Sunday, June 24, 2012

Horton Hears The Who

Artist's concept of cyberspace and 
how it expands
Have  you ever felt like the Who – the one that Dr. Seuss’s Horton famously overheard, I mean – insignificant and practically invisible?

That’s how I felt the other day when I fell out of cyberspace.

I was on my way to work about 6:30 a.m. and stopped at a self-service Shell station to gas up my Ford Escape hybrid. Stepping out of the car with only a Capital One card, I left wallet, keys, iPhone, and pager on the passenger seat. I closed the driver’s-side door with the usual perfunctory push.

As I swiped the credit card, the gas pump blared out a cheeky greeting:

“There you are! Thanks for stopping by! Don’t forget your loyalty tag!”

Loyalty tag? For a second I thought I’d actuated a Tea Party stump speech or maybe tuned in Rush Limbaugh. But then the pump added:

“This thing is a passport to earn points to get you savings, discounts, and prizes! Can’t beat that!"

No, no, surely not, but this wasn’t the gas I’d come for. I selected a fuel grade, inserted the nozzle, and squeezed open the valve. As 86 octane spouted into the car’s  fifteen gallon fuel tank, the prattle from the garrulous pump gradually devolved into a background nuisance.

But then a plug for Facebook caught my attention:

“These days, nothing’s official ‘til its on Facebook!”

Really? What did that mean? That unless you’re a cluster of digits in the icloud,  you don’t “officially” exist?

“Ridiculous,” I muttered, re-racking the gas nozzle and grabbing the receipt the machine had extruded at me like a stuck-out tongue – the coda to this bizarre little interlude.

Or so I thought.

I turned around and gave a pull on the driver’s-side door handle – but it didn’t budge. I tried again. And again. Stunned, I tried a third time.

“Ohhhh, shit, I’m locked out!”

I had to catch a noon flight to the west coast, never mind the 7:00 a.m. conference I was already missing. I felt a frisson of panic.

Inexorably, the dimensions of the dilemma began to sink in. I didn’t know the code to the car’s keyless entry pad, so that was of no use. I had neither cash nor house key – both were on the passenger seat with the ignition key. So was my iPhone containing cell numbers – none listed in the white pages, of course – of everyone I might call for assistance. My laptop with the same set of phone numbers was stashed in the cargo compartment. Sure, there was still the Capital One, but taxis around here don’t typically take credit cards (no Taxi Magic in this town). Besides, unlike, say, the back door of your house, a credit card won’t jimmy your car door.

Like Tommy from The Who’s eponymous rock opera, it was as though I’d suddenly gone deaf, dumb, and blind with no ending in sight. That hip, high octane, trash-talking gas pump had been right all along!  Shut out of cyberspace you really don’t exit, at least not in any quotidian sense. In my case, the lack of even traditional accouterments such as driver’s license, cash, and keys only made matters worse.

Slip-sliding toward freakdom was I. Folks were beginning to stare. Was that dazed-looking guy standing next to the Ford about to go postal or what?

Then came the last straw. A sketchy-looking character – probably a genuine vagrant – lurking in shadows at the side of the building appeared to be sizing me up as even more derelict than himself and thus easy pickin’s. 

I could no longer stand there mulling things over – something had to be done!

Choking back desperation, I told the station attendant that I was locked out of my car and that the vehicle would be marooned at pump #3 for awhile.

Then I set out on foot in my Bass Weejuns penny loafers (they’re easy to kick off at airport security) for the three and a half mile hike back home. Fortunately, it was still early, and the heat of the desert hadn’t set in.

Gather your wits and hold on fast,
Your mind must learn to roam.
Just as the Gypsy Queen must do
You're gonna hit the road.

Hit the road, sure, but since I’d traveled this route countless times before, it wasn’t exactly roaming. I leave that to my cell phone these days – when I have it.

As it happened, the worst was over. Except for blisters from the not-good-for-hiking loafers, my luck had turned. Our versatile gardener, who was trimming a hedge when I arrived back at the house, helped me pull off a nearly damage-free break-in. The lawn sprinkler repair guys, serendipitously also on hand, gave me a lift back to my car.

I’d found the hybrid’s keypad entry code in a desk drawer.

He stands like a statue,
Becomes part of the machine…
                        Tommy, The Who

So what have I learned from this? Why, that savvy Shell gas pumps can make you more cyberhip! (Perhaps I could get one of them to confront my mischievous hybrid, m√°quina a m√°quina, about no more tomfoolery during fill-ups, too.) Also, that loosing your cell phone can get you shuffled around like a pinball.

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