This past summer, the travel gods conspired so that I was driving to our Adirondacks house with 4 boys, and no adults. Our annual trip to the Adirondacks with the Jorgensens had taken an interesting detour. Usually we are a caravan, 2 vehicles packed to the brim with 9 people, 3 dogs and the trappings of summer vacation. This past year I had a 6 hour ride ahead of me and no navigator as all the boys- Brian, Charlie, Dane and Holt-chose to sit in the rear of our SUV. Nobody wanted to ride with the old man up front. I had the FM airwaves to myself and other than that, complete silence as the boys were streaming Youtube videos, perusing Instagram, or watching DVD’s on their laptops…each in their own electronic cocoon.
Considering it’s the better part of six hours, I actually like the ride. For the first hour you’re getting rural, quickly, winding north up Connecticut’s Route 8. Then, a short jaunt west on Route 20 to the Mass Pike and eventually you’re on Interstate 87 North around Albany. The terrain gets more and more mountainous as you head north past Saratoga and Lake George. Finally, exit the Northway at Exit 30 and traverse west on Route 73 through the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. The trip is varied enough, and so picturesque, that it’s not mind numbing. Actually, the opposite happens, you find yourself, thinking.
Somewhere around Schenectady, “Daniel” by Elton John comes on the radio and I’m singing along, “And I can see Daniel waving good-bye, God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes…” A melancholy feel overcomes me as scenes of long ago summers flutter through my brain. I’m picturing a transistor radio tuned to WABC, AM, providing the soundtrack to our childhood: stickball with my buddies on East 4th Street, Bomb Pops from Morris our ice cream man, games of tag around the pool at Twin Willows Cabins on our family vacations to the Poconos. Oh those budding adolescent boys looking longingly at the Billard sisters, Lisa and Lynn, as they sun themselves on the concrete structure, painted swimming-pool blue, that houses the pool’s machinery.
I look over my right shoulder to Brian, he’s right behind the passenger seat, “THIS SONG CAME OUT WHEN I WAS ABOUT YOUR AGE.” Brian, startled, removes his ear buds and humors me for a few minutes before heading back into his electronics. Back on my own I’m thinking…Most people of my generation would have a similar response to Elton John’s, “Daniel.” The guys and gals from my neighborhood, some who had the actual 45 (that’s a record for you youngsters), would have similar memories connected to the songs from the 70’s and 80’s. There are so many songs that I could play, Motown tunes like Diana Ross’s “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” or AM Pop one-hit wonders like Pilot with “Magic” that would elicit a wealth of similar memories for all of us. If I were to play Thin Lizzy’s, “The Boys are Back in Town” I can predict, with pretty good accuracy, the flashback images of my friends. We’d have a great conversation about hanging out on Brooklyn street corners, tossing the football or Frisbee around, busting each other’s chops, growing up fast…
Continuing past Lake George on my right, my thoughts meander to a recent rainy day; an unseasonably cold June day, more November than approaching summer, the perfect day for a movie. I lobbied my kids and my wife throughout the day for a family movie. It was like trying to catch night crawlers with a spoon. My three boys were playing X-Box, streaming Youtube videos and my wife was binge-watching episodes of, “Orange is the New Black.” Nobody was interested in watching a movie together. I’m not usually the type to bemoan the loss of the old days, well maybe I am sometimes, but I do see that progress is usually a good thing. I can’t help in this instance, as we have moved away from ABC, NBC and CBS towards hundreds of channels and customized programming, but think that as we’ve gained choices we’re losing quite a bit as a family and as a society.
Human beings need to connect to each other. It makes us feel less alone, we find comfort in our commonalities . Meeting someone new, we always look for connections. Don’t we always play the name game when you meet someone new?
“Oh, you’re from, Huntington, you might know my buddy, Ira Goldstein? “
“I see you went to Indiana, maybe you know…”
“My whole family read the Percy Jackson series, did you guys read it?”
And the possibilities for finding common ground are decreasing. Today we are all secluded, zombie-like, just like Ray Bradbury warned us…we are disconnecting from the rest of the world and this isn’t a good thing. So many of the posts we see on Facebook, in all of these, "I Grew Up in___________ in the 60's, 70's..." mention the feeling of community we had in our neighborhoods, in our towns, on our blocks...and we miss it and I think we need it back.
