Weekly Rochester Events #376: Hobson's Choice Expired
Thursday, March 23, 2006
I'm not sure what's up with it, but RIT (One Lomb Memorial Dr., campus map) is finally giving The University of Rochester (Elmwood Ave. at Intercampus Dr., details on River Campus Map) a run for its money in so much as lecturers are concerned. RIT has five lectures and discussions (there's actually a couple more) — four of them on Friday alone. What gives? I might actually go there to check something out.
Anyway, on Wednesday I stopped by the The Memorial Art Gallery (500 University Ave., near Goodman St.) to see about grants from ARTWalk (University Ave. at Atlantic Ave.) to make new artistic bus shelters on University Avenue. A woman from The Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA) (1372 E. Main St.) was there to answer questions about the shelters themselves [I thought her name was Dawn S. but I could find no such person on the RGRTA webiste, and it was Doug Rice who introduced her and if you've ever heard Doug speak, it's unlikely I didn't hear him correctly]. Anyway, the funny part was that she said that at RGRTA, "customer servce is our biggest focus." I mean, come on: this is the state-sponsored public transportation monopoly where trip-time compares somewhere between walking and bicycling.
Here's a not-so-absurd route: from my house (45 Whiteford Rd.) to O'Bagelo's (165 State St.) If I plug it into Google Maps, I get a distance of 3.2 miles which would take about 50 minutes if walking briskly at 4 miles an hour. If I plug the same course into RGRTA's Trip Planning Page the shortest trip is 20 minutes with an additional quarter-mile walk for a total of about 24 minutes. If you trolled along on a bike at 10 miles an hour, it would only take 19 minutes, handily beating the bus.
I guess they think these "customers" they are "serving" are the people who'll bask in the glow of their Renaissance Square project. I mean, does anybody think the members of RGRTA board of commissioners ever ride the bus?
But I digress.
The rest of the meeting was fairly informative but I wasn't entirely satisfied on the answers to the questions. The impression I got was to include contingencies in your grant application: for instance, include the costs associated with pouring your own foundation with the option to skip it if it isn't necessary.
Anyway, on Thursday evening I finally got a chance to go visit the Extreme Materials exhibition at The Memorial Art Gallery (500 University Ave., near Goodman St.) All the art was quite good, especially when the medium was an integral part of the message. For instance, the presidential "commemorative" plates with images made by masking naturally-deposited smog were quite clever.
After that I went to the auditorium to listen to Larry Fuente discuss his contribution: the "Mad Cad," a bedecked 1960 Cadillac Sedan de Ville and somewhat of a centerpiece in the show. The vehicle and all its accoutrements is indeed a sight to behold (and, for some unexplained reason, the interior smelled vaguely like a cleaned hotel room.) Anyway, Larry discussed his history and gave a slideshow of his clever, pun-filled artwork made mostly from found materials (especially early on when he was very poor and would dig things from a beach near his home that was previously a dump.) At one point he quipped that the show should have been called "Mundane Materials" because it's not the materials that are extreme, just their use; I had thought the same thing but I'll just give him credit because he said it in public first. [Darn.]
Friday morning I went out for a walk like I sometimes do. I was crossing the street and a car came around the corner pretty hard, just sneaking past me in the crosswalk. I was pretty close so I reached out and smacked the side window hard to let the guy know he was too damn close. He apparently got pretty upset about it and came back to argue.
Initially I said he almost ran me down so I hit the car to let him know he was too close. He said that I was hurrying across the street and should have just stopped, claiming that he honked the horn to let me know he was there (I remember it that he honked after he was out of the intersection, after I hit the car [and I wonder who's right and whose memory adapted to protect their self-righteousness].) I could have continued — it's state law to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk — but instead I just apologized and suggested that "we all be more careful."
In the last few months, two phrases have been floating around in my mind and this little vignette cemented them both; they are: "choose your battles" and "let him who is without sin cast the first stone" (which is a paraphrase of John 8:7 from the Bible). The thing that has been bugging me is that these proverbs can be interpreted several ways.
In "choose your battles," I think most people interpret that to mean, "you have limited resources, so you can't fight every battle." I have come to interpret it as, "base your decision of when to fight and when to compromise on how the outcome of each will improve your position overall." Like with that guy: I could have continued to fight — based on the popular interpretation, I should have for I had the resources to continue to argue. I decided to apologize instead because it was more important to me to be respected and recognized as a human being — one whose legs would snap like twigs against the forces of a speeding car — and I thought that by doing so, I could accomplish that goal. My only regret is that I didn't go further to really convey that idea to him.
