The summer and recent heat reminded us of this column, and just how far technology has come. Originally published in August of 2001... as always, lightly edited and please enjoy.
A recent trip into Fahrenheit-land brought with it pleasant encounters with family we have only seen – all at once – one other time, on the occasion of the hundredth birthday of a much-loved aunt of my wife’s. This gathering was for a memorial service and a committal, but the person being remembered was so special that tears were replaced by a seemingly endless series of “Do you remember...?” stories and much laughter.
I confess to not being exactly up for another several-thousand-kilometre jaunt when we seem to have spent the a lot of the summer driving long distances in the car, either to see people, or to be (willing) tour-guides for visitors. I think I can safely say that we have done most of the touristy things that people ‘from away’ are likely to want to do. Although I have to admit that we have once again avoided doing the covered-bridge thing.
Since there is a covered bridge not too far from us that we drive through on a fairly regular basis, I don’t seem to feel the need to see another one. “If you’ve seen one,” I’m afraid I have to say, “you’ve seen them all.” The only thing about covered bridges that piques my curiosity – heresy though it may be – is the lingering doubt that there is any possible way to take a picture, with a covered bridge in it, that isn’t immediately trite.
Our journey south this time took us part way down the Maine coast and then slant-wise, through Massachusetts and Connecticut, to a little place just across the border into New York State where my wife’s aunt had lived for longer than any of us had been extant. Most of the time, going and coming, we were piping down the valleys wild on multiple-lane expressways, and we didn’t see a single covered bridge. We actually continued straight on without even swerving as we passed several exits to Freeport, Maine, and L.L.Bean. I didn’t think it could be done, but we did it.
“I think maybe the next car we get should have air-conditioning,” my wife shouted as we drove past this big truck and that bunch of cars all hunched up together and travelling, for reasons I can never figure out, at speeds well below even the posted speed limit, which I have always regarded as a suggestion rather than as a requirement.
With all four windows down in weather that would have been hot even if we were standing on a sandy beach at the ocean – which we weren’t – conversation without the headsets airline pilots wear was an effort. We took along a large collection of books-on-tape to while away the busy hours, but even with the volume on our admittedly low-wattage speaker system turned all the way up, too much concentration was required to make listening a relaxing experience.
The trip south always offers one or two instructive introductions to the world of the future and this one was no exception. I suppose I have been in gas stations before that had some sort of computer thingy attached to the front of the gas pumps, but in the past, I’ve always been able to ignore it and carry on. Maybe the machine went into a sulk – I don’t know – but I pumped the gas and went into the store and paid just like always.
Not this time. We weren’t even out of Maine, the state we had always said made an excellent buffer between us and whatever was sloshing around in the Boston and other states. Taking the nozzle off its mount and pressing the button that indicated the cheapest fuel, I inserted the nozzle into the gas tank and squeezed the handle.
Eventually I looked at the pump. It had a little screen with green letters going across it. It said, “Determine method of payment.” “Money,” I said. It said, “Determine method of payment.”
Ah! I looked more closely. There were two buttons below the green screen. One said, “Insert credit card.” The other said “Pay inside.” “Why did you ask?” I said, and punched “Pay inside,” and pressed the handle.
After punching several more buttons at random with no result I tottered into the store. “How much gas do you want?” was the question. It struck me as akin to wanting to know the answer to a question before the question was asked. “How should I know?” It seemed to me a sensible answer, but sense is not required in the new world.
Eventually I got my gas. We even got down to New York and back again, safely. And what should I run into at the big gas station just this side of Saint John?
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.