People of a certain age all know who The Fonz is, we recognize his signature phrase, “Ayyyy” and the thumbs-up. “Bang Zoom to the Moon” we all know is Ralph talking to Alice Kramden. Say things like, “NORM!” or “Yadda Yadda Yadda” and we will all know your reference. In a sense, we speak the same language, there’s a lexicon for people who grew up in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s…Future generations won’t have this, our limitless choices are taking care of that.
The best example of this was Roots. We all remember the mini-series about slavery and America’s history that captivated the entire country. It was on 6 or 7 nights in a row and it felt like EVERYONE was watching it. We talked about it at school, around the dinner table, at the office, on our stoops. Kunta Kinte was everywhere. Current generations are living in their Ipod world, streaming their individual soundtracks and customizing their own viewing experiences. Everyone is watching, something else. That Roots phenomenon will never happen again. Sure it felt like a lot of us were watching Breaking Bad, The Wire and Mad Men…but in comparison, the percentage of the population was not even close.
Think about any recent conversation you’ve had with someone about TV shows. Was it a meandering conversation about a bunch of shows that you loved and a bunch of shows that they loved but you had few in common?
“I’m watching, ‘Shameless’ have you seen that? It’s great.”
“No, but I’ve heard good things. You know what I’m watching? I’m watching ‘Homeland.’ Have you seen “Homeland?”
“No, but you know what I did really love?”
More than likely you came away with recommendations for new shows to watch and not much of a connection. Satellite TV is giving us hundreds choices but it’s secluding us.
And it's happening in our fan affiliations too. In our neighborhood, everybody rooted for the local teams. You were a Met or a Yankee fan. In hoops, mostly Knicks. Hockey? Rangers or Islanders. Of course there were a few outliers but I can tell you, to this day, what teams my boyhood friends rooted for. As a matter of fact, whenever we catch up, that’s always a topic of conversation. One of the first things you’ll hear is, “Mets look good.”
“Yeh, if the pitching holds up.” When I talk to my sons today, their friends will just as easily be Portland Trail Blazer or St. Louis Cardinals fans. It’s all so individualistic; when these guys catch up in 10 or 20 years it’ll be, “So you still a Trailblazers fan?” “Yes.” Zzzzz… When I catch up with Ronny Lopez, who was a huge Islander fan like me, we talk about games at the Nassau Coliseum, we talk about the four Stanley Cups, about Trottier, Bossy, Gillies…We talk about how the team looks today. With other friends we’ll talk about the Mets of today and the ’86 Mets, and the ticker tape parade, about Lenny Dykstra and Dwight Gooden…
And if this piece is about electronic cocoons, I have to mention video games. It’s such an isolative activity. Besides the fact that most games are ultra-violent, they keep kids indoors, not socializing, not getting fresh air, there’s something very wrong with this. Kids are happiest when they are outside, running around, together. Sure you can say some of the recent games kids play together but it's just not the same thing. Not too long ago, I took a long bike ride with a couple of old friends from the neighborhood. We actually went from our old neighborhood in Brooklyn, out to Breezy Point and back, rolling through Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Midwood, Gravesend, Marine Park, Flatbush and back again. It was the perfect warm fall day, and in that 4 hour ride it was eerie, we didn’t see one touch football game, not one stickball game, no kids playing punch ball, nobody jumping rope. It was nothing like the Brooklyn we grew up in. This can’t be good. I can’t help but think that if Adam Lanza just got outside more, socialized more, people would have known him, maybe he would have had a few friends? Maybe he would have been happier? Or someone would have noticed he was in danger and gotten him the help he needed? Instead he was sequestered in his basement, with hefty bags covering the windows, playing Grand Theft Auto. In his, it turned out, very dangerous electronic dungeon.
Maybe, if we were finding it easier to connect these days, we wouldn’t be so polarized, politically? Maybe it would be easier for us to find common ground if we already had quite a bit? Instead of antagonizing and labeling maybe we would start with the realization that we have a lot more in common than we think? And starting from those commonalities, maybe polite discourse and compromise would be a possibility?
Now I don’t know what the answer is, it’s just something I noticed and I thought maybe other people have noticed it too? I know we are not going to go “backward” but are there better ways for us to continue to connect to each other?