A few days ago I was reading the introductory chapters of a book on the core philosophy of Buddhism (if you care, it’s called Buddhism: Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen). I was intrigued by the importance Buddhism places on living in the present moment, being fully aware of your situation at all times as it is, rather than as you want it to be, as the key to “awakening.”
This morning, as I crawled along I-285 on the morning commute, I figured it was as good a time as any to try “awakening” myself.
I have had a few, rare moments of true enlightenment in my life. It hits you like a lightning bolt, and for a brief moment you see things in a new way, feel a greater perception than that of yourself and your finite existence. This morning definitely did not feel like one of those times. But I made some interesting observations nonetheless.
My first observation was a pair of bumper stickers on a Toyota Corolla. Thanks to the Superman vision I get from my new glasses, I was able to make both of them out. One said, “My kid and my money go to Duke.” The other, “I live in this car so my kid can go to school.” Great message. It’s nice that you care enough about your kid to support them in their pursuit of advanced education at a prestigious school like Duke, but I do detect a hint of resentment there, eh?
Next up, the car dancer. You know how it works: You spot a car ahead of you that seems… well… not to be pursuing the enlightenment that comes from a full awareness of the present moment. The car lags behind the flow and then surges ahead, weaves side-to-side, and shakes strangely. As you get closer, you learn why: The driver of the car is reliving the excitement of a weekend spent “clubbing,” with music blasting, head shaking, hands everywhere but where they should be… on the wheel. As long as this person manages to keep a few neurons focused on the road ahead, everyone is safe and witnessing the ecstasy can be amusing rather than life-threatening. Fortunately, today that was the case.
At this point, the traffic started to snarl, and I found myself spending the majority of the remaining, excruciating crawl to the office staring at the back of a Lincoln Blackwood. Now this is something someone has to explain to me. I hate to sound like a stale Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bit, but what’s the deal with these new luxury SUV-truck hybrids?
Luxury SUVs are a strange enough concept as it is. I don’t expect to see too many Lincoln Navigators really navigating anything other than Peachtree Street. At least back in Minnesota it makes sense to have 4-wheel drive in an urban environment. In Atlanta, where we get one feeble snowstorm a decade, seriously, what is the point?
Concurrent with the development of the luxury SUV came the SUV-truck hybrid. You know, the Ford Explorer Sport Trac (where’s the “k”?), the Chevy Avalanche, etc. It’s the El Camino of the 21st century. But then, the worst… the luxury SUV-truck hybrid. It started with the Cadillac Escalade EXT. Basically, take a Chevy Avalanche, lose the cheap, charcoal-gray molded polycarbonate trim, add some of the characteristic chiseled edges that are the hallmark of Cadillac’s “innovative” new designs, throw on some faux gold trim, and you have it!
The Lincoln Blackwood is an even greater mystery. It looks more like a truck than the Escalade EXT, but that begs the question, why on Earth would you want a luxury pickup truck? Isn’t that a complete contradiction? Pickup trucks are inherently utilitarian vehicles, but how much utility can you really get out of them if you’re afraid of dings or paint chipping? I stared at the back of that Blackwood for several minutes, pondering this question and wondering how it could lead to enlightenment.
And then, it hit me. As we rounded the curve approaching “Spaghetti Junction,” direct sunlight struck the back of the truck for the first time, and I finally noticed that the sides of the truck really are black wood, or at least an elaborate woodgrain veneer.
At this sight, I understood the full nature of the situation, and at last achieved some small semblance of enlightenment.
I was expecting there to be a logical reason for the things I was observing. That was my folly! Thousands of people cramming onto the arteries of a city at once, morning and night, racing to-and-fro, accumulating “stuff,” basing their value as human beings on their ability to spend money on useless “utility” vehicles, working a job they loathe all week just for the next opportunity to hit the nightclubs on Saturday night (sounds a bit like Tony Manero), or sending their kids to an expensive university, apparently just so they can complain about it to complete strangers. As SLP posits in her dissertation prospectus, why bother?
Of course, these are things I knew already, things I had already pondered in the course of my life. But it’s easy to get swept up in that parade of the mundane, the minutiae of daily life, or to chase hollow symbols of “status” and “success,” and never really live.
At least, that’s what I’ll say until I get enough Benjamins to indulge in a bit of the bling-bling myself.