Thursday, May 31, 2007

a sampling of pics

As you know, Blogger and I don't get along when it comes to posting pictures, so I won't get too creative here. Just mouse over the picture for a short description.

Toward the beginning of the South Kaibab Trail.
Further down the SKT.
Still further down the SKT.
The wind tunnel bridge.
Our home for two nights at Bright Angel Campground.
North Kaibab Trail.
Ribbon Falls from afar.
From behind the falls.
The sign. Trust me, it really is possible to get from behind the falls to here via the 'path' shown.
A hungry guest stops by our campsite for breakfast.
On the Bright Angel Trail bridge.  (It's downriver of the South Kaibab Trail one.)
Just across the bridge and about to start up the BAT.
Note how steep the BAT was during the first day up.  It got worse as we climbed higher.
The waterfalls just off the BAT, a short hike down from Indian Garden Campground.
HELP!!  Wait...this rocks!
The overlook near the waterfalls, perhaps my favorite picture from the trip.
Plateau Point.  Per my guidebook the drop here should be over 1,000 feet.  This was a rather scary picture to get.
The obligatory Plateau Point picture -- can't hike the Grand Canyon without getting one of these.
Near the first rest stop on the second day up the BAT, three miles from the rim.
Near the top of the BAT.
Proof that, though beyond exhausted at this point, we actually made it to the trailhead.
I may be the only one who thinks this is cool, but hey, it's my blog.
The weird igneous landscape of the Sunset Crater Volcano area.
On the trails at Sedona!
Red Rock Country, as seen from a point reachable only from the air or by ATV.
These pictures don't even remotely do justice to the awesomeness of the area out there. There's too much detail like depth and surrounding views missing. But I guess to get the real effect you just have to be there. This was my third trip out to that Arizona-Utah-Nevada area, and it hasn't started getting old yet. I don't see how it could. Though I also love international travel and being in different cultures and such, I agree with a co-worker in that we don't need to leave the country to see truly amazing parts of the world.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

blogger sucks so much

I've just wasted two hours of my life, which I could have spent on one of about 13,523 more pressing tasks these days, trying to force the ungodly clunky Blogger to accept my pictures with some reasonable text formatting. But alas, it's just not going to happen. It's unbelievable how crapped up this system is. Every single time I've ever tried to load pictures this has happened. That's one reason I try to avoid loading them or couch only one into text such that the obvious formatting errors aren't as noticeable. Those useless geeks at Google need to be lined up and shot or something. They'd be about as much use to the blogging world then as they are now. $&%#!!!

I'm unspeakably pissed right now that I've set my blog up on such a terrible host site. I'm sure there are better ones out there. If I had unlimited time to work with I'd find something better, but as it is I'm cornered on a worthless site with not enough time or give-a-damn to mess with moving to another one.

Monday, May 28, 2007

grand canyon trip report one piece. Needless to say, the trip was great. A bit more expensive than I estimated but well worth it all. There are already talks of a return trip out there next year, and if all goes well it will be an annual fixture on Jesse's vacation calendar for years to come. There are so many trails out there that one could spend months hiking and never see all the canyon has to offer. But anyway, on to the trip report. I can't think of a better way to do it so I'll go day by day.

I should insert a disclaimer here that this is for whoever is interested but mainly for me to record observations and refer back to on future trips and recount how cool this one was. There's a lot here that may or may not make sense or hold your interest. So read as much or as little as you like. Enjoy!


Flew from BWI to PHX without any trouble. Picking up the rental car was painful, though, as the line for Fox was insane. That took about an hour. Yeah, ouch. But we still made it up to Flagstaff by early afternoon and picked up some gear. Thankfully there are some great stores downtown there so that didn't take too long. We then headed to our hotel [1] in Williams and spent the night there after eating at a hole-in-the-wall local steak place that ended up being pretty good. I should also mention that we packed our backpacks and tried them on, at which point I realized mine was much heavier than I expected. This should have caused me to remove more items from my pack than I did, but it didn't. Moving on...


