Monday, December 23, 2013 was the last regular work day before out Christmas shutdown. I was the 7:45 express from Stratford to Stamford with one stop in Bridgeport. A man boarded the train in Bridgeport with his daughter who could not have been more than eight years old. They were unable to find a seat so they stood in the vestibule in hopes a seat would free up when those like me detraining in Stamford would free up two seats together for them. With the exception of passengers ticketed for the very next stop, conductors punch tickets and then provide a small piece of oak tag called a seat check which is retained by the passenger in case they switch seats or move to another car; instead of paying a second fare, show your seat check to the conductor handling the new car and he or she knows fare paid.
The conductor in the car I was riding was about my age, not a white-haired old man but not somebody in his early twenties—late forties would be a good guess. When he saw the little girl standing with her father in the vestibule, he took a blank seat check and his hole puncher and made a smiley face out of punched holes and gave it to the girl, who thanked the man and the conductor and little girl befriended each other for the duration of the train ride. An act of kindness that fits the song, Little Things Mean a Lot.
This brings up an interesting question, What will this conductor do ten years (or thereabouts) from now when they take his hole puncher away and give him an electronic scanner to scan bar codes on train tickets—or some sort of smart-phone interface? Sure, he could bring a pad of paper, some colored markers (or crayons if they still make them), and draw her a picture. But right now, a hole puncher is conductors’ tool and there is something about the spontaneity of just using the tool that is the extension of his hand to make this happen and get a smile in return for a smile. Will this little girl’s children appreciate such a miniscule nicety or will it have to be on [her] smart-phone; it is only a matter of time before smart-phones will be a birth right.
Remember paperboys (and girls) who would fold the newspaper in such away that they could toss in into the neighbors’ lawns without it coming undone while they pass on their bicycles? More and more people read newspapers on their smart-phones or tablets now. Remember the county fair (I admit I am ad-libbing this one, I grew up in the city) where you could ring the bell with a hammer or throw baseballs at a round button and dunk someone in the water and grab a prize for your girl? Does this generation even care about such a thing or would they rather play video games? Before Facebook and Twitter (and to some extent email), remember writing an old-fashioned letter, putting a stamp on it and mailing it; then waiting to hear back from this other person? I was sweet on a girl who was in my twelfth grade first period physics class and after I graduated in June 1981, we kept a written letter correspondence for a long time (I still think about her from time to time). She had a used Volkswagen Beetle in yellow and I had a 1971 Ford Pinto in dark green given to me by my grandmother. With respect to today’s teenagers, Internet access and social media is more important than driving a car. Possibly a relief to parents of teenagers, although believe me, social media can be just as dangerous in a different way.
I really hate to see the little niceties such as giving a horse a lump of sugar, helping an elderly person cross the street, dropping a coin in a juke box so a two teenage lovers (always one boy and one girl back then) could have a free dance, or even a train conductor using his hole puncher to make a smiley face for a small child, go the way of high-button shoes or the dinosaur. It may seem like obsolete activity to you, but I believe it is an integral part of the American psyche; it has a lot to do with distinguishes us from people of other nations. A characteristic I believe is essential to a people of a nation devoid of their own culture but rather the melting pot of all world cultures. I believe we need to retrace our steps and take a good look at the price we are paying for all this wonderful technology. I’m glad I lived when the world was like that so I can write this now and pass it on to my fellow readers.