates into Google maps and immediately a new route suggestion will appear. We have air conditioning in the car to regulate our body temperature and containers that can keep food and water cooled and preserved for weeks. We have radio to keep us company or we can listen to music or audio books on CD or mp3. Traveling by day only, the trip from California to New York will take about six days. But, if a person was young and energetic enough, s/he could probably do it in less. You probably wouldn't want to make the trip in a car more than a few times in your lifetime, but it is definitely possible. Alternatively, you could fly in only a matter of hours or take a bus or train if you didn't want to be the one at the wheel.

Still, I feel a bit like a pioneer. In a strange way I'm kind of proud of myself for deciding to move to the other side of the country and figuring out a way to earn a living. And, for figuring out a way to make things work when things didn't go exactly as I had planned. This journey has been much more difficult in some ways than I had ever imagined. I admit I'm pretty exhausted, but I have no regrets. And, when I look at what some of the early pioneers risked and lost, I realize just how lucky I am.

*Poor Clementine...

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