Sunday, October 08, 2006

BUS STORY # 6, Part 4 (The Rest Of The Story)

Turns out Dan* has a daughter. She’s 11. They “do the father-daughter thing” on weekends. This past weekend it was a trip to the zoo. Dan’s worried she’ll want to go to the State Fair so she can see all the animals up close. “I told her she can look them up online. That’s what computers are for.” I’m pretty sure he’s being facetious. Not one hundred percent sure, just pretty sure. I’m greatly amused in either case.

She has a new dog. Somehow, the neighborhood kids have learned if they find a stray, they can bring it to Dan’s daughter’s house and her parents will take it in. Dan describes the screening process starting with the trip to the vet. They have six dogs now. His daughter has taken to the new one.

It’s been raining this summer and the dogs have been tracking in a lot of mud. So Dan bought some carpet remnants to lay down over the house carpet along the dogs’ pathway from the back door through the house. He measured the distance the dogs’ tracks started to fade out and bought and laid out accordingly.

She seems interested in animals, I observe, steering him back to his daughter. He tells me she wants to be a vet. So he and his wife have been showing her where to look online at veterinary college programs and at what her academic prerequisites would be. Getting into veterinary school is highly competitive, they’ve explained. She needs to know her stuff, and she needs to know what stuff she needs to know. Apparently, this has taken a lot of the fun out of thinking about being a vet when she grows up. She bets her dad’s parents didn’t make him go through all this when he was eleven. They didn’t have to, he tells her. He already knew what he wanted to be when he was five. He was on it by her age. Again, I’m not sure if I’m picking up on or just imagining facetiousness. Again, I’m greatly amused in either case.

It also turns out Dan does indeed have an appreciation of music. He was a double major in college: chemical engineering and classical guitar. His mother played violin in the Baltimore Symphony, and he grew up listening to classical music. He laughingly related how, when he was four or five, an older cousin remarked on the music coming out of the radio, “Hey, that’s the Lone Ranger theme song.” “No it isn’t,” Dan replied with the snottiness of a know-it-all five-year-old. “It’s Rossini’s William Tell Overture.”

Dan explained the “Golden Triad.” If someone has a mind for math, they probably have an active musical appreciation and play chess. This works with any of the three reference points you start with. Further, he’s observed the more theoretical branches of engineering prefer classical and jazz, the applied branches rock. “Which are you?” I asked. He laughed because we both knew the answer.

Last but not least: why the bus? Here’s the story: Dan’s been riding the bus since he was a student, and although they have a car and truck now, he’s “used to the bus.” Plus (no surprise) he’s “done the math.” He described how he calculated the mpg to work and back, then factored in the annual maintenance costs plus insurance (divided by the average number of daily round trips). He figures a workday drive costs him eight dollars and I don’t remember how many cents vs. two dollars for the bus. I can tell he’s not being facetious about the numbers. I’m still greatly amused, but I’m also impressed.

I said I’d been similarly driven by economics, but I also felt some need to do my part in reducing greenhouse emissions. He kind of smiled, the way a father might smile at something his eleven-year-old daughter might have said, a smile that was simultaneously amused by an eleven-year-old’s grasp of a complex issue but which didn’t want in any way to discourage either the process of gathering and analyzing data or the process of defining and choosing appropriate responses. In short, a smile that said this was good enough for an eleven-year-old. Which made me speculate that in Dan’s grasp of the issue, I was probably doing the equivalent of removing a teaspoon of water from a tsunami – never mind the new damage I was unwittingly and with the best of intentions inflicting on the planet in place of the old. But I couldn’t help concluding if enough of us kept repeatedly dipping into that tsunami with our teaspoons . . .


*Real name changed.


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