The first Grand Canyon day. And it was a hard one. After getting up stupid early (4 or so) and loading up, we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in the middle of a downpour. Needless to say, this concerned us slightly. As hard as walking downhill [2] with lots of weight for seven miles would have been, doing so on a muddy trail during a rainstorm would have been even harder. But thankfully the rain abated shortly after we arrived and didn't return for the rest of the trip. So we took some pictures from the rim before catching the bus to the trailhead. (By this time my back was already sore from carrying my pack and I had done only 0.0 of the 7.0 miles of hiking slated for the day, so I knew I was in for a rougher time than planned for.) I had intended to be on the trail at 6 am but it was 7:45 [3] before we finally set out.

The hike in was slow and very tough, not so much at first but increasingly so as the miles ticked off and we dropped in elevation. We took a lot of breaks, both to take in the views and due to exhaustion. The temperature change was drastic, as we started off in pants and jackets and were dying in shorts and shirts by the bottom. Overall it was a good time and the trail offered a lot of amazing views (especially with the fog effect at higher elevations), but I can't say I enjoyed the last couple of miles much. By then the hiking had become painful, with my back and everything from my thighs down seemingly about to give out on any step, and I was getting frustrated with having to expend huge amounts of precious energy stepping over mule crap and mud puddles and large rocks and all the other obstacles that wouldn't leave me alone. And the unbelievably strong wind blowing across the Colorado River suspension bridge didn't add to my happiness. (That's seriously the strongest wind I've ever walked through; it's easy to see why the chain-link fence on the sides is reinforced to near head level. Chances of escape from the bitter cold and fast-moving Colorado from there would likely be nil. I was just glad to get across having been able to hold my glasses onto my face for the entire 40 yards or so.) That was kinda cool though, as the wind is only above the river and stepping off the bridge is like stepping out of a wind tunnel -- pretty neat natural effect.

We finally arrived at Bright Angel Campground shortly before 2 pm, having averaged just over 1 mph on the trail, and took our choice of the remaining sites. There were already a lot of folks there but thankfully we were able to find a site with enough room that wasn't too rocky. Setting up camp wasn't the greatest experience. The wind was blowing way too strong by then. Ever tried to set up a tent in a windstorm? Tons of fun. And the critters aren't shy at all about going after food (which they could smell through 12 feet of concrete I think), which was fun at first but quickly grew annoying. But through all that we finally managed to get our site in order.

Having been running on empty for too long already, we didn't attempt to do any more that afternoon. I found a good knee-deep place to lay down in the creek next to the campground, which provided an extremely cold but refreshing bath of sorts -- or the closest I was going to get in the middle of the Grand Canyon short of heading to the Colorado and drowning. After putting down some freeze-dried dinner and a can of soup, we hit the sack early. By the way, those 19-oz cans of soup were like lead weights at that point. There was no way in hell we were hauling those things out of there full. We'd have sooner flushed the contents down the toilet. Note to self to remove full cans of soup from the list of acceptable foods to bring on a strenuous backpacking trip.

Overall, a good but tiring day. We ended up asleep before it was actually dark, which was typical of hikers there since early-morning hiking meant less hiking in the sweltering midday heat of the canyon floor. Thankfully it never got above the mid-90s while we were there, but per a ranger we talked to the normal high in early summer is 105-110. [4]


This day was perhaps the best of the trip. After a late start (about 9 am) we headed up the North Kaibab Trail in pursuit of Ribbon Falls. I had actually intended to hike on the Clear Creek Trail because it skirted the side of the inner canyon over the Colorado and a friend said it has some terrifying heights and ledges, but the ranger we talked to on the South Kaibab Trail convinced us that Ribbon Falls was a better bet. The views along the North Kaibab Trail weren't as impressive as what we saw the previous day but they were still worth several stops to take in. And the trail was relatively flat, following the Clear Creek bed through a side canyon and climbing only slightly over the ~7 miles to the falls. It sure was nice to carry a small day pack on a gentle trail after the beatdown we took getting in.

Ribbon Falls was well worth the hike. The biggest waterfall wasn't incredibly tall, maybe a couple hundred feet or so, but the views were cool and there was a great mini-cave to climb in behind the falls for good pics. It was easy to climb around on the rocks behind the falls and on one side. Getting around the other side was a different story, though, as the barely-passable ledge that led around that side was 60-80 feet up and sloped downward toward the drop for most of the way. The "walk" was short but seemed much longer while we were inching our way around, and when we got past the perilous stuff we were able to read the "DANGEROUS, GO NO FARTHER" sign that faced the opposite direction. But there was no such sign at on the waterfall end so we weren't warned and thus didn't break any rules. No harm, no foul.

