Posted by: Mark | May 1, 2010

Watch it, Kook.

This morning I had to get my car tuned up. I wanted to be at the service station as soon as it opened, to drop it off early, go about my day, and pick it up later.

The problem was that I didn’t know when the repair shop actually opened. I called them, and their phone message said open at 7am. I went on yelp.com, and it said they were closed on Saturdays. And their sponsored link on Google had it down for 7:30. Not exactly the best marketing plan, put together by these knuckleheads at the auto repair shop, but what can you do.

So I jumped out of bed early and zipped over there, pulled up to an empty street in the Inner Sunset, and idled the car right out in front, getting there at like 6:58. I sat there for about 15 minutes before another Honda pulled up, and idled across the street. I checked my iPhone to try and confirm when the store opened. A few more cars pulled up. By about 7:40, I had called the main branch of the auto repair shop, and found out that it opened at 8am, and the line of cars that had pulled up was about 6 long. I was the first of 6. I think that most people who pulled up saw the crowd of Hondas sitting in front of a Honda Repair Shop, and figured there was a line forming, and the closer you were to the entrance, the higher up you were in the line, and so they jumped at the end of it.

That’s what we were doing. In a very basic way, we were following the code that humans have been following for millenia: we were forming a line. If you got there first, you were at the front of the line. In this case, that was me. Second to show up, you were behind me, but in front of everyone else. And so on and so forth.

And every now and then, someone would show up who would not recognize the pattern that was in place. They didn’t quite see the fact that we were forming a line. So instead, a person would every now and then cruise up, and jump in front of everyone else and just try and park right in the entrance, to basically claim that they were first, this was their spot, they were getting in line, imperialist style, rolling through Africa behind roaring gatling guns.

However, as soon as the person would triumphantly put their car into park, and look around with a bit of glee, the satisfied feeling of someone who has outsmarted everyone else, someone else, a patient line-waiter, would give a little honk. “Hey man, there’s a line here,” the honk would gently remind. The greedy imperialist would look around, in awe, aghast, as if asking, “Someone was here before me? How silly of me.” And then that person would kick it into reverse, and go to the back of the line. Order was restored.

This happened several times. I once gave the honk. It felt kind of good to honk, to be the person who was willing to step forward and to politely put civilized society back into functionality. And when I honked, I wondered what I would do if the person didn’t get back into place at the end of the line. Would I honk again, only longer, and louder? Would I get out of the car, go pound on the window, “Hey, asshole, there’s a line here!” I didn’t really know, and I never really had to test it. Because everyone is used to waiting in lines. It’s hardwired into our DNA. The people pulling up to the front of the line weren’t greedy imperialists, they just didn’t see the line, but had no problem recognizing the line once they saw it.

This morning, for fleeting moments, I found myself empathizing with localism. I have to admit that I’ve been thinking about localism within the surfing world a lot lately, particularly the San Francisco scene. Stokereport, an online surf forum catered to the Bay Area, has been downright explosive lately with banter about surf reporting, protected spots, codes of conduct, and the likes. I have always found it easier to identify with the “sharing is caring” community, those that say that there’s enough to go around, the more the merrier, surf and be happy my friend. The side that I’m more at odds with is the type who talk about hierarchy, shut the f— up and surf, keep it to yourself, go home Kook, you’re not wanted here. That’s not particularly my style.

But as I toot-tooted at a car that was pulling in front of me this morning, trying to claim my spot in line from me, I felt a flash of empathy for that mindset. Let me remind you of what “empathy” means, as its something that we talk a lot about in my school. It’s not agreeing with someone’s mindset, but it’s be able to understand it objectively, without passing too much judgment. In my class, I try to get my kids to empathize with how a demoralized, financially broke nation carrying war guilt on its shoulders might turn to fanatic nationalism, feeling despair and seeing no other way out. I don’t condone it, just try to understand why it may not be totally irrational. This morning at the auto repair shop, I was the local barking at the kook to understand his actual place in the pecking order. I saw a world in which there were rules, namely, that we get in line. There are no rules in surfing, but there are a lot of unstated concepts, and many surfers must see those as plainly as I saw a line when others just saw parked cars on a city street. But in my world, a honk generated a response. I was the first one in line, it took me two minutes to check in, and I was off on a nice long run to get home.

The difference between surfing and waiting in line for an auto repair shop, besides the fact that one of them is awesome and the other one kind of sucks, is that in surfing, the unspoken rules are not known to all. That must make it all the more frustrating to the person who feels that he is close to the front of the line, in his universe that sees lines and queues. If you call upon the rules, but someone doesn’t respond, and continues to sit in the front of the line like they’re the boss….when then that must get frustrating. And maybe make rational, good-hearted people get a bit heated, and maybe act in a way that doesn’t make too much sense otherwise.

Maybe. I’m not sure about all of this. I’m just thinking out loud. I’m just trying to empathize. I’ll still enjoy paddling out with friends more than I enjoy paddling out alone, and think that there are enough waves to go around and who are we really kidding anyway, there aren’t really any secret spots anymore, let’s all just relax and enjoy some waves together. To repeat myself, I’m just trying to empathize.

Toot-toot!

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