Thoughts while sitting at the Honda dealership, waiting for the Element.

When I wax euphoric about the new generation of small cameras I have one little wince somewhere in my brain that wonders, "Why didn't they set the market on fire 40 years ago?"
I'm sure I'll be blind-sided by some glitchy "gotcha." 

Taking your car in for routine maintenance puts you in touch with the rest of humanity.  At least the part of humanity that can own cars and get them repaired.  And it brings me out of my little compound in west Austin to mix and mingle with the other fine citizens in the waiting "lounge."  Most are well over 40 years old and are doing exactly what I'm doing.....reading stuff on their laptops and iPads or typing stuff on same.  Several very plump women get intermittent cellphone calls and their ring tones are annoyingly cloying.  They talk in sing-songy voices to whoever has called and make little to no effort to moderate the volume of their voices.  I am now listening to an older woman talk about her upcoming surgery and radiation therapy.  In the next breath she's explaining that she's having her oil changed.  But I think she means the oil in her car.

In one corner of the waiting area the dealership has mercifully glassed in a play area for small children.  I can only guess that it's a lab for infectious diseases.  Inside the play zone today are four children under the age of four and they are currently having a contest to see who can scream the loudest while slamming plastic toys against one of the glass walls.  One mother has abdicated all responsibility and is staring, empty and resigned, at the screen of her smartphone as if it will provide the equivalent of a Star Trek transporter and deliver her from the maelstrom.  The other mother rocks back and forth and occasionally tries to intercede in whatever "Animal Farm" contest of hierarchical ranking the savage children have devised.  People outside the glass shake their heads and look back at their screens.  I keep writing.

Once in a while a "service advisor" named Craig or Chip or Steve or Armando comes up and calls out a name.  Then it becomes a "luck lottery" for the designated customer.  Will it be the "all clear", your car is ready?  Or will it be the dreaded pronouncement, usually delivered bent over to show the documentation to the seated customer, "....we found a few things that you really need to take care of...."?

The room goes quiet for a few minutes and all you can hear is the tapping of keyboards and the labored breathing of the larger customers.  The silence is broken by the person from the dealership who asks, "Does anyone need a shuttle ride this morning?"  And then all hell breaks loose as the four, three year olds resume a chaotic, tag team, death match in the almost-but-not-quite soundproof child and parent detention zone.

When I arrived today my young service writer noticed the camera hanging over my shoulder (really? would you go anywhere without your camera?) and asked me what I do for a living.  In retrospect I might have said that I spend most my time ensconced in very quiet neighborhood, with my wife and studious son, far away from the sturm und drang of fluxing humanity, but I admitted to being a "photographer."  He asked if I had a website. (Really, do I look that old?) I showed him some work.  We talked about my camera. He seemed pleasant.  Maybe he won't find the dreaded "few things you need to take care of..."

I write this with a sense of re-engaged wonder.  I spend far too much time sitting in my office on my little plot of land.  It's only 600 square feet of white space but it's comfortable and when I look out the window from my desk all I can see is trees and lantana and, occasionally deer.  Tulip (my dog) keeps track of the perimeter, between naps at my feet.  The only time I interface with people (other than swimmers and family)  is when I willingly seek out friends or when I make appointments and venture out from my hide to talk to people about work and projects.  I go to the same coffee shops because I've found the ones where the customers are the most civilized (unusually silent) and the employees most civil.  I have been accused by my assistants of never wanting to leave my zip code.  But that's not true.  I like to get out.  But there's something about mixing with a general cross section of society that makes me uneasy.  Almost as if I've dodged some sort of bullet (or more likely a barrage) and I should be thankful.  Instead I'm always looking for the next contingent of snipers.

But I share the same feelings for the idea of having a conventional job.  To be constrained to be in the same place for x hours every day and to have to interface with people chosen at random by someone else seems to be an odd trade for the non-secured promise of security.  I am probably an anomaly.  Most people probably enjoy getting out there and mixing it up.  Why then do they look so joyous when the service advisor calls their name and they shuffle off toward the payment counter, anxious to gain the isolating freedom of their cars?

Yesterday I got a package in the mail from someone I never met.  I'd exchanged two e-mails but never so much as talked on the phone.  The package contained three proprietary circuit boards.  A terse note about angles and technical parameters was enclosed.  I photographed them.  I retouched them and then uploaded huge files to their FTP server.  This morning my invoice was settled with a Paypal deposit.

No driving.  No parking.  No meetings.  What a wonderful way to do business.  And it reinforces the idea that we evolved to spend hours alone, tracking and hunting our food.  We spent tens of millions of preparatory years to run for hours after our prey and then to drag it home to share with a select few.  Even in sales meetings today I hear the phrase, "You only get to eat what you kill."  But it's a false admonition because what they really mean is, "Show up and plow and we'll share a tiny bit of the harvest with you...."

So, I got off light today.  I knew I needed to have the fluids and filters replaced and I knew that I needed to have a leaky strut replaced but I feared the words, "brakes" and "transmission."  When the service writer knelt next to the table where I was writing (and eating up their kolaches and swilling their coffee) he looked serious.  He told me the only thing they'd found was that my wiper blades all needed to be replaced.  Another fusillade of bullets dodged.  Now back to the isolating freedom of my car.  Who were all those people?