Coming back was relatively uneventful -- as much as a hike in the Grand Canyon can be -- save a couple instances. At one point my camera took a bath for a few seconds in the creek. But I quickly got the batteries and memory card out and let it dry out, and it miraculously still worked some hours later like nothing happened. I've dissed that camera many times before and I'm not super impressed with its (in)ability to handle lots of contrast -- a major bummer considering the wide range of light usually present in outdoor shots -- but nobody can say it isn't well made. Any piece of electronics that isn't made to be waterproof but gets totally submerged in creek water long enough to get soaked inside and out, and lives to tell the tale, is built to last.

Also, a rather big rock fell on me during the hike. That kinda sucked and caused some pain for a while, but I was just glad I didn't suffer more damage than I did. I think Mark got a picture of it -- my camera was still drying out -- so I'll try to include that in a future post.

Upon getting back to camp we polished off the remaining cans of soup and then went to the ranger show. It was about bats and was actually quite interesting. The ranger really knew her bat stuff too, but I guess that's no surprise considering the NPS probably puts its all-stars at the most popular parks. We then passed on our final chance to visit the Phantom Ranch canteen and gift shop, having decided that nothing in there could be worth the extra weight it'd add to the upcoming exit hike, and hit the sack.


This hike was a tough one but not as bad as the one coming in. The soreness in my joints quickly returned, but thankfully it wasn't enough to do much more than slow me down and make me walk funny. Our chosen exit path, the Bright Angel Trail, followed the Colorado for a bit, becoming increasingly annoying as it rose and fell way too much for what should have been a flat hike, and then got steep fast as soon as it started up a side canyon. This of course provided some great views and plenty of switchbacks. Overall we averaged just over a mile an hour getting to the campground, similar to our entry pace.

After stumbling, half-dead, into Indian Garden Campground, choosing a campsite, unpacking, realizing the guys next to us snored loud enough to keep us awake later in the evening, finding a better site that was removed from the others, repacking, moving our gear to the other site, carrying my already-pitched tent to the other site, and unloading, we changed and headed back down the trail to an awesome swimming hole we saw on the way up. We did get to see some helicopter action at the campground, which was a nice if noisy perk. Overall this campground was better than Bright Angel, with larger sites, more shade trees (though there were none at our site), and more space between sites.

The swimming hole was actually a series of small waterfalls, none more than a few feet high, making their way down some rocks and forming pools at each level. It was almost hidden from the trail itself, but the noise of running water gave it away and some scrambling down some rocks got us there without too much trouble. (We actually cheated because we noticed others down there and chose to investigate.) They were shallow but quite cool to play around in, especially after a few hours of tough hiking. And there was a great overlook slightly off the trail nearby that seemed strangely unnoticed and ignored by most hikers. It was probably the best overlook in the canyon though, both for views and for the quality of drop down to the next level several hundred feet below. That whole site is so awesome I'm surprised the NPS hasn't set up some kind of resting point there to draw attention to it. Maybe they think scrambling down the rocks is too dangerous and would rather folks didn't try it. Oh well, better for those of us who go down there. And it's only a mile or so down the trail from Indian Garden Campground.

After getting back to camp and chowing down a huge meal, we managed to join the throng out at Plateau Point (1.5 mi from the campground on a flat trail) for the sunset. Apparently this is a Grand Canyon tradition for backcountry campers. The campground pretty much emptied out during the evening and there were probably 25-30 folks hanging out at the point. It was easy to see why it was a designated observation point, with the great panoramic views and breathtaking drops, in some cases all the way to the Colorado River almost directly below. (By this point we had hiked well over a thousand feet up from the canyon floor.) We stayed a bit longer than the others, figuring we'd sit out there and stargaze for a while. But the stars took longer than expected to start coming out and we decided to hike back while we had moonlight and pleasant temperatures to work with. Cloud cover and rapidly dropping temperatures would have made for an adventurous hike back to camp, or an exciting plunge, or a cold night on cold rocks, or whatever would have awaited us.


