Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Road Tripping

Sometimes I enjoy driving long distances because it is like a field trip with no theme. Instead of touring the cheese factory to observe cool new things and learn about cheese and the dairy industry or touring the tractor plant to get an inside look at an assembly line and electromagnets and welding and things related, you get a long rambling peek at thousands of interesting but unrelated things, leading to a trippy discombobulated mindset after a few hours.
There are the other vehicles and their wacky duct taped mirrors and garbage bag replacement windows. And the odd things other cars are hauling like three different kinds of barbecue grills on a trailer. And the weird things you can see through their windows like a office chair upside down in the backseat.
There are the things being hauled on trucks like giant machines with 'wide load' signs whose purpose you cannot discern and huge rolls of plastic tubing and many many nested truck bodies and layers of crushed cars and different sizes and shapes of lumber neatly shrink wrapped on pallets and wind tower blades that look elegant compared to the other riff raff on wheels.
There is the terrain. And the ecosystems. Flatter than flat land with no natural nature whatsoeveratall of Illinois give way rather abruptly to evergreens on steep hills in Wisconsin, followed by deciduous trees on rolling hills then fewer and fewer trees and flatter and flatter hills in Minnesota to hardly any trees at all that are not in straight lines in South Dakota.
And the fields. Corn. Corn. Oh, look more corn. Oh, soy beans. More corn. More corn. More corn. Ah, some baled straw, was that wheat? Between corn and corn? More corn. Again corn. Still corn. Corn as far as the eye can see. A pasture with cattle. Corn. Corn being chopped between corn waiting to ripen and dry to be picked much later.
And old landmarks like the rock formation and the army base at the same exit in Wisconsin and the truck-on-a-stick and the first Wall Drug sign a couple dozen miles before Sioux Falls.
And new landmarks like the cool nifty Minnesota visitor center that looks like a hybrid of an old grain elevator and a red barn and the increasing numbers of wind farms with their graceful sweeping motion and their classy white with silvery grey shadows.
And road construction zones and the variety in road construction marking devices and road construction equipment. Some of that makes you wish you could pull over and watch, but I bet that would piss off other drivers since there is often one lane each way and not much in the way of shoulder in either direction.
And the weird stuff that happens at gas station pit stops like conversations overheard about domestic fights and peoples' operations and the woman who was having a cell phone conversation from inside a bathroom stall while she went about her noisy business and I mean all versions of bathroom noisy business. Didn't ANY of those sounds carry through the phone to the other participant in the conversation? And with no hint of irony, at one point, she said "That was a really shitty thing for her to say to you. She is such an asshole."
Then there is the Groton speed trap. Really, does it do anything for the actual speeding rate to have a speed limit sign indicating a drop of 10 miles per hour at a curve? If people miss the sign because of the curve, isn't is just plain MEAN to make it a speed trap? Sure, the locals learn, but those of us 'not from around here' seem at a disadvantage. Would it not make more sense to move the sign a bit more out of town so that people see it before they begin to deal with navigating the curve and actually slow down on their own? Okay, the nice officer gave me just a 'warning' which I get to keep and use as a nifty book mark souvenir, but still. It took probably 4 minutes longer to get here because of that inconvenient stop.
All in all, I saw many interesting things and learned a few things too on my field trip with no theme today. I think I'll do it again in a week or so.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I'm Glad to Press 1 for English

Yes, it adds about 2 seconds to your phone call and requires you to move the phone from the side of your head and lift a finger to press the button, but hey, exercise is good for you.

I, for one, am glad to press 1 for English if it means that new immigrants and recent immigrants and long ago immigrants get better service with banks and stores and utilities and better access to health care and to get tax questions answered as they fill out the forms to pay their share of taxes to city, county, state, and national governments.

There is a myth out there perpetuated by bigots that their ancestors assimilated faster than the current Mexican immigrants. That is simply false. A higher percentage of first generation Mexican immigrants uses English than previous waves of, say, German immigrants and Polish immigrants and Irish immigrants and Chinese immigrants, and an even higher percentage of second generation immigrants uses English, usually nearly exclusively. And contrary to bigot belief, there were multilingual services and multilingual schools in nearly every language all along the way.

Another ugly myth out there in bigotland is that bilingual schools delay assimilation, while the opposite is true. Kids who are taught with both languages in school learn English faster and more thoroughly, because it is used side by side with their first language, so that the differences in structure and grammar are obvious with daily exposure to the languages in use in real situations, and the kids taught in bilingual classrooms are more likely to be performing at grade level than those forced into English-only classrooms.

In all waves of immigration from all lands, it has been the young that learn the language of the land and served as interpreters for older family members, a burden that is not fair to them and not effective, asking children to interpret adult issues that they might not understand. And believe it or not, English only at the driver's licence department or the bank or on the phone to the electric company would result in longer lines and longer wait for YOU as other customers had to talk through their own family-member interpreters. Having Spanish available for those that can better understand in it keeps the country running efficiently and effectively for everyone.

And you know and I know how very difficult it is for an adult, especially an older adult, to learn a new language, once our brains are all firmed up and all. And think of how hard it is to find time for exercising or reading and you know how hard, especially when there is so much to do keep up with daily life, it would be to take a language class. And you probably know that if you had to move to France tomorrow, that you might pick up some words just from daily living there, but instead of massively re-educating yourself to speak French at the ripe old age of whatever you are, you'd probably just find some English-speaking folks to hang out with in some English-speaking neighborhood. But even then, it'd be easier for you because so many of the French over there have had the polite good taste to learn English. Maybe that is the answer: Make all English-speaking Americans go to school in the evenings to learn Spanish. Yeah, I like that. Free Spanish classes for those that can't afford them and at a fair cost to those who can. Then when we go to the Mexican restaurant or the Mexican bakery or the Mexican grocer, they won't have to put up with us trying to share their culture in English.