Tuesday, June 28, 2022

What Kind of Story Are We In?

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s 3-volumn epic tale, The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam are slogging their way through yet another difficult situation, desperately trying to complete their dangerous quest. All of a sudden Sam stops and asks, “I wonder what kind of story we’re in, Mr. Frodo?”
What an interesting question. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft writes, “It is a great question, a concrete way of asking the abstract question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ That the question is asked at all shows that we are in a story, not a jumble, and a story points to a storyteller.”

Our life here on earth is not just a bunch of random events, from womb to tomb, with no ultimate meaning. Every single one of us is in the middle of an exciting adventure. The reason this is true is because of the divine storyteller, God, who is the author of all life. This means He is the co-author of our personal story. The other co-author, of course, is each one of us.

Recently, I had to write my mom’s eulogy. How do you squeeze 92 years of living into a 10-minute talk? Is it just a series of random events and anecdotes? Certainly there were many humorous moments, and I could only discuss a handful of them. (Thankfully, the folks at the funeral Mass dutifully chuckled at the appropriate times.) It may have seemed that I was describing a series of unrelated episodes, but there was a genuine story there, too; a heroic journey. Maybe not quite as breath-taking as Tolkien’s literary masterpiece, but my mom’s story is compelling nonetheless. She grew up during the Depression, married and raised five kids on a less-than-shoestring budget, passed the values she learned from her parents and the Church on to the next generation, and shared her love and enthusiasm with countless people right up until the day she died.

When we ask the questions, “I wonder what kind of story we’re in?” or, “What is the meaning of life?” far too many people nowadays say, “There is no story,” or, “There is no meaning.”
How sad. Each and every one of us has been created in the image of God. Therefore, our existence is not meaningless. We are all in the midst of an epic tale. OK, maybe not with fiery mountains and wizards and elves, but it is a genuine saga. Whether or not the story ends in triumph will depend in large measure on whether we realize that we’re actually in a grand story rather than being a mere piece of meaningless driftwood washed to and fro by the tides of life.

An interesting aspect of our personal story, co-authored by God Himself, is that although we are the other co-author, we also are the main character in the tale. As such, we are living the drama, and we do not know how the final chapter ends.

But that’s OK. The protagonist never knows the ending while the story unfolds. That would take away all the excitement, joy, and yes, occasional anxiety, of the journey.

If you’re not sure how to fulfill your part as God’s co-author of your personal story, just look to the Baltimore Catechism. One of the questions and answers, written for school children to memorize, gives the simplest, most profound, and most accurate answer to the abstract question, “What is the meaning of life?” Here it is: “Question: Why did God make you? Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

That’s the perfect formula for a meaningful life. People who know and love God are the most happy and content folks in the world. And serving God requires that we help and encourage the people around us, which means we will develop close relationships with them. Those of us who have been around for many decades have come to learn that true happiness and contentment in life is not based on owning lots of things; it instead comes from having many loving relationships with other people. 
So, the Baltimore Catechism tells us the meaning of life and the path to a fulfilled and happy life. Then when we pause and ponder all the events of our lives, we can see there is a genuine story, an epic tale with tragedy and triumph, sadness and joy, and ultimately, like all good stories, a happy ending. 

Every few months, turn off all the electronic distractions, go into a quiet room, and ask yourself the question Sam asked Frodo: “I wonder what kind of story I’m in?”

With God Almighty as your co-author, you can be sure that your personal story is exciting, heroic, and ultimately triumphant. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Did you ever try to be a nice guy and do the right thing, but then have your niceness taken advantage of, to the point that you say, “That’s it. I’m not going out of my way to be nice anymore!”? 

No, of course that did not happen to you — at least not in the past two years. Ever since the Covid pandemic began, our entire culture has lost its collective mind, and now nobody is nice. We’ve all spent two-plus years stressed-out and frustrated, and worst of all, we’ve spent way too much time focused on Satan’s media, er, I mean, social media.  Which means we’ve been filling our brains with toxic and divisive vitriol being spewed by such verbal flame-throwers as Alex Jones, Joy Behar, and Vanna White. (“Push your own damn letters, Pat!”)
Anyway, the other day I tried to be a nice guy, and not surprisingly it turned into a situation where my amenability was totally abused. (But not as much as the Thesaurus.com website was abused by me trying to find a fancy word that means friendly and agreeable.)

