Meditations on a Streetcar
I’ve complained about this commercial intrusion before, and not just on The Red Electric. I’ve actually testified before the Portland Streetcar Citizens’ advisory board. They nodded politely when I put it to them that public spaces shouldn’t be sold off in exchange for vocal or visual commercial appeals. They made some noises about needing the sponsorship money. I suggested that it might help their cash flow if they simply collected fares etc.
My complaint went nowhere. I think they considered me, at best, a benevolent crank, or, at worst, and misguided fool.
Yesterday, as I trolleyed through the Pearl District bound for NW 23rd, it occurred to me that in this world of global warming, we should be urged to use mass transit. Anything that discourages its use, like THE VOICE, is death to the planet.
Saving the planet shouldn’t come at the price of our being, in effect, turned into a captive audience, fish in a barrel — a “targeted audience” — for marketing/advertising types.
While the disembodied voice went about its paid pronouncements, I rode along trying to stay focused on reading Marcus Aurelius. I’ve kept “Meditations” near at hand recently. It has become my “pocket book” of choice. The Roman emperor’s no-nonsense, stoic perspective is bracing.
As the trolley glided west on NW Northrup and the voice chirped out the next sponsored stop. I just happened to be reading the following:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
If the cause of the trouble lies in your own character, set about reforming your principles; who is there to hinder you? If it is the failure to take some apparently sound course of action that is vexing you, then why not take it, instead of fretting?
‘Because there is an insuperable obstacle in the way.’ In that case, do not worry; the responsibility for inaction is not yours.
‘But life is not worth living with the thing undone.” Why then, bid life a good-humored farewell; accepting the frustration gracefully, and dying like any other man whose actions have not been inhibited.”
The words obviously spoke to my condition. I had already follow much of the advice, stopping short of “bidding life farewell.”
Not to worry. I’m not planning on throwing myself under the wheels of a streetcar in protest.
No, I have a life-affirming Plan B for ending the “distress” caused by this “external” annoyance: namely, avoiding the trolley and walking, riding a bike or taking a bus.
I wish everyone else would too. Just make sure to tell the advisory committee why.