Woody Creek Wisdom

There’s this woman that comes into my workplace.  As a writer, I’ve discovered the isolation everyone talks about, the zoning out in front of a white screen for hours, delete delete, run-on sentence, ramble, eyes blurring, come back and look at it later, time to get some fresh air – so it’s good to step out and join the world in an official work capacity while carefully surrounding myself with good influences in my choice of part-time jobs. I’m careful about that these days; I’ve had so many jobs in my life, proving to myself over and over that I can get by, good to know; but I’ve finally realized that it’s better to remain sane and serene while making ends meet, conserving time and energy towards cultivating my creative goals.

It sounds good on paper.

So a couple of days a week, I work at a café, bookstore, gourmet grocery and community center in a suburb of the already none-too-big town of Aspen, Colorado.  Introducing Woody Creek, tucked away just off Hwy 82, a small town within a small town.  Woody Creek’s the second to last China Doll, the progressively deeper layer of onion, the final few leaves of artichoke before you get to the heart. It’s a small world, after all.

A few weeks after I start, we run out of farm fresh eggs and organic butter on the same day.  One local’s day is cast asunder.

“No eggs? Really??”

I repeat the bad news; it seemed like she heard me the first time, but just in case.

“Sorry. It’s true. No eggs. Only regular butter.”

The woman sighs. “Wow.  That means I’ll have to go… onto the main road. And to the – store.” Deeper sigh, head shake.  NC-17 expletive.

I can’t help but wonder how long it’s been since she’s left the one and only road that winds through Woody Creek and crept out onto Big Bad 82, and that maybe the dearth of eggs is a blessing in disguise. Pa’s headed to town, Half Pint.  Need anything?

But on most days, the small, simple lifestyle is refreshing.  Having lived in Aspen so long, I now see people I’ve never really seen before; and then I see them a lot, but only in Woody Creek.  I sort of feel like I have a double life and my own world’s gotten larger, not smaller.  And it feels like I’m taking care of them and their need for good food, awesome coffee and a friendly place to daydream.

There’s a woman who comes in from Twin Lakes; when she first started visiting, she’d always ask about the other gal who works here, who she’s known over the years. She always seemed to come in on my co-worker’s day off and my day on, so we started chatting. I began to look forward to her visits.  She’s beautiful, with long, dark, grey- streaked hair and bright eyes.  She looks like a gracefully wise bohemian from back in the day.  She effuses over the amazing food, especially the Curry Chicken Salad, and always appreciates the hearty portions; she likes my Chai Lattes and thanks me for my smile. She always asks for a receipt and always leaves a nice tip.

She first started coming in during the winter, when the mountain pass to Aspen was closed, turning the 50 some-odd miles from Twin Lakes to Woody Creek, into at least a four-hour drive over the hills, around the mountains and back onto the interstate before even reaching Hwy 82.  I’ve never asked her why she comes to town, and always on Wednesdays; now that summer’s finally here and the Pass is open, I hope she comes in more often.

The other day, she came to the counter to get a macaroon for the road. I readied her receipt, then asked her if she had an email and would like to join our mailing list.

“Oh, I don’t do computers,” she replied, with a chuckle.  “No computers, no fax machines, no microwaves.”

I smiled to myself.  Her words made me so happy.  And rather envious.

* * *

I remember when an old boyfriend and I were considering moving in together and the first thing he brought over to the brand new, just built apartment was his worn down, pizza-stained microwave. And how excited he was to have the perfect counter for the microwave and how I didn’t share his enthusiasm.  I think I even told him I didn’t want that smelly thing in the nicely polished kitchen.

Looking back, that was surely ridiculous of me, and surely a sign that we had larger issues lurking; but I still have the same my gut reaction to microwaves.

They just bum me out.

Microwaves make me think of kids whose parents aren’t cooking for them, or of not bothering to cook at all,  just heating up food fast and hoping it will taste like it looks on the commercial.  They remind me of when I’m in a hurry and not taking care of myself and then I wonder what I’m so busy about because I don’t have a family and I’m not a workaholic, and I see those same commercials and decide that I should be able to cook that meal from scratch, not have to defrost it and then nuke it and try and enjoy it with some ice flakes on top and still kind of frozen in the middle.  As you can tell there are other issues lurking, not solely limited to microwaves; but it’s best to avoid known triggers and so, No Nukes in My Kitchen.