Right after I flew home from a business trip to Dallas, I received an email from American Airlines. The subject line said, “William, how was your flight?” I clicked on the email and it read, “After your flight from DFW to BDL, how likely are you to recommend American Airlines to a friend or colleague?”

Underneath this question was a simple grid with numbers from zero to 10. Well, my flight was fine. Everything was ontime, there were no problems, and so I decided to press the “9” box and give them some positive feedback. After all, airlines probably get tons of grief these days, so a little “atta-boy” for a job well done seemed like the right thing to do.

I pressed the “9” box (no one gets a perfect “10” from me — that’s just a little personal quirk), and figured I was done. But no. The minute I pressed “9,” a website popped up with a few more questions. I answered those questions, and another page popped up. Then another page, then another. They asked me to rate the cleanliness of the plane, the comfort of the seats, the convenience of the bathroom, and a zillion other topics. 
After answering questions and clicking through about seven screens, I paused and said, “Wait a minute. How long is this stupid survey? I’m just trying to give them a quick thumbs-up, and now they’re abusing my amenability!” (No, I didn’t really use that word, having just heard of it for the first time when I started writing this essay.) But I did exclaim, “I didn’t NOTICE whether the pilot’s tie was straight! I didn’t get CLOSE enough to find out if the flight attendant recently used mouthwash! When is this brutal interrogation going to END?!”

I was tempted to close out the browser and forget the whole thing. But I really wanted to give them some positive feedback, and at that point, if I cancelled it, the previous 15 minutes of my life would’ve been wasted. So, I slogged on and kept answering questions and clicking through screens. 

Finally, it came to an end. The last page was not a question that required a 0 to 10 rating. It was a big open text box with instructions to, “Type any additional comments you have.”

This is what I typed: “Everything about my flight from Dallas to Hartford was excellent. But your sneaky, time-consuming email survey was like a surprise SAT exam. Not fair! It rates a zero out of 10! Don’t do that again! Next time I won’t demonstrate nearly as much amenability!” 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Fed Up with Waiting in Line

There is a quotation attributed to Will Rogers: “The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.”

I don’t consider myself a particularly impatient guy. There’s no doubt I would’ve made a lousy contemplative monk, but on the other hand, I don’t freak out if I’m in slow traffic or if the lady in front of me at the supermarket checkout line starts digging through her beach bag-sized purse for a 20-cents-off cat food coupon that she just knows is “in here somewhere!”

Throughout my life I’ve had to wait in lines on a regular basis. When I was a kid there were seven people in my family and we had exactly one bathroom. You do the math. Waiting in line in the hallway while doing the opening number from “Riverdance” was a common occurrence. In extreme situations, well, let’s just say the empty coffee can in the garage wasn’t only for holding nuts and bolts.
There have been countless occasions where I’ve had to wait in line. For example: coffee shops, gas stations, the Department of Motor Vehicles, doctors’ waiting rooms, airports, commuter traffic, grocery stores, trying to find a place to park near Fenway Park, waiting to get through the turnstiles at Fenway Park, buying a hot dog at Fenway Park, trying to get into the men’s room at Fenway Park (there wasn’t an empty coffee can in sight), getting out of Fenway Park after the game, and searching for the Mass Pike onramp near Fenway Park and hoping to get home to Connecticut before 2 a.m.

However, something has changed in recent years. As Will Rogers observed, fewer and fewer things seem worth the wait, and I suspect it’s because I’m older. The first two items on my “not worth it” list are Dunkin Donuts and Fenway Park. For at least three decades my morning routine has included going to DD and getting a medium black coffee and a glazed cruller (the undisputed “breakfast of champions”). Now, if I see four or five cars waiting in the drive thru lane, I keep on driving and mutter to myself, “Not worth it.”
The other item is that hallowed shrine, which rivals the Vatican on my list of religious pilgrimage sites, Fenway Park. Even Fenway has lost its luster, at least for me. Yes, the prices for everything there are obscene. This alone is a terrific reason to stay home. But in my case, I’d only make pilgrimages to Fenway about twice per season, so the monetary outlay was manageable. (We would simply skip a month when paying the mortgage.)

But the frustrating tedium of waiting in line a dozen times throughout the day now outweighs the joy of watching a bunch of pampered millionaires swing at pitches in the dirt. Um, I mean, the joy of watching the most talented athletes in the world play the game that captured my imagination as a boy and no matter what reality now says, is still to me America’s “national pastime.” 