Our last backcountry hike of the trip. It was rough, given that the trail got steeper as we neared the South Rim, but there were rest stops -- i.e., toilets and running water -- set up that broke the 4.6-mile trip into 1.5-mile increments and made the trip seem shorter than it was. (The 12-mile round trip from the rim to Plateau Point and back is a popular one for day hikers, so there are plenty of rest stops set up to provide relief to those who dare not brave the canyon for more than one day at a time.) This trail was very busy, not only with people but with annoying mule trains that left "obstacles" behind and stirred up clouds of dust that choked anyone trying to hike. The NPS should not allow mules to abuse the most popular hiking trails, but I'll get to that later.

After finally hobbling up the last leg of the trail and getting the obligatory picture of us standing next to the trailhead sign looking like we just walked 600 miles, we trekked back to the car -- a half-mile on flat pavement is cake when you've just spent the past 3.5 days on much tougher terrain -- and plunked down huge sums of money in the gift shop and, of course, the adjoining restaurant. It was a la carte style, so I inhaled some meat lasagna, garlic toast, grilled cheese, cake, and lemonade in about 14 seconds. But that was long enough to tell it was one of the best meals I've ever partaken of.

We decided to scrap the plans to drive close to eight hours round trip and drop $75 for 15 minutes in a glass tube overlooking what we just experienced first-hand and instead headed east and then south toward Flagstaff. We stopped briefly at Sunset Crater National Monument, which was awesome if only for the flat sidewalk trails of less than a mile apiece. We then headed to Flagstaff, checked in, avoided further walking by driving a block to the Cracker Barrel, and packed it in.

As a side note, Flagstaff is a great place. A good hotel-restaurant district next to I-40, small enough that nothing in town is too inconvenient to get to, lots of nearby cool stuff like Humphreys Peak and Sunset Crater Volcano, reasonably close to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Phoenix, etc., high enough elevation to see seasonal weather, home to a university (Northern Arizona), and on and on. It reminds me of Fayetteville in a lot of ways, before Fayetteville started outgrowing its best features. If I ever decide to move somewhere to be closer to the stuff I like to do, Flagstaff will be very high on my short list. Actually, it already is. But there is a lot of construction there so I'm probably already late to the party there too.


This was an open day and we woke up with no set plans. We decided to head south to Sedona to see what we could get into there. The drive down the side of a canyon to get there was cool, much like the old "pig trail" but with far better views, but Sedona itself was far more crowded than it was the first time I was there. It was mostly old people too, which meant slower walkers and the random person absentmindedly almost wandering into a busy crosswalk every now and then. It didn't take us long to realize we needed to stay in Red Rock Country and avoid the city itself at all costs.

Mark suggested we rent ATV's, a thought that never would have occurred to me otherwise. I agreed and we threw down a hefty $133 for four hours of ride time. But that was great. Not only was it the first time I'd ridden one in 12-14 years or so, but the trails -- if they can be labeled as such -- were very rough and the machines are street legal in Arizona. Riding a four-wheeler at 40 mph in traffic was a new experience and a good one that made me at least ponder the idea of getting a motorcycle. The trails beat me up pretty good just due to all the bouncing, but we did get to one great overlook spot of an area I hadn't seen any of last time. And I only managed to get stuck once and I wrecked zero times, one less than Mark.

As another side note, Sedona is another cool place but not one I'm convinced I'd want to live in. The residents seem friendly enough [5] but it sure was crowded on a holiday weekend and it has this element of weirdness to it, like some kind of new age spiritual renewal thing. There are a lot of those places around and that seems to be a sizeable chunk of the local tourism industry. It's probably a lot like Eureka Springs used to be before it completely went off the deep end -- upscale and resorty yet freakish at the same time. But is sure is a beautiful part of the country to visit, and lots of old people means the trails are rarely crowded.

Nothing else worth noting...just a drive to Phoenix, a brief stop to take in one last western sunset, moaning about the lingering pain from the previous week's workout, and a stay at another Motel 6.


Normally the flight home is mundane and routine, but not this one. There must have been an excess of beverages and foodstuffs on board, or maybe the crew was just that cool. In any case we had an awesome flight crew, headed up by a guy who made up weird questions and contests of sorts (like first to hit the attendant-call button on his random queue) to award free drinks to passengers. Needless to say, we were all over those. And when I thought I was getting in on something and raised my hand for nothing, the guy even produced some Southwest Bucks, or whatever they are, from his pocket and hooked us up anyway. When all was said and done, between the two of us we had scored four cans of Heineken, four snack boxes, and a deck of cards. And we almost had a shot at trying to open a decent-size bottle of wine to keep it but it got snagged a few rows ahead of us. Not bad for one 4.5-hour flight. That's one of the best flights I've been on, and it even made me forget having to shell out $25 at check-in for my 57-pound case. [6] All airlines need to do that on every flight.

