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Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns arrow Tumbleweeds on the ‘commute’; ode to VHS

Tumbleweeds on the ‘commute’; ode to VHS


Monday was a day of tumbleweeds.

The spring norther had come out of hibernation to perform impromptu bouiffant surgery on unprotected heads and sandblast exposed corneas with grit.

We call it March around here.

Also April and May, as the calendar and the Pacific cold front dictate.

My commute along Auburn Avenue passes the Ellingson Lumber Co. mill site, a flat and open expanse where the gales can propel tumbleweeds to a respectable speed.

When I was driving back to the office after lunch one of the rolling dervishes leaped out of the barrow pit on the north side of the street, Evel Knievel-style, and smacked my Buick’s flank. This collision made the sort of scratchy rasp you sometimes hear, with a background of theremin, in horror movies while the psychotic slasher lurks outside, waiting for the next hapless teenage victim to whimper, “who’s there?”

I mention the tumbleweeds mainly as an excuse to refer to my daily drive as a “commute.”

The trip in no way qualifies, based on the common definition of the word.

Certainly no urbanite would recognize my route as such.

It’s much too short — just shy of a mile each way.

And with only one stop sign, and an occasional Union Pacific freight or group of students crossing Auburn, the trip rarely takes more than four minutes.

I call it a commute sometimes merely to remind myself how lucky I am that between my home and my office lies not a single freeway.

There isn’t even a traffic light.

What I see instead is the east wall of the Elkhorns when I’m going home, and the sprawling Wallowas on the way to work.

Mountain ranges, suffice it to say, are more pleasing to my eye than the rear bumper of an aging Accord plastered with fraying stickers admonishing me to visualize peace and quit hassling the whales.

I don’t even own a harpoon.

Or a boat.

. . .

We published a letter to the editor Monday from MH Heintz of Baker City, who took up the pen on behalf of the VHS videotape.

It’s an interesting letter, and topic.

Heintz, though advocating for a technology that, in this era of the smartphone, can seem as relevant as a butter churn, gives no hint of being a Luddite.

Indeed the purpose of the letter is to tout the advantages of VHS over the digital media that have largely supplanted it in the marketplace: the DVD and the Blu-ray disc.

Heintz makes a compelling case for VHS tapes based on their comparative resistance to rough treatment.

I own a couple dozen DVDs and Blu-rays and although they’re not as fragile as, say, gossamer, Heintz’s point about digital discs being vulnerable to clumsy toddlers is well taken.

Digital discs — starting in the 1980s with compact discs, which store music, not video — were initially proclaimed to be about as durable as, say, the pyramids at Giza.

Real-world experience suggests that this was, well, optimistic.

I prefer digital media not for any perceived advantage in longevity, though, but because movies look and sound better than when recorded on magnetic tape.

I still own a VCR, but hooking it up to my (12-year-old) Dolby Digital stereo receiver and 1080p TV is akin to bolting a new Corvette engine into a ’72 Dodge Dart.

(Actually that’s a bad analogy; a Vette-powered Dart would be pretty cool.)

The sonic and visual limits inherent to VHS tape fall far short of the capabilities of my receiver and TV. I’d just as well wire up a 19-inch tube TV and a boom box with detachable speakers.

When I’m watching “Star Wars” I don’t want to just hear Darth Vader breathing; I want the subwoofer to put out enough decibels to tickle the sensitive hairs in my ears.

That said, I can’t dispute Heintz’s logic.

All the achievements of the engineers, with their surround sound five-channel audio that can shake your fillings loose and their high-definition video that show wrinkles even the actors didn’t know they had, can be defeated by a single three-year-old who filches a fork from the silverware drawer.

Although some three-year-olds — there’s one in my house — can manage this feat even without cutlery.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald. 

 
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