Maybe the reason we “seasoned citizens” don’t like waiting in line anymore is because every minute that we wait is now a larger percentage of the time we have left to live. Or maybe it’s because at our age we spend so much time waiting to see doctors (it’s not uncommon now to have more doctor appointments each month than we used to have in an entire decade), that all of our patience is used up for anything else. 

Well, all I know is, I can live without a morning coffee and cruller once in a while, and when I’m watching baseball on TV at home, there is no waiting for the rest room. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Apostles Call In an Airstrike

 In the gospel reading at Mass this Sunday, there is an interesting episode that, in my experience, doesn’t get discussed very often. Jesus and his disciples were traveling toward Jerusalem. They came to a Samaritan village, and the people there did not welcome Jesus and his friends at all, mostly because their destination was Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life. Samaritans and Jews did not get along at all back then, so instead of offering the travelers some food and water, the Samaritans probably scowled at them and muttered, “Just keep moving. We don’t like your kind around here.”

This is when the two brothers, James and John, approached Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

Um, what?! Did I read that right?! The Samaritans behaved somewhat rudely, so in reply two followers of the Prince of Peace thought it would be a good idea to call in an airstrike? Just napalm the entire village into ashes? And why? Because they were not friendly? Holy moly!
When we think of the 12 apostles, a lot of things come to mind. They were the people to whom Jesus entrusted His Church, and nowadays there are countless religious institutions and church buildings that bear the apostles’ names. Even some cities are named after them. The Bible tells us the apostles did a remarkable job spreading the Good News after the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord.

The Bible also tells us that before the Resurrection, the apostles weren’t quite as impressive. Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied Him. When Jesus was arrested, they all scattered like frightened bunny rabbits. And throughout Jesus’ three-year ministry, the apostles often were dazed and confused, oblivious to the true message of Jesus’ teachings.

But in all your years of listening to sermons and homilies, have you ever heard anyone mention that Jesus’ apostles also were homicidal maniacs? I’ve never heard that. And let’s face it, that’s the only way to describe this particular episode. James and John, the two disciples who, along with Peter, were closest to Jesus, wanted to destroy the Samaritan village and all the people there. Why? Because the Samaritans committed the unpardonable sin of being rude.  
Well, if being rude deserves the death penalty, it’s a good thing James and John never visited New York City. Or drove on I-84 in Hartford during rush hour.

When these two apostles asked Jesus, in all sincerity, if it was OK to murder an entire community for the crime of being unfriendly, Scripture says, “Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.”

That’s it? That’s all the Bible says? Oh man, I would love to know what Jesus actually said to them. I’m sure Jesus' words were not in a calm, pleasant voice, the way you might try to teach 2-year-olds right from wrong, such as, “Now, Jimmy and Johnny, we don’t write on the walls with crayons. So please try to write only in the coloring book, OK?”

No, I can imagine Jesus’ “rebuke” was a bit more passionate. After staring at them with clenched teeth for at least 20 seconds, He probably blurted out, “Consume them with fire?! For being rude?! Have you listened to ANYTHING I’ve said?! Hey, here’s an idea: how about I consume YOU with fire, for being morons?!”
Well, I’m sure Jesus didn’t say that last part. But that’s what I would’ve said if I were Him.  The good thing about this episode is that it shows us how people can change when the Spirit of God enters their hearts and fills them with love. Many years after this disturbing event, John became known as the Apostle of Love. I bet as an old man, John told this story to explain to people how faith in Christ can turn a sinful, murderous man into a gentle and charitable soul. 

We should use this event as a warning, and remember that all of us have that occasional urge to lash out at people who have offended us. “Turn the other cheek” is the Lord’s command to us. And for Heaven’s sake, don’t call in an airstrike!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

What Will Will’s Will Do?

One of my favorite Catholic authors, Dr. Peter Kreeft, wrote something very interesting a while back. He said, “The core of faith is the will, not the intellect….God does not send you to Hell for flunking His theology exam, but for willingly divorcing from him.”

Kreeft went on to explain that our intellect certainly informs our will, but it’s our will that freely chooses to believe. And what exactly is our will? Well, it’s that mysterious center of our being – our soul, our spirit, our heart. It’s the part of us that has our unique desires and dreams, and then motivates us to achieve them. This is often described as being “strong-willed.”
Sometimes people have unhealthy urges and attractions, and even though our will knows better, we pursue these harmful behaviors anyway. This is often described as being “weak-willed.”