In "let him who is without sin cast the first stone," I think most people interpret this, "remember that you also [Biblically] sin," or worse, "never [Biblically] sin (or admit to it if you do) and stock up on stones." I think of it in another sense: "everyone makes mistakes, so it is best to forgive than to punish for we'll all be [Biblically] judged in the end." I don't really believe in the concept of being judged by an all-powerful God (a conscious entity that can communicate like man) but that's another topic entirely. The way I see it, if one person judges another's behavoir, they really have no right to enact punishment.
Now, I know this is a huge can of worms — condemning vengeance in the American justice system — but consider:
To get back to the guy in the car, some of the alternatives involving casting stones would be battles that would be better left un-fought. I could have called the cops and had the guy arrested, ticketed, or at least scolded — but what would that accomplish? Maybe to antagonize him further against pedestrians? What if I just shot him right there? I mean, that would be one less reckless driver on the road, right? Or maybe I just back down, realize that lots of people are in a hurry and everybody has poor judgement once in a while.
But speaking of Biblically sinning [no, not that Biblical sin] ... on Friday I went to a friend's house for a spectacularly delicious meal of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and booze — of which I shamelessly consumed each in approximately equal volumes. Maybe more booze than anything else. But this led me to give the whole "quitting drinking" thing another whirl for that eloquently non-specific "for a while." Not that I intend to entirely quit drinking, just "for a while."
After spending Saturday recovering, I went to Mex (295 Alexander St.) on Sunday to volunteer as an extra in Matt Ehlers's new film, Smoking Laws which is about the unique social structures that exist among smokers as they venture outside in the cold. Myself and the dozen or so other people there represented bar patrons in one scene and restaurant patrons in another. It was quite a bit of fun. I guess he's looking for more people on-and-off based on the schedule on the website.
On Tuesday I made it out to a couple things. First, I went to George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see a couple Louis Malle documentaries at the Dryden Theatre. First up was his short film about the strength, stress, and pain of riding in the Tour de France in Vive le tour. It's remarkably well-shot and unless you follow the trends in bicycle technology, it seems surprising that it was made in 1962, based on footage filmed several years prior. Next was Humain, trop humain (Human, Too Human) from 1974. According to the woman who introduced the film, Malle apparently wanted to have the audience feel as though they worked a full shift in the factory ... I'd say he succeeded. It was arduous just to watch these people repeat the same task over and over again. Having done that kind of work (rarely, because I really can't stand it) it's more a matter of balancing how far you zone out: the goal is to pay just enough attention to not screw up, but otherwise be lost in thought somewhere else. The faces of the workers were certainly not joy-filled, but by showing no emotion at all, you couldn't discern whether they were absent, unhappy, or both. Regardless, work like that is completely dehumanizing any way you slice it.
A few days ago I noticed that the contents of my pockets, when emptied into the basket on the nightstand, seemed to be missing something but I just couldn't figure out what. The missing item was revealed to me when I stopped to see some bands at The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.): earplugs. I ended up substituting balled-up napkins but (by my estimate) they only offer around 6 decibels reduction versus 29 dB from the foam ones I have. I couldn't lean against the speakers as I usually do and had to stand pretty far back.
First up was A Wonderful who are a down-tempo, percussion-rich rock band with bass, guitar, keyboards, a drum kit, and a fill-in, freeform drumer. I only had a chance to see their last few songs, but what I heard I generally liked. Shapes and Sizes had their own unique flavor of ordered chaos ... I rather liked it, but I preferred it when they drifted toward more coherent power-pop. "Goldenhead" was one of those songs, and its melody/chorus transition reminded me quite a bit of Bishop Allen's "Empire City." That is, assuming my recollection of what "Goldenhead" sounded like is correct (since I couldn't find a sample on the Internet.)
Oh, and my reason for showing up in the first place was easily fulfilled: the women in Shapes and Sizes are really cute, even if they are way too young for a creepy old guy like me.
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On this day ... March 23
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About the title ... According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (1992, Houghton Mifflin; 1994, INSO Corporation) Thomas Hobson (who died 376 years ago in 1630) offered a choice to his customers at his livery stable: "take either the horse nearest the stable door or none." A "Hobson's choice" is one that only appears to offer alternatives.
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