How quickly life paths diverge

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This past weekend I went to the grocery store with my college friend and current roommate Grokmoo. It was the same grocery store I used to go to with my parents every weekend over a decade ago when we lived in the area. I hadn’t been back since until this weekend, and it was exactly as I remembered it. It seems kind of silly to feel nostalgic about a grocery store, but there it was.

As I was idly walking through the fresh fruit aisle, pondering whether I wanted some apples, I happened to catch a glimpse across the store of a girl I knew from high school. It was one of those fleeting glances followed by instant recognition — I was sure it was her. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time in high school looking at her in French class (more on that later).

She didn’t appear to recognize me, so I just observed from afar. I don’t know if she even would’ve recognized me one year out of high school; high school is just full of asymmetric relationships where a few popular people are known by everyone, but not vice-versa. I was blanking on her name, so I didn’t think going up and saying hi would be a good idea (of course, I remembered her full name as soon I got home). As I kept on crossing paths with her in the grocery store, a realization slowly dawned on me — our life paths have diverged a lot since high school.

She was one of the popular girls in the school. I distinctly remember on one occasion when she won a school-wide give-away simply because she had some friends interning in the office and they managed to fix it for her. Oh, and she was very hot, though, sadly, she doesn’t look quite as good now. My friend remarked that she had “a really nice rack” (ladies, don’t attack the messenger). But I’d still say she peaked in high school.

I couldn’t help help staring at her in the supermarket because she was with a tough-looking African-American man a decade her senior and three young children. Judging by the way they interacted, I would say those were their kids. This was definitely the strangest part of seeing her. After high school, I went on to college then got a good job. I’m nowhere near settled down on anything in particular. But she must’ve gotten with this much older man right out of high school and immediately started having babies. Here she is, the same age as me — 23 — but the things she’s worrying about in life are completely different.

And she didn’t look happy; that’s what really left me feeling cold. If she at least seemed happy I would be able to get over it, but she didn’t. The only time I heard the man speak to her was when she was inadvertently backing into another customer, and he said, kind of gruffly, “Get out the way”. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge their whole life together from one minor incident at a grocery store, but I have nothing else to go on. She was being submissive and he was being rude, dismissive, and controlling, while the three kids just kind of played with each other a couple dozen feet away without getting in anyone’s way. I just wonder how it could have ended up this way; she was such a different person in high school, which must now feel like decades ago to her. I had a silly, fleeting thought that perhaps things could’ve ended up differently — but such thoughts are naught but fantasy.

I haven’t gone to a high school reunion yet, but doing so will likely be a huge shock. People my age, who I only knew as immature high schoolers, are going to be married with kids. That’s a shock. Neither I nor any of my close friends have even gotten anywhere close to anything like that, but expand the circle a bit, and there it is: real life staring me in the face.

Maybe I shouldn’t go to that supermarket anymore.

Getting nostalgic for stop signs

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Is anyone else getting nostalgic for stop signs? Oh, I’m not talking about the everyday stop sign, the kind that is unnecessarily put at any intersection between two small suburban streets. I’m talking about the real stop sign, the kind on an intersection between busy streets that actually requires that vehicles stop. At the stop signs I’m interested in, having multiple vehicles at the intersection at once isn’t a rarity, it’s the norm. These real stop signs used to be a lot more abundant in number, but they’ve been whittled away at over the years, being replaced with traffic lights.

Why am I nostalgic about stop signs, you might ask? Because they create actual human interaction on the road, which is so rare these days where nearly every real crossing is minded by mechanical masters. Following a colored signal on a box in the sky is a menial task an unskilled robot could do. But tracking every car in queue at an intersection and negotiating who has the right of way next — that requires human interaction. And it creates a feel-good feeling too, graciously letting others that arrived at the stop sign before you proceed ahead, then receiving that same courtesy in turn when it is your turn to go. Stop signs restore faith in humanity. And they even restore faith in human intelligence, as it’s especially nice when more sophisticated coordination occurs and more than two vehicles pass through the intersection simultaneously — for example, two cars in one set of opposite roads making rights and then two cars in the other set of opposite roads making lefts.

The best stop sign intersection I’m aware of is at the corner of Edgewood Rd. and Rhode Island Ave. in College Park, MD. Edgewood Rd. has a median down the center of it, and each of its faces onto the intersection is two vehicles across. This allows the negotiation of some nice simultaneous intersection crossings with more than four vehicles, the kind that are pretty much only handled by traffic lights anywhere else. The dance as as a long line of cars during rush hour make a nice, orderly crossing of the intersection is a sight to behold. And I’m going to cherish that intersection as much as possible, because inevitably the county is going to come through and put up a traffic light at some point, ruining all of the magic and taking just another tiny step toward removing all human interaction from our journeys on the road.