But either way, the will is our motivational headquarters. It’s the part of us where our knowledge and experiences are combined with our morals and values and goals. Then it becomes the motivating force that makes us think, do, and say the things that make us who we are. So, the will is what makes us us. 

(By the way, the will is not located in any particular bodily organ. This is further proof that we are not merely a bunch of big-brained apes who randomly emerged at the top of the evolutionary ladder. We are instead physical bodies that have been infused with a spiritual soul by our divine Creator.)

It is our will that freely chooses to have faith in God or not. But as Prof. Kreeft explains, our will is shaped by our intellect, so what we know about faith is very important, too. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?” (Romans 10:14).

It is important that the Gospel message is proclaimed to those who never heard it. Jesus’ final words at the end of Matthew’s gospel are crystal clear: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations….teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
So, it’s very important that we know the details of who God is, and what He has done in salvation history. But ultimately, it’s not information about God that gets us to Heaven. As Kreeft said, people don’t spend eternity separated from the love of God (also known as Hell) because they flunked God’s theology exam. Rather, it is because they made the willful decision not to enter into a loving relationship with the divine Being who is love personified. 

The longest journey known to mankind travels a total distance of 18 inches. (18 inches?! That’s not very long!) Let me explain. Eighteen inches is the distance from our heads to our hearts. This symbolizes the short but difficult journey from knowing about God to knowing God; from having a bunch of facts and figures about God in our heads to entering into a personal relationship with Him.

This 18-inch journey is when our intellect informs our will, and then our will freely chooses to believe that God is the almighty eternal Creator, and therefore He is worthy of our trust and love. 

Please don’t be fooled into thinking that having knowledge about God is the same thing as having saving faith in God. There are many people who could get a passing grade on God’s theology exam, but who have never made a willful decision to believe the Good News. They have not yet made the 18-inch journey. 
If you haven’t already done so, take that 18-inch journey from your head to your heart. Willfully embrace the God of love and mercy. Your soul and spirit, that is, your will, will be eternally grateful. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Blame it on Ma Bell

Last week I discussed a person who I greatly admire. This person responds to emails, text and voice messages only when he or she feels like it — and sometimes not at all. I mentioned that I wish I had the courage to do that.

Replying quickly to business messages is a little different, since things are so fast-paced these days. In my case, if I don’t reply quickly to a client’s message, I worry he’ll call my competition instead.
This reminds me of something I read recently. I wish I could take credit, but some anonymous smart-aleck is the real author. Here it is: “Out of office reply by a European worker: ‘I’m on holiday for the month of August. Contact me in September.’ Out of office reply by an American worker: ‘I stepped out of the office for a couple of hours to have kidney surgery, but you can reach me on my cell phone anytime.’”

Anyway, after pondering this curious aspect of modern communication, I wondered why it is that so many of us have an instinctive urge to respond quickly whenever we receive a message. Even outside the business world, when we receive a personal text or voice message, quite a few of us immediately get apprehensive and cannot relax again until we’ve replied.

I finally figured it out. I blame the good ol’ Ma Bell telephone system during the early and mid 20th century. Remember those days? Each house had a phone, either on the wall in the kitchen or on a table in the foyer. You could choose whatever color you wanted for your phone, as long as it was black. There was no caller ID or answering machine, so when the phone rang (and those Ma Bell bells were loud!), you had no idea who was calling. All you knew, because you had learned this from your parents and grandparents, was that if the phone rang, it was IMPORTANT! That phone HAD to be answered.
After all, since you had no idea who was calling, it could be a relative calling about an emergency. You had to answer. Or it could be the president or the pope calling with some life-changing news. Not that any of us knew anyone who had ever been called by a world leader, but we had heard stories about a guy, some time ago, in a neighboring town, or maybe a neighboring state, who got a call from someone really important, possibly the governor, or someone else in politics, and that one phone call changed the guy’s life. Since we couldn’t rule out for sure that it WASN’T the president or pope on the line, we had to answer.

Back in those days, when the phone rang, it was like the Pony Express riding into a quiet Western town in 1861. It was an event, possibly the most interesting event of the entire week. So, the phone just had to be answered.

My theory is that we all were trained by our ancestors to consider any attempt at high-tech communication to be of supreme importance. When caller ID and answering machines came along, followed by email and text messages that display who the sender is, there was no longer a need to reply quickly. But we are unable to break that habit. 

