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Archive for June, 2008

Why I miss the bus

It’s summer now in Fairbanks. This is the season almost all of us love: the city turns green, and we feel like we’re living in a garden. The sun scarcely goes below the horizon, and we’re hit with a daylight-induced mania. We can garden, canoe, and comfortably spend time outdoors.

I’m a bicyclist. Though not yet hard-core enough to bike all year — it does get quite chilly here — I manage to ride for the warm half of the year, roughly mid-April to mid-October, and it makes me happy to get out in the sun and to use my body nearly every day.

But I’m not quite happy.

This morning, I looked at the side of my bed and saw the book I’m reading: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I tried once as a nine-year-old to read it; it seemed boring. So now I’m giving it another shot, and it seems much better. However, there doesn’t seem to be the time I want for it.

From wake-up to departure, I’m eating breakfast, reading the news, preparing my lunch, showering, and getting dressed. At my lunch hour, I’m usually too tired to read much; it’s easier to nap. From arrival at home to bedtime, I’m playing with my kids, eating dinner, washing dishes, and putting kids to bed (though sometimes I’m at meetings instead). By bedtime, I’m able to read, but not in quantity: usually, after a few minutes, the book falls out of my hand as my head lolls over to one side.

What I really miss is the time I spend on the bus during winter. Between work and home, it’s about a twenty-five minute trip either way — so, by taking the bus, I secure myself forty to fifty minutes of reading every day. Even with that, I often felt that my progress through books wasn’t speedy enough. But now? I’ll be working on The Hobbit for a month, maybe two. There’s a good chance that I’ll lose whatever pacing the book has and start to find it boring — just because I can’t read it fast enough.

I know, I know: it’s all about my choices.  To make more time for my reading, I could choose to skip the local newspaper, or spend less time with my wife and kids, or forego personal hygiene.  Obviously, I could give up biking and take the bus again, but — let me be plain — when you face a lengthy, forbidding winter like ours, you’d have to be a complete jackass not to spend as much time as outside, during our beautiful summer months, as possible.

I’m not looking for something to scrape out of my schedule to make time for reading.  What I really want to convey is this:

  • One major advantage of riding the bus — that is, aside from the money you can save on car payments, gasoline, parking, repairs, tire changes, and the inevitable tickets — is that it gives you time to read. Not audiobook “reading”, but the kind that demands your imagination, allows easy re-reading, and invites contemplation.  If you are already spending half an hour twice a day to warm up your car, scrape your windows, drive, and park, then consider taking that hour back as a time when you can read just for yourself.

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Why do we hate teenagers so much? What made them an acceptable target for disenfranchisement?

On one of my professional e-mail lists, somebody brought up a problem with teenage skateboarders: they love to use the covered walkway in front of a facility frequented by senior citizens with visual and mobility challenges. Too often (I presume) they’re not paying close attention their surroundings, so they create a safety hazard to others who would walk there.

Somebody in the discussion mentioned the “Classic 7-11 or mini-mart approach”: pipe classical music or adult “easy listening” music along the walkway. Apparently it drives young people batty, so they leave. The writer called it “worth a try.”

CNN recently reported on a device called “The Mosquito” (sold in North America under the name “Kids Be Gone”) that is “designed to drive away loiterers with a shrill, piercing noise audible only to teens and young adults”. Some municipalities have banned them, but others seem to have embraced them outside of stores or movie theaters as a way to drive away crowds of skateboarders and other loiterers.

The blog Architectures of Control (via Boing Boing) reports that Councillors in Sutton, Surrey (England) are preparing to redesign a public stairway specifically to make it difficult for young people to sit there. The original article reports:

Not only will the steps be made longer and more shallow to make them uncomfortable to sit on, but no handrail will be installed just in case teens decide to lean against it….

Explaining the need for the changes, St Helier Councillor David Callaghan said: “At the moment the steps are like ready-made seats so changes will be made to make the area less attractive to young people.

One thing these places — the ones we would forbid to teenagers — have in common is that they are places where lots of people, and not just young people, spend time. It seems that young people actually want to spend time in places full of adults! I’ve previously quoted sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who wrote about the time a relative

complained that the youth of the community were a “bunch of ingrates.” They did not appreciate the special hangout that had recently been constructed for them.

After listing to his lament, I asked him two questions: Was the place right smack in the center of town – right in the middle of things? And, “Do the adults go there, too?” The answer in both instances was no. The place was “especially” for the youngsters and nobody wanted such a place right in the middle of town. As in so many cases nowadays involving both the very old and the young, the desire is to sent them aside.

Time and again, we read that what teenagers really need and want — often by their own admission — is for adults to pay attention to them and to set limits on their behavior. Do you hear this, adults? Teenagers, even if they seem like mouthy, disrespectful little monsters to you, actually seek your company and want you to guide them into acceptable behavior!

Indeed, we have to wonder: if young people are constantly barred (either through subtle, psychological means or more overtly) from adult places, how can we expect them ever to learn adult behavioral norms?

If their behavior in public seems horrid (and, as a former public librarian, I’ll say it sometimes does), then it seems to me that they need, not fewer places to bother adults, but more. Not actually to bother adults, of course, but they need more adult-filled places offering worthwhile activity — or just quality loitering. Such places should be cheap, since young people may not have the money for fine dining. They should be not only safe, but comfortable. And they should be ubiquitous, or at least easily accessible.

Young people need ways to be meaningfully incorporated into our lives. What do we, as a society, have to offer them?

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