Fax machines.  I couldn’t agree more.  Do people really still use fax machines? My friend’s ahead of her time on this one. Every time someone asks me to fax a form or, even worse, scan a document, I move that task down the to-do post-it and invariably forget to complete the application or send in the paperwork and then forget where I put the post-it and, well, you get the picture.  Who even has a land-line anymore?  I feel ahead of my time on this one; no Qwest bill, only a 10-year old cell phone and unlimited texting on a keypad that still beeps and is squishy to the touch.

However, I most admire her for the fact that she “doesn’t do computers”. I’ve often written about my Luddite-like leanings: “Damn you, Spinning Jenny,” said a friend of mine, laughing at my latest anti-technology rant; but surprisingly, I’m getting more and more adept at the ins and outs of social networking, the intricacies of the internet and its obscure tangents of information. I hardly remember how things got done before computers and I can’t imagine the world without them anymore.

If only I could remember all the damn passwords.

The little information I manage to track down and establish is invariably locked away behind secret codes of my own making, which are required, should I want to establish my own lane on the great information highway.

We create them to outsmart others, but we only outsmart ourselves.

It started with my online banking account.  (Maybe I should tell you which bank, in case you crack the code and want to deposit money in my account.) I was doing fine, transacting, transferring, having panic attacks, heaving sighs of relief, the usual emotional roller coaster that comes with owing a dollar saver checking account when one day, my trusty password (I forget it now) didn’t work.

I was asked to please change my password.  All of a sudden?  Why??  I was doing just fine!  Some new routine security policy requiring changing of passwords every 6 months, was the answer. For your protection.

Dammit. I tried to change it to something I could remember in a flash, but I didn’t know where to start. Arggh.  I was only trying to check my balance, definitely no need for new high security clearance.  I was just hoping it was in the double digits. Above zero.

I decided on something similar, a slight variation from the original; but I was momentarily denied, this time in red letters, and given more specific instructions which for some reason weren’t given the first time. Password must have a symbol, special character, Upper Case, Lower Case and Number.

Whahhh? Come on. Seriously?  It’d already been about 20 minutes including the aborted login attempts, and now another good 10 just to re-read the list and figure out what’s so “special” about those characters.

So I managed to create a suitable password that first time – and it was the last time it ever worked.  Did I use forget to use the caps lock? What was more special, the @ or the *? Didn’t matter, I couldn’t remember which one I’d chosen and I misplaced the post-it where I wrote it down.  Actually, I don’t even think I wrote it down, I was hoping the computer would “remember me” this time.

This trend started to creep up with other websites.  User name taken. How is that possible? It’s me! That’s the thing about computers, they’re very impersonal; they can’t tell if it’s Jamie Lynn Miller or Jamie Lynn Spears on the other end of the keyboard.

Password can’t contain any words that appear in username. Shit. Here we go again. Password can’t contain any words contained in past passwords. NC-17 expletive.

Hours have gone by with me trying to login to sites I infrequently use, or signing up for others in order to complete any basic transaction.  Why is the name of my second grade teacher so important to Cheapo Air?

I’ve started keeping a spreadsheet – very advanced of me, I know – to remember logins, passwords, secret characters and screen names, but I can’t help but be simultaneously annoyed and amazed at the amount of time I spend just trying to get from one information stop to another.

I remember using the World Book Encyclopedia, the 1978 equivalent of Wikipedia, to get information. A teacher friend of mine says she allows her students to use Wikipedia as a reference for their research papers; I ask if she ever actually checks the definitions. What if Christopher Columbus becomes Christopher Cross? Well, they both liked sailing, anyway.  We laugh.

I remember our instructional classes on the Dewey Decimal system and I remember using microfiche at the beautiful old UCLA library to find some obscure quote for a well-written but most likely melodramatic college paper, which was  put in storage and misplaced, or thrown away shortly thereafter.

That’s one of the coolest thing about computers: you can store information for all time, or until you back it up with your external hard drive.

You just need to remember your network key.

* * *

I think it’d be really cool if there were no locks, on doors or cars or storage lockers; if we didn’t need keys or passwords or codes or not-so-special characters, because there weren’t any characters out there trying to steal, at least in my case, relatively useless information and not-so-worldly goods and my identity. I can’t imagine my identity’s worth much to anyone but me, in the end; I’m probably someone else, anyway…I just can’t remember the password.

It’d be awesome if we could access all our accounts and peruse all sorts of websites and leave our bags unattended and take candy from strangers and get through the day without faxing or rebooting.

And we never ran out of farm fresh eggs.

* * *

Maybe it’s time I moved to Woody Creek.

Dedicated to the lovely woman who will probably never read this, because she doesn’t do computers.

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