Curmudgeon Corner: The old ways

old-man-porchI like the old ways.

It was a pleasure to use the old lever voting machines at the School Board vote. They still work just fine, and you know the vote went through. The new computerized machines are a black box. Who knows how they work? The poll workers certainly don’t. What was the big problem with using a system everyone understood? It was easy to run our own elections without being some sort of computer programmer.
I like the old ways.

Self-checkout lanes bother me. That’s someone’s job. At least when it’s working right. The few times I tried to use one (because I had a few measly items and the one open lane had six people in line), the thing ended up beeping with some error, and an employee had to come over and override it. It’s bad enough I have to bag my own groceries half the time now, while impatient customers wait behind me. And I can’t buy anything without being asked repeatedly to join their “buyer’s club” and get a “rewards card” or donate to some charity they’ll take credit for. I don’t like these developments. It’s like modern life is creating more and more hassles for us and waiting until we cry “uncle.”

I like the old ways.

I like Thruway tollbooth operators. I’m amazed modern life hasn’t relegated them to the dust bin. After all, they’re inefficient. A machine could accept money and lift a lever. Everyone’s got a computer in their pocket with GPS for directions. Why do we need tollbooth operators? Most people seem to think we don’t. My daughter had to borrow my truck when her car was in the shop. She panicked when she approached the booths and realized too late there wasn’t an E-ZPass. She chewed me out for it when she got back. “Get a damn E-ZPass. It’s cheaper and more convenient. Get with the times.”


Well, nuts to that. I like the old ways.

I like to chat with tollbooth operators. They’re interesting people. There’s a few of us left who still like to strike up conversations with strangers, and we all use the lanes with tollbooth operators. They talk to people from all over the world. And they have a lot of time to think.

But could a machine do their job? Depends how you define it. Is a job simply a task to be done as expeditiously as possible? Or is it something else? I think people doing their jobs and socializing and deriving worth and satisfaction makes up a large part of what we think of as a community. If everyone gets laid off who can’t do a simple task more efficiently than a machine or computer program, there ain’t going to be much left.

That’s pessimistic, I know. I didn’t always feel that way. I remember there was a time when they told us that between the machines and nuclear power, we’d all work 20-hour weeks and live like kings. But the opposite happened. Everyone works harder than they used to, and for longer hours. (Except the deadbeats, of which there are many.)

That reminds me, why do we have ads on the bridges now? There’s something to be said for not being hustled everywhere you go. I guess they’d say they’d have to raise the tolls even more without them. I don’t buy it. I don’t even understand why we have tolls. Those bridges were built 40 years ago. They’ve got to be paid off. Someone’s getting rich, and it ain’t us.

I think we’re putting up with it because we’ve been brainwashed. We’re running scared. We know there’s no real reason we’re still the richest country and are desperate to take the advice of anyone who promises we can stay that way. So the rich folks put the screws to us, just like they always did, except now we think if we complain it’ll just make it worse. Heck, my grandkids spend 24 hours a day with their faces in their phones, and their mother buys them every new model that comes out every six months. She says they’ll fall behind their peers in technology if they don’t and will be so out of whack they won’t get into a good college.

We used to call work “the rat race,” but that was nothing compared to today.

I like the old ways.

Was it perfect? No. I’m not some old codger looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. Life today is better in a number of areas. Heck, I love the NFL Package and fuel injection just as much as the next guy. But I think in our rush to embrace some hazy idea of the future we’ve let something important slip away.

To me, it’s like the person barely staying on the road, going by my house, texting while they’re driving, mind somewhere else, driving a car they can’t afford, just to keep up appearances, taking their kid out to Woodstock for some high-priced extracurricular activity.

Meanwhile I’m just sitting there on my porch. Before that driver came roaring through I was listening to the birds, not a thought in my head. They start up again in a few minutes. 

Rod Selway’s column appears irregularly.