Well, I say we all should act like the person I admire and reply to messages whenever we get around to it, if at all. Whatever the message is, it surely can wait a little. But if the president or the pope rides up to your house on a pony with saddle bags filled with mail, then you can get excited. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Please Pray for Church Workers

It’s very important that we pray for people in ministry, such as priests, nuns, deacons, and even church employees.

These folks have such a hard job, and it’s easy for them to get burned out and discouraged. Unlike someone who works in, say, corporate marketing, getting burned out doesn’t mean that you have to fly to yet another industry sales convention in Orlando. It instead means precious souls may not hear the Gospel message and as a result may be lost for all eternity. That’s quite a responsibility.
We need to pray for those in ministry not only because it’s a stressful and exhausting way to make a meager living, but more importantly because working in a religious occupation often leads to “familiarity disillusionment.” In other words, priests and nuns and church workers are exposed to the cynical, bureaucratic side of religious institutions that we lay-people never see. Over time their enthusiasm for the mission — sharing the love of God, preaching the Good News, saving souls — disappears and is replaced by a jaded bitterness. 

Many lay-people assume the folks in ministry are so happy to be doing the Lord’s work, they float around the parish and diocesan offices with perpetual smiles on their faces. They approach every task with the joy of Jesus welling in their hearts, and treat every person they encounter with the love and concern of Mother Teresa.

However, we lay-people lose sight of a very important fact: all religious organizations are staffed by human beings. And all human beings, as Scripture tells us and experience confirms, are sinful. 

I would venture to say that people who work for religious organizations are far less sinful than the average members of society, but that doesn’t make them perfect. Churches and other spiritually-based ministries still have a fair amount of anger, dishonesty, selfishness, and egoism floating around their offices. It may not be at the extreme levels of places like the U.S. Congress, but sinful behavior is present, as it is in every organization on earth. 
This can be especially discouraging for those who work at a faith-based operation. Just imagine a young idealistic person who gets hired by a religious ministry. He or she is excited to “make a difference,” sharing the love of Jesus each day and getting a paycheck, too. How wonderful.

But then this new employee starts to witness things the parishioners never see. The priest who smiles all the time in public, but who often scowls and spits our sarcastic criticisms in private. The parish secretary who gossips about the parishioners. The church trustee who shrewdly makes sure his best friend’s construction company gets all the big maintenance and renovation contracts. In other words, this new employee witnesses people being people.

Even though a lot of important ministry work is being done, and many people are indeed being helped, the new, idealistic employee can’t help but notice that a cynical attitude is often present behind the scenes. And that’s when “familiarity disillusionment” can set in. The new employee stops focusing on the real mission of sharing the love of God, preaching the Good News, and saving souls. The new mission is to show up each day, do the minimum amount of work required, collect a paycheck, and actively search for other employment opportunities.

By becoming so familiar with the religious organization’s inner workings, the employee becomes disillusioned. He or she thought working for “the church” would be noble and uplifting and, well, so much different than a regular job. Sometimes the disillusioned employee not only leaves for a new job, but also loses his or her faith entirely. And it’s a fact that disillusioned priests, nuns, and deacons can lose their faith, too.
So, don’t forget to pray for people working in faith ministry, the priests, nuns, deacons, and lay workers. The work they do is crucial. After all, what’s more important than helping people spend eternity in Heaven?

Pray for them, assist their ministry financially, and most of all, be friendly toward them and cut them some slack if you happen to catch them on a bad day. After all, they’re only human, just like the rest of us. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Compulsion to Reply Quickly to All Messages

There is a person I admire very much. This person, who shall remain nameless, is bold enough to do something I simply do not have the courage to do. This person actually replies to emails, voice messages, and text messages if and only when he or she feels like it.

That is just stunningly brave behavior. In this day and age of high-speed instant communication, most people, especially me, are compelled to reply to all forms of electronic messaging as soon as humanly possible. We instinctively fear that if we don’t reply right away, the time gap between receiving and replying will itself send a message, specifically: “I don’t care about you.” Which, of course, is not the impression we want to give.
So, as soon as our phones beep, chirp, or blare out the first eight bars of “The Chicken Dance” (some ringtones are purposely obnoxious, while others are that way because most of us have no clue how to program a different tone), we are compelled to read or listen to the message and then reply right away. This is true even if we’re driving in congested traffic on the Merritt Parkway. (I bet I’m the only person in America who thinks car insurance premiums are too low. The number of fender-benders I see each month, usually caused by someone looking at their phone, is so high I’m certain every single one of us will eventually be either the highway hitter or hittee at least once in our lives.)

