Backing Up

Just when I think we’re headed in an upward direction in Jacksonville, something happens to make me wonder if we’ve taken a U-turn.

I stopped at the Shell station on Morton Avenue to get a drink on my way out of town. I only wanted a small Diet Pepsi, but of course such things don’t exist at soda machines. You have a choice of huge, huger, and I-Need-to-Fill-My-Radiator. The smallest plastic vat available cost one dollar and the State of Illinois demanded another seven cents. I have no idea why I did this, but I started counting the number of button punches the clerk poked into her cash register. Fourteen. That’s one-four. It took fourteen prods of her index finger to ring up a sale of $1.07. I remember when I used to by my Pepsi at Thompson’s grocery in Perry. Buddy K., the owner would say, “That’ll be a dime,” and I’ll toss him a dime. Buddy never messed with tax on small items. He ran a one-man grocery story and didn’t have time to punch anything but Cardinal fans fourteen times. Buddy liked the Cubs. I gave my money to Miss Shell Clerk and after two more punches my purchase was complete. I’d have bought gas but the poor girl’s fingers wouldn’t have been able to hold up under all the stress. Sometimes I think we’re going backwards.

And on the very evening before my fourteen-punch-Pepsi, I turned off Morton onto Diamond, heading north. There are two stop signs on that little stretch of road before you hit College Avenue, and as I stopped at the first one I noticed a very little girl coming down the east side of the street on her tricycle. I guess I took note because I don’t see many tricycles any more and I wanted to make sure that she didn’t cut across in front of me. And this little girl . . . .I mean she was about three feet old . . . was talking on her cell phone while driving her trike. Sure, it might have been a toy phone but I don’t think so. This toddler was peddling her way through one of the most beautiful evenings in Jacksonville ignoring the birds, disregarding the foliage, oblivious to the traffic, and mimicking mommy and daddy while talking on her cell phone. I didn’t count how many times she had to punch her buttons, but that wasn’t the point. Was civilization truly making progress at that point?

Later in the week I had an appointment at the local clinic to have a doctor look up my nose in search of nasal congestion or brain activity. I sniffed, he probed, we shook hands and agreed to have similar fun a year from now. In the good old days I’d have handed his nurse my insurance card, paid the difference, then I’d have sniffed out my car I the parking lot and gone home. Those idyllic days of simple medicine are gone. Within days I started receiving friendly greetings from the clinic, my insurance company, and Medicare, all wanting the details of my visit. I should have videotaped the examination and just put it on You Tube. Is this called progress?

A local friend of mine has travelled with the Jacksonville crew on several mission trips to Haiti. She told me that about a year ago one of their Haitian friends visited the United States and as my friend was hosting her visitor they stopped to shop a bit at County Market. She said, “We had our cart and were going down the aisles when I turned around and my Haitian friend wasn’t with me.” She said she backtracked and found her guest standing in the laundry detergent aisle with tears in her eyes. “I asked what was wrong and the lady said, “So many choices. Why are there so many people selling the same thing? At home we rejoice over a single box.” The gal had a point. Used to be Mom would send me to the grocery store for laundry soap and we had the choice of Tide or All. Why do we need 97 choices? Is the world better now?

Used to be the sacred hour in most households was 5:30 p.m. when Walter Cronkite would appear on the tube and tell us what we had to worry about. More often than not he reassured us. The really daring families tuned in to Huntley and Brinkley. Whichever network you chose, you had something in common to talk about when you went to work the next morning. We had a common news source and those early commentators are still highly regarded as the best in the business. When you clock in at work today you struggle to find a mutual ground with those who watched CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, one of the major networks, or the Daily Show as their source of news. Some mornings you’d might as well be speaking French to your co-workers.

Call it progress if you will. I think that at times we’re slipping backwards.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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