So...that be all. I should also add some critiques here and there, like the mule thing and how I stupidly packed some stuff I never used, but I'll get to that some other time. I also need to add photos but I'll hold off on that until I get them all and figure out which ones to put up.

[1] In case you're curious, every hotel we stayed at was a Motel 6. A room is a room so I saw no need to spend any more money than necessary. But even then we ended up spending $50+ per night. I remember hotels being kinda cheap back in the day, but not anymore.
[2] Walking downhill on steep trails is crazy hard with weight on one's back, more so than going uphill. Balance becomes a real issue and it puts a lot of pressure on the feet. I was relying heavily on my hiking poles -- an investment I thought questionable beforehand but proven to be absolutely necessary -- on all huge-load treks, but on Wednesday's downhill they saved me several times from certain spills and injuries.
[3] Come to think of it, we hit the trail at or around 7:45 on all three in-out hiking days. Not early but at least consistent.
[4] My friend said his thermometer read 120 when they were down there, and a thunderstorm swept in unexpectedly one evening and almost blew his tent away before he could stake it down. So we had an easier time than some who have gone before us.
[5] When we rode our ATV's around a residential neighborhood and got lost briefly, a woman came out and was saying something to us. I figured it was some elderly hag ranting because we brought our toys into her neighborhood, but such things can be entertaining so I stopped to listen anyway. Turns out she was offering to let us park in her driveway if we were visiting someone; I guess we looked like we were trying to figure out where to park. So, yeah, an old woman offering to let a couple guys on four-wheelers park at her expensive place. Name one city anywhere in the east where that happens.
[6] That 50-pound limit is irritating. I've flirted with it before and even got let off the hook on the flight over at 52 pounds. That's not a lot of weight at all for large case. I need to start bringing a scale with me or something. And something else worth ranting about...when I told the handler I was probably over the limit because I was pushing it on my flight over, he said something to the effect of, "So you didn't learn your lesson last time?" Look, smartass, I'm on the other side of the damn country with the same stuff plus souvenirs. What lesson is there to learn? Should I just leave a stack of clothes on your desk? Should I have packaged and mailed some of it while on vacation? What an idiot. People like that make the world a worse place to live in. At least the flight crew made up for his glaring lack of common sense. That was one of those times when I shouldn't have been amicable, as some biting sarcasm in return would have driven the point home. If only I could think faster and not be too nice at times.

Friday, May 11, 2007

fred on "education"

Fred smacks another home run for the good guys, the side of truth and common sense in a culture that wants none of it. In summary, the government has chosen to recruit heavily for future scientists out of a sector of the population that has produced little of such folk to date for some good reasons. Fred elaborates more so you can go get it from the source. But one chunk is just too good not to quote here:
Now, if you wanna be a scientist even barely, or a really good one like Lex Luther or Frankenstein and have a lot of test tubes and knobs, you gotta have at the very least an IQ of 130, which is sort of two percent of the population...

These guys are who you need to do science. They are guys, whether you like it or not, and they are extremely scarce among non-performing minorities, whether you like that or not. And storing them during adolescence in feminized dumbatoria, in what amounts to daycare, with purported teachers who neither understand them nor like them and have nothing whatever to offer…well, maybe this borders on suboptimal recruitment.
Zing. There's that trademark combining of sarcasm and obvious truth in such a way that neither is compromised. It's a shame someone as sensible and blatantly honest as Fred could never get anywhere in our charade of a political process.

Here's another Fredism worth quoting, a common theme throughout much of his material:
Women notoriously care more about feelings and niceness than performance and winning.
So, so true. Call me what you will, but I think a lot of problems in society can be traced to the keys to certain critical functions being placed in the hands of those who are not wired for such duties. Not all problems, maybe not even most, but a lot for sure. And I'm 100% sure Fred would throw in with me on that, though maybe not for the same reasons.