In my case, this compulsion to reply instantly is magnified by the fact that I’m in sales. The moment I receive a message, my first thought is that if I don’t reply right away, they're just going to contact my competition. You’d think after doing this for over 36 years I’d be a bit more relaxed about that aspect of my job.

On the other hand, there have been numerous times recently when I’ve received an email message, but since I was driving, I only glanced at my phone and saw that it was from one of my clients. Then literally 90 seconds later, I received a phone call from that same person, which I answered because I have a hands-free system in my car. This is what I heard: “Bill, I sent you an email, but you never replied,” to which I said, “Um, that was not even two minutes ago.” And then he said, “Yeah, but I need the technical specifications for that unit right away. So, I’ll hold.”

At that moment, this is what I thought but did not say, since I’m a good customer service person: “Seriously, dude?! I’m on the Merritt Parkway right now, on the verge of doing something that will make my car insurance premium skyrocket!! You will NOT hold, and I will get back to you when I’m damn good and ready!!”
What I actually said was, “Ooh, sorry, but I’m driving in heavy traffic right now. I’ll find a rest area and call you back in 10 minutes, okay?” 

The frustration and mild indignation I sensed in his voice when he replied, “Yeah, fine, whatever,” actually made me feel guilty. So, obviously, I have psychological issues that are different but almost as serious as his. 

Anyway, getting back to the person I admire, a person with the guts to reply to messages two, three, and even six days later — or not at all. I really wish I could be like that, but I know I never will.
So, if you hear on the news someday that I was the cause of a nine car pileup on the Merritt Parkway, just remember that I am a good customer service person.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

On the Road Again…

Now that the worst of the Covid pandemic seems to be behind us (wait a minute while I knock on wood and cross my fingers), rp tmmes wwzt trooef phw gfmmatz bwsl ot nurggli. 

Oops, sorry. I can’t type with my fingers crossed. Let me try again to finish that sentence: it looks like things are getting back to normal.

At work, I’m traveling again on a regular basis for my engineering sales job. And it’s such a relief. I’m not saying that I don’t like being in the office for 10 hours straight, day after day, staring at my computer screen during an endless series of Zoom meetings. No wait, that is exactly what I’m saying. Being stuck in the office is brutal.
Even if you factor in all the annoying aspects of driving around the state making sales calls — bad weather, flat tires, road construction, highway rest areas, bumper-to-bumper traffic, customers who told me to stop by at 9 am but totally forgot they were not going to be at their office that day, etc. — being full-time in the office is much worse. You just sit in the same chair, stare at the same computer screen, and listen to the same coworker use his “outdoor” voice every time he gets a cell phone call. (Why is it that people shout on a cell phone, when they talk normally on a regular phone? Someone should do a scientific study.)

While I was driving down to Stamford the other day, I started thinking about when I first began to travel for work, back in the 1980s. I wouldn’t go anywhere back then without the greatest invention since sliced bread: my collection of cassette tapes. Wow! Twice as much music inside a rectangular piece of plastic, which was a fraction of the size of my previous favorite modern miracle, the 8-track tape. I was certain the cassette tape was the absolute limit of squeezing music into a small package. (Similar to my certainty that we’d never be able to have telephones without wires, technological advancements in music sort of took me by surprise.)
Nowadays, my car doesn’t even have a CD player, let alone a cassette player, 8-track, turntable, Thomas Edison gramophone, or barbershop quartet squished into the backseat. Everything is satellite or Bluetooth wireless.

Back in the day, I traveled with books of maps, so I could figure out where I had to go. The concept of GPS was another technology I somehow didn’t see coming. I also had an address book that was an actual book, which I used often at a thing half our nation’s population wouldn’t be able to identify if they tripped over it: a pay phone. 

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, a company could not be successful unless it utilized THE most important business tool available: the little pink “While You Were Out” memo pad. That was how the world communicated in those days. You’d come into the office after being on the road and find a stack of pink notes on your desk. Then you’d spend the next four hours returning people’s phone calls. To be honest, at least half of your phone calls produced a new pink memo on the other person’s desk. You might not actually connect with that guy for a month or two. But somehow sales were made, products got shipped, and everybody got a paycheck.
Well, a lot of things certainly have changed since the 1980s. However, it’s comforting to know one thing has remained the same: the men’s rooms inside the rest areas along I-95 continue to be almost as clean as the dumpsters out back. But it’s still way better than being in the office all day.