Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Tires and Success

I spent most of yesterday afternoon getting new tires.

It rained pretty hard this week as I was driving up to Not Quite So Far Away Campus, and at one point I noticed that while my objective speed relative to the road had not changed my speedometer had accelerated considerably.  This – along with some quick math involving the odometer and some rather vague memories of when the last time I had purchased tires – led me to suspect that perhaps new tires were in order.

Getting new tires is not my favorite way to spend time.  Really, any time devoted to automobile maintenance is pretty far down on my list of things I’d like to spend time doing.  I’m just funny that way.  When I was a kid my dad spent many weekends tinkering around on the various cars we had at one time or another – a vast and quickly shifting collection of second-hand vehicles that came pre-loaded with things upon which tinkering had to be done – and while it wasn’t perhaps his favorite way to spend a Saturday I still think he rather enjoyed it.  Me?  No. 

And then you add in the fact that I took another shot at the Giant Megastore’s tire service area, since they had treated us rather well in July when we had little choice but to go there, and it just compounds things.  They seem to have done a nice job with the tires, don’t get me wrong.  But sitting there waiting for the incessant yet somehow still inaudible paging system to call my name and then spending twenty minutes trying to find a live body I could ask once I decided they must have paged me by now is an enthusiasm-sucking way to end an otherwise reasonably pleasant retail encounter.

But for all that, I’m still thankful.

When I was in graduate school I remember asking myself, in an abstract sort of way, at what point could I reasonably say that I had “made it.”  That I was doing okay for myself.  Bear in mind that one of the first things I learned once I got to graduate school was that the stipend paid to TAs was below what the department itself considered to be the poverty line for one person in that city.  While I had the kind of family support network that meant I would never really be in danger of starving, it was still a rather frugal existence I led. 

So I thought about that for a while, and eventually I decided that I would consider myself doing well financially when I could walk into a grocery store and buy whatever I wanted for the week’s meals without counting the costs.

That was all.  Just the ability to provide basic necessities and perhaps even nicer versions of those necessities for myself without worrying. 

I never said I was ambitious.

Yet there are a great many people on this planet and in this country who cannot do that very thing, and despite the clear economic lessons of the impact of poverty on society at large, the religious exhortations to provide for those who have not, and the political cautions of what happens when society lets the rich steal from the poor without remorse, it does not look like this problem is likely to be addressed, let alone solved, anytime soon in the US. 

I have reached the point in my life where I can decide that I need new tires in order to get to work safely, and I can just go out and get them without really worrying about whether this means I will eat next week. 

This is doing okay, really.


Unknown said...

Sounds as good a definition as I can think of! Perhaps in its way similar to what I've heard some say - they'll have made it when they can quit their job and buy a shack on the beach and just live there - But what point would there be in that? Being able to sign another year's 4H subsciption fees or buying whatever book catches your eye - all without checking your bank balnce first - also works.

Ewan said...

My first graduate advisor - who very rapidly became a close friend, although mostly after I left his lab - made a similar comment that boggled me once: that he was over 40 before he first went into a grocery store without concern regarding whether he could afford the groceries.

This for a guy who is a national leader, early-tenured prof at an R1. Even though at the time we were grad students, and had recently *not* attended the county fair for lack of the $4 admission fee, we'd never really had that level of uncertainty.

Privilege hits at odd times. Trying to raise our kids to recognise just how much of it they have is one of the greatest stresses we have as parents.

David said...

It is a strange thing, to try to impress upon your children how fragile economic prosperity or even stability can be, and the obligations this creates both to yourself and to others. As a lifelong adjunct and now half-time academic advisor I find myself thinking about this a lot, though.

This is also why I have such short patience for right-wing nutjobs who tell me how all professors make millions of dollars for doing no work. My own governor insists this is true. If it is, then someone owes me a pile of back pay and unused vacation time.