Monday, May 07, 2007

addition to the trash talk dictionary

Taken (kinda) from a quote from new Deadskins' safety LaRon Landry's* high school coach, which he used to describe Landry's hitting style:
"He can hit you and put your whole family in the hospital."
If I were a d-back I'd be getting some miles out of that one during games.

* LaRon Landry is the Deadskins' first-round pick, seventh overall and first defensive back off the board.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

a new standard of ugliness

Since I just wrote about beauty, let's explore the other end of the spectrum. Check out this concept car, the Ford Airstream:
.Ford Airstream
Tell me, is that not by far the ugliest thing ever to be put on four wheels? It's straight out of a comic book, and it'd even look like crap there. That so bad it's funny and yet sickening to look at. They can't seriously be considering producing that thing let alone marketing it.

I guess Ford was not pleased when Chrysler came out with the PT Cruiser and bumped its Taurus off the top of the World's Ugliest Cars list. And so Ford has spent years developing a pile of metal so butt-ugly no other maker will dare challenge them again. If they didn't succeed they at least shot the ugliness standard into the stratosphere. Leave it to Ford...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

beauty vs. society

My recent issue of The Week had a really interesting article in the back. It was about an "experiment" of sorts put on by the Washington Post to study people's behavior and appreciation of beauty. The results weren't too surprising, even if they weren't a bit alarming. I think the experiment would have gone much "better" under different circumstances, but I'll get into that later.

Here's the deal. The Post set up a violinist at the exit of the L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop in D.C. during morning rush hour. (For those of you who don't know D.C., that's right downtown, in the middle of the federal district, and an intersection of several train lines. It's one of the most hoppin' stops in the system.) He stayed for 43 minutes and just played. You know, like all those drum guys and trumpeters and stuff always do in any city's downtown. Just some young, normal-looking white guy in plain clothes and a Nationals cap playing to whoever would listen -- and, hopefully, throw some money in his open case.

At least that's what people could see and know. What they didn't know is that the Post had set up several hidden cameras to capture the situation. What they also didn't know is the guy they walked within a few feet of was Joshua Bell, one of the world's best violinists, playing some of the hardest pieces ever written, on a $3.5 million Stradivarius. As if to emphasize how wild this really is, I'd actually heard of Joshua Bell before I read the article. Here's a guy who always sells out concert halls around the world, playing for free in a crowded Metro station. And not just playing, but performing some serious violin stuff and also some popular music, like Ave Maria and others, that even I would recognize.

The author presents the choices at hand for each commuter passing by:
Do you hurry past, annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Do you stop and listen? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you?
So...what did people do?

For starters, 1,097 of them passed by him. Of those, 1,070, or 97.5%, scurried by on their way to their next appointment in life, apparently unaware that they had just passed within a few feet of greatness, a few at least glancing up to acknowledge him. The other 27 gave money, mostly on the run. But there was never any applause, dialogue, or other communication with Bell above and beyond simple eye contact and facial expressions. A few stopped to listen, but there was never a crowd.

First off, this obviously points out a few things about society. For one, people don't recognize great classical music when they hear it -- not that we didn't know this already. Again using myself as an example, I'll admit that I would have walked up and had no idea what I was hearing. I think I'd have stopped -- really -- but because the guy was clearly a good violin player and there's just something enjoyable about watching and listening to a really great musician do his thing, not because I recognized much of what I was hearing. But clearly people didn't realize what they were seeing and hearing here, or more of them would have put their jobs or other commitments on hold and stopped to take in the music.

In light of this, however, it isn't fair to say people wouldn't stop for any great music. They just have to know it's great. So the response points out much more about people's frantic pace of life and lack of "culture"* than it does about people's priorities each day. (Pace of life affects priorities but I'll get to that.) For example, picture some electric guitar player standing out there playing some Hendrix or Van Halen. Folks are gonna stop to listen that because they'd immediately recognize it as good (to them) music that's hard to play. Or better yet, imagine Bono, or Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Lopez, just casually showing up and belting out some hits. There would be a crowd in no time. The city would have to shut down that station because it'd become too choked up to serve its function. Joshua Bell is on the same level of popularity or reknown in his genre as these others, it's just that he plays a style that's much lesser known and followed. If he was popular in the cultural mainstream then people absolutely would have crowded around.

