Sharing a scary story, and an ode to technology

Written by Jayson Jacoby January 27, 2012 05:01 pm

Michael Hendriks doesn’t mind admitting that he was about as scared as he’s ever been while driving.

Scared enough, at any rate, to stop by the Herald office and tell me his tale.

I’m glad he did.

Hendriks’ story belongs to that category of precautions which, as the cliche goes, can’t be repeated too often.

Here’s what happened:

On Jan. 18, Hendriks was driving his pickup truck on Campbell Street.

That day, as you might recall, was kind of snowy.

(Pretty near the only day this winter that has earned that adjective, come to that.)

Streets were slick.

Hendriks was approaching a cross street — either Sixth or Seventh street — when he saw a pedestrian standing at the curb.

It was a young girl, probably high school age, Hendriks figures.

She waved at Hendriks, as if to acknowledge that she had seen him.

Then, to his horror, she stepped onto Campbell.

Hendriks was driving slowly — no more than 20 mph — in deference to the packed snow.

And he had taken his foot off the accelerator as soon as he saw the girl.

But he knew that even at that moderate speed — and even with studded tires on his wheels and a couple hundred pounds worth of sand bags in the truck’s bed — he would not be able to stop rapidly.

Certainly not before he reached the intersection where the girl was crossing.

He swerved, slid, and managed to miss the girl by a comfortable distance.

Not that it felt comfortable to Hendriks at that instant.

He told me the story not because he’s angry at the girl.

In all respect but one, she did the right thing.

The safe thing.

She looked both ways — an admonition that, like “stop, drop and roll,” provokes nostalgia in people of a certain age.

And she got Hendriks’ attention before she stepped off the curb.

Her only mistake, in Hendriks’ view, is failing to recognize that, with the street having about as much friction as a nonstick skillet, a driver, even one who knew she was there, wouldn’t be able to stop.

“I just want people to think about it, adults and kids,” Hendriks said.

Good advice.

Hendriks told me he felt better, just having told his frightening tale in something like a public forum.

And now, having repeated the story, I feel the same.

 

. . .

 

It occurred to me the other day that never have I known so much about so many people I’ve never met.

Or at least who I haven't seen in 20 years.

I'm referring, of course, to Facebook.

My wife and I share a computer. Sometimes, when I click on the "Facebook" bookmark, I'll get Lisa's wall because she didn't log out when last she was there.

I don't know a lot of her friends.

But I know what some of them like to eat for dinner.

And I could guess, with reasonable accuracy, whether they'll vote for Obama or, well, whoever opposes him.

There are those who bemoan the modern obsession with the Internet, a trend for which Facebook's fanciful "F" serves as a sort of symbol.

But I'm not especially troubled.

I consider the ubiquity of technology rather refreshing, actually.

It was for a time fashionable to fret about how impersonal the future would be, to predict that machines in general, and computers in particular, would transform us into automatons ruled more by the precision of the microchip than by the organic, but frequently messy, work of the brain.

Balderdash, I say.

(Or, rather, I tweet.)

The smartphone, Wi-Fi-enabled laptop and the sundry other accoutrements that define the 21st century are nothing more than tools.

And their function, in the vast majority of cases, is not to isolate us but to bring us together.

That this connection is by fiber optic cable rather than a length of twine between a pair of soup cans is of no consequence.

 Facebook is two neighbors chatting over the fence, writ large.

The current cacophony of text messages and wall posts and emails is deplored often as so much drivel, of course — nutritionless gruel counted in gigabytes rather than calories.

But life, by and large, is like that — a series of banal events rather than dramatic episodes.

I see nothing inherently wrong — and much that's potentially right — about our newfangled ability to share the dull inanities with a third-grade chum who lives 2,000 miles away as easily as with a next-door neighbor.

I rate as a dilettante in these matters.

My cellphone, in the current parlance, is dumb.

I can count the number of text messages I've sent on one hand.

(Although I needed both hands to actually send those messages. I'm speedy enough on a standard keyboard, but that miniature version on a cellphone makes my fingers feel like half-frozen Vienna sausages.)

Yet even though I've barely dabbled in Facebook I've reconnected, albeit only electronically, with half a dozen friends I haven't spoken with since high school.

This happened in the cyberworld — a veritable synonym for the cold and the inanimate.

Yet the emotions these online encounters have provoked — that curious blend of humor and sadness and the lingering embarrassment of adolescence that constitutes nostalgia — are inherently, and inevitably, human.

 

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.