Saturday, February 25, 2006

L'enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions

I was buying the paper this morning. At a CVS on Connecticut Ave, near Politics and Prose.
The paper is 35 cents plus 2 cents tax for a total of 37 cents. I give the girl behind the counter one dollar and then as she is typing the amount in the machine, I find 7 cents and tell her "Wait! I have 7 cents" expecting an easier transaction. In fact, she looks puzzled. "How much should I give you back?" she is asking. I tell her "Well, I gave you 1 $ 07 and the paper cost 37 cents so you owe me 1$07 MINUS 37 cents and that's..." I want to let her do the math. She is about 15 or 16 years old. She probably knows how to subtract. She rushes to her pocket calculator as I say. "No, you can do it! I'll help you." I'm in my "teacher mode" now, working slowly with the numbers to make her understand. "How much is 10 minus 3 ?" I ask. When she answers "5", I just ask again. "Don't try to guess, count even on your hand if you have to". She obliges.
I turn around to apologize to the man behind me. I smile while saying that I hope he won't mind but it is important. "Teaching maths to a young mind". He does mind and calls someone to open a new line. I'm undeterred and keep explaining to the girl how to get the result that she needs. I've now got a pen, a paper and I'm scribbling on it, explaining as I write. "So you see, I gave you 7 cents extra from the dollars so that takes care of of the 7 cents extra from 30 cents of the paper". She sees but after telling me that 10 -3 is indeed 7, she cannot tell me that 1$ -30 cents is 70 cents.
After a full 2 minutes of explanations, she finally gets it and says 70 cents. I smile happy and convinced to have done good. As I get my money back (she did gave me the correct change), I ask her "Which grade are you?". Her answer takes me aback. "Twelve grade". I cannot help but joke "Twelve grade! What have you been doing for these 12 years?" Her smile vanishes. She looks at me straight and says with a clear voice "I have a learning disability". I do not know what to say so I just nod my head, feeling embarrassed. As I leave the store, I notice a woman in the line glaring at me with her eyes sending me insults and reproaches.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Taking it off

I'm driving back to DC via another (and a bit longer) road. We've almost reached the highway and I'm getting a bit tired. A quick look into my rear-view mirror wakes me up completely. The 18-wheeler behind me has a huge confederate flag pinned down to the front. I've never seen this flag displayed so prominently. We're still in West Virginia, approaching the border with Maryland.
The truck is going much faster than I am. It passes me and disappears. About 20 minutes later, as we have already entered Maryland, I spot the truck on the side of the highway. The driver is walking toward the front. I surmise that he wants to get ride of the flag before keeping driving. After all in Maryland, this flag will not go unnoticed. I pass him before I can check if I was right.

Just say "NO"

I'm in what's called a "ski farm". For $12 one has the right to go around a large patch of mostly flat and groomed snow. It's the perfect way to end a long weekend of intensive skiing. Just a relaxed run around. I have stopped to catch my breath and rest a bit. There is a kid by himself standing in front of me. A few minutes later he is joined by a man who congratulates him on his speed. "You beat me" I hear. The kid is laughing. "You're just not that fast". They both laugh until the man says "OK. I'm timing you this time. You'll race my course and I'll race yours. Three, two, one, GO!". The kid has not moved. The man insists. "GO, GO!" The kid stays put. The man asks the obvious "You don't want to go". The kid shakes his head. He does not want to race. He wants to enjoy the sun, the snow and the company of his father. No Olympic dreams can beat that.

Friday, February 17, 2006

"Call John"

Driving to West Virginia's Canaan Valley for a weekend of ski with friends. I'm driving through small deserted towns. It is dark and a bit lugubrious. In the middle of what seems to be main street, I see an electronic board advertising real estate. The letters go fast spelling a short message "Land for sale. Call John". I guess I didn't realize it was that small a town.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Going around in circle

Driving on 15th south on my way to the car inspection station, there is a group of workers in front of the "Old Ebbitt Grill". About 30 of them are chanting and marching in a small ellipse. so elongated that it seems more like two parallel lines of people marching in opposing direction. It is not clear what they are protesting as I can't understand what they are chanting. They are holding bright signs that I can't read from my car.
A peaceful demonstration going in circle.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


I went hunting for the frozen waterfalls mentioned during a show of "Metro Connection" .
From the description, I was picturing a hidden place, a short hike scrambling on rocks and a sudden vision of water falling in a narrow deserted gorge. From my knowledge of the region, I know that the location of these waterfalls is in a "mall paradise", just north of the Beltway, a place where the wildest vegetation I expect to see is a bunch of overgrown bamboos in the lot of a lazy gardener.
I enlist the help of a friend and we head out toward the suburbs looking for the promised wilderness.
We find what seems to be the start of a walk on a paved path. The terrain is desperatly flat. A hint of a small hill here and there, but nothing that could sustain the waterfalls that I envisioned. We walk on some dirt path, encounter small train tracks, and a nicely manicured lawn surrounding a small pond. This is clearly a quiet and small park in the middle of the noise of the suburbs but no waterfalls.
Our first inquiry to an old man walking his dog yields a smile and a forceful "I've known this park for 20 years and never heard of a waterfall!"
A woman is coming up to us wearing earphones. A dog unleashed beside her. I call after her and she reluctantly takes off the earphones and mutters "Let me shut off this thing" fumbling for the pause button on her tape player. Same question about waterfalls. She pauses and tells us that there are no waterfalls in this park but there is another park on the other side of the pond we passed. "Maybe you'll find waterfalls there", she says. "You have to open a gate and walk in and maybe you'll find a place in that garden where water goes over some rocks and could be considered like a waterfall." She can see my disappointment and adds "Well, maybe they built one recently." We thank her but are both ready to walk back to the car. As we are leaving, my friend asks me " Did you notice the last sentence?" Yes I did. We are now both laughing at the "Maybe they built one recently", so typically American. "There are no waterfalls? Not a problem. We'll built one." Said with such a natural, such a poise.
How to explain that we are looking for waterfalls not simply to look at falling water but because they are landmarks, a signature from Mother Nature. No man-made waterfalls can be worth an exploratory trip. Even only one to the suburbs.