Another thing it shows is that people are simply too rooted in their routine or too enslaven to the clock to pause for something different. Even if they don't know who's playing or what's being played, why wouldn't more just stop briefly to listen? It's safe to say that was an unusually amazing performance by any standards, much less in a Metro station, and that the musician had enough obvious talent that most people could tell he was more than your average novice out there panhandling with noise. I would think such a thing would at least make people curious if nothing else. But apparently not curious enough to jolt them out of their routine.

There's also something ironic about all of this. How many of those passersby would pay good money to go to a concert hall (and sit much more than a few feet away) and listen to the same guy perform? Do they really know what they're paying for or listening to? Or do they think it's great and worthy of their time just because it's supposed to be? If there was a sign that said "Joshua Bell, Grammy-winning and world-reknown violinist" in that station, and maybe some rope or tape or something set up around him to make him look important, how many more people would stop? If, on top of that, there was a collection tin for some charitable cause, how many people would pitch money in just because they know who and what they're listening to? My point here is that people will often "like" something or appreciate it just because they know that's the culturally acceptable and proper, and maybe expected, thing to do. That doesn't mean they actually do like it, know why they think they like it or are supposed to like it, or even have the faintest idea what it is.

There are so many follow-up experiments that could be run in light of this one. The one I'd most love to see is a concert advertised and a concert hall filled up, only to have some local music student go out there and try his hand at some pieces that weren't even on the brochure (I'm sure there's a fancy name for the thing, similar to "playbill," but I don't know what it is). Some would notice, but I bet a lot wouldn't. And if nobody clued them in on the joke -- if those who picked up on the trick acted the part anyway -- then the ignorant would give standing ovations and rave about it afterward as if they'd just seen some awesome performance. And yes, I'd be one of the ignorant ones.

Perhaps the greatest lesson to be taken from the experiment, though, is the effect of our lifestyle on our appreciation for simple things like beauty and joy. Something the article touches on in passing, but I think is profound enough to warrant more discussion, is the idea that people lose their appreciation for simple things over time. Quoth the author:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding... But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.
This speaks volumes. It can just be brushed aside as kids not having commitments and adults having stuff to do, as if they both wanted to stay but the parents had too many other things lined up. The children picked up on something the adults didn't. For example, it has been pointed out before that most people's development of their creative ability and appreciation with respect to visual art ceases at a very young age, usually in elementary school. We're all born with some appreciation of art and some knowledge of what beauty really is. But somewhere along the line that gets tossed aside or lost.

Children, though, haven't yet been caught up in the rat race. They haven't mastered the art of filling up their lives with tasks and meetings and errands and social events and other things to inflate their feelings of self-importance. They haven't learned the tremendous virtues of living a busy lifestyle. As far as they're concerned, free time is still free, and they always have time to just take in whatever they come across. And so, without a thousand other things crowded in their head, they can grasp things most older folks aren't even capable of understanding.

Look at it this way. As life becomes faster-paced and priorities we think are more important start filling up free time that might otherwise be used to slow down and relax, we begin to lose our concept of simpler things, like beauty, and our appreciation of them. That sort of thing requires a certain state of mind, one that allows time for us to take in what isn't immediately noticeable. But if we're always in a hurry or always setting our mental energy toward whatever is next on our plate instead of just letting it rest idle from time to time, then we never allow ourselves to notice anything except what we're already trying to pay attention to and whatever gets in the way of that. And thus smaller things that aren't scheduled into our lives, but are probably more important than anything that is, get ignored.

It's not hard to see the greater trend of this in society. It not only affects art but recreation, family time, and pretty much anything else that gets relegated to the domain of "free time," to be pursued whenever our list of all-important commitments and responsibilities is finally completed. One could say that's a necessity of modern life, especially in a society like ours, and in some ways they'd be right. Sure, we gain some things that way, but what do we lose?

* I don't like using that term for such things because it seems to carry that snobbish, high-class air of superiority with it. It's the kind of word I imagine uppity stiffs using to demonstrate their higher plane of existence over others who are somehow worse people because they don't know or understand the interests of the snobs. It's kinda like talking to those people who act like you must be of some lesser intelligence or musical taste if you don't listen to the music they listen to or like the bands they like. Drives me up the wall. But, unfortunately, I can't think of another word to use.