So, yes, it’s true, traci and I and various numbers of our children drove 3,000 miles over the past few weeks, wishing at every turn that we had an atlas. “We always have an atlas,” we told each other. “Where might it have gone?” we asked. But it was nowhere to be found. Until, that is, we pulled into our own driveway in N.C. and looked in the glovebox for house keys. Figures.
Meanwhile, during the 500 mile stretch from Maga and Pappap’s camp to our own home, we stopped into the Store Whose Name Should Not Be Mentioned and tried to buy an atlas. You know how the store is – enormous and blinding – but I walked the quarter mile back to the automotive department. They had three maps of Pittsburgh and one of Canada. No atlas. Still, I asked the man behind the counter if they sold atlases. He said, “You mean like a book of maps?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Oughtta be in with the books.” After I looked through the quarter-acre book section, I asked the woman at the service desk if she had a book of maps. She said, “Like an atlas?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Oughtta be in automotive.”
Now, here’s the thing. We all know that the Store Whose Name Should Not Be Mentioned started using computers in 19 freaking 68, and I’m not saying I’m super-tech-savvy, but in those past forty-two years shouldn’t someone have taught her how to type “atlas” in the where-it-is-in-the-store box on the computer?
It’s been like that this summer. Earlier, we went to our favorite home improvement store looking for a special order shower basin. Between the two of us, we’ve done a fair amount of building. We’ve done a great deal of research into supplies. As far as amateurs go, we know our stuff. Still, traci pointed at a picture in the catalog and said, “This one says it’s made out of Vikrell. What’s that?” The man answered, “Vikrell.” traci said, “Yes, but what is it? Will it scratch? Is it like porcelain or like fiberglass? Is it heavy? Is it dense? Is it synthetic or natural? Will it dent or rust or what?” The man said, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s a kind of material.” The three of us stared at each other for a few seconds. Then we walked away and bought our shower basin from our second favorite home improvement store.
At the beer distributor, I asked, “What’s the difference between this brand’s lager and it’s premium lager?” The salesperson said, “One’s premium, one ain’t.”
A teacher once told me, “In order to be a good teacher, you don’t have to know all the answers, you just have to know where to find the answers.” And I’ve found that to be true. But I’ve also found that to be true of working in the steel mill and as a hoddie and as a janitor. I long for a time when people understood their jobs, when, maybe, they cared a little more. I don’t know if such a time exists. I’m probably being nostalgic for a myth. I’m probably longing for a moment which only exists in nostalgia. Might as well pile melodrama on nostalgia and close with some words of Nick Carraway: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”