Progress

Are things getting better or just more complicated?

If I recall correctly – and I often don’t – Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers won three consecutive NFL Championships with a comparatively simple set of plays.

If memory serves – and I just found my garage door opener after a year and a half of forgetting where I left it – one of the Packer players (and I’m gonna go with Fuzzy Thurston) told this story:

The Green Bay offense was running the same play over and over, and over and over Lombardi found some small flaw and asked them to run it again.

Eventually, Fuzzy said: “Coach, we could run this play in our sleep.”

When Lombardi smiled at the remark, Fuzzy said he got it – that was the point; to run their limited number of plays as close to perfect as possible. An opponent once said they knew exactly what Green Bay planned to do; they just couldn’t stop them from doing it.

Since then the NFL has made a lot of progress and players who couldn’t spell C-A-T if you spotted them the “C” and the “A” are asked to memorize a playbook the size of the Manhattan phone book – assuming those still exist – which goes a long way in explaining why every Sunday we see some wide receiver scampering down the field completely unguarded because someone screwed up the coverage.

But that’s progress.

Hand dryers

Recently I used a public restroom and because I was in a hurry, took a shortcut when it came to drying my hands.

I could have done what I usually do – rubbed my hands together for 20 seconds, giving the blow drier a chance to do what it was theoretically designed to do and then wiping my hands off on my pants – but I had places to go so I cut out the middleman and went directly to denim.

Because as we all know, those automatic blow dryers don’t work for shit. 

If some automatic blow dryer manufacturing company exec had been on the ball, he could have used the following Shakespeare quote as a company motto:

“Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

BTW: I just found an internet article describing the 15 steps necessary to use a hand dryer effectively. I wish I was making that up.

Paper towel dispensers

For a while I had a job at Sam’s Stagecoach Inn in Cameron Park, California and part of that job required cleaning the public bathrooms. I don’t want to get overly sexist, but without fail the women’s restroom took way more clean up than the men’s restroom and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

The men’s room required just about what you’d expect – replacing rolls of toilet paper and wiping off counters – the women’s restroom always looked like the aftermath of a prison riot involving water and paper products.

One of the required duties of cleaning up the restrooms was refilling the paper towel dispensers and in those days that meant opening up a metal box – any coin would work – and putting a stack of paper towels inside. The towels were folded in such a way that when you pulled one out, the next one would come part of the way out.

Apparently a system with no moving parts unless you counted the towels themselves was way too simple and has since been replaced by automatic paper towel dispensers with sensors to detect your presence – or not – which sets in motion a complicated series of mechanics that seems to break down more often than Tammy Faye Bakker.

P.S.: Just priced paper towel dispensers and you can get an old-style one for $12 or one that senses your presence and spits paper towels at you for $351.

Once again, that’s progress.

Cell phones

My first cell phone was exactly that: a phone.

In a pinch it could also serve as a paper weight, but that was about it when it came to versatility. It didn’t do anything but make and receive calls and yet it seemed like something out of James Bond movie:

“You mean to tell me I can make a call from anywhere?”

My current cell phone makes and receives calls and texts, tells me what the weather is like, has a calendar, a calculator, a camera, a clock, a notebook, a photo gallery, a flashlight, plays video games and music and allows me to get on the internet and find out who starred in “True Romance” when my son and I can’t remember the name of the actor who thinks he’s Jack Nicholson, Jr.

It also alerts me with a series of chimes when I get a text…and more and more often, when I don’t.

Those chimes randomly go off throughout the day and in the middle of the night and I don’t know how to make my phone stop doing that because when I go to “settings” it looks like the instructions for a nuclear bomb and I don’t have anyone on the other end of the phone yelling:

“Cut the blue wire!”

I’m afraid to change anything because I have no idea what cataclysmic chain of events I’ll set off. Meanwhile, the making and receiving calls part of my phone doesn’t seem to work all that much better than the first model I ever had.

And I have this new phone because I jumped into a swimming pool with my old phone in my bathing suit pocket and have lost contact with three-fourths of the people I know in the world because nobody – including me – writes those numbers down in an address book anymore.

More progress.

Automobiles

A friend of mine just got a new car and when I asked her how she liked it she informed me it had a heated steering wheel.

For comparison’s sake:

Back in the 1970s I owned a Chevy truck so basic that I fixed a carburetor problem with the installation of a bent paper clip and did it while standing between the motor and the interior of the wheel well because there was so much room in the engine compartment.

These days if you open the hood of your car it looks like someone crammed two engines, a microwave and a vacuum cleaner in there, threw a plate of linguini on top and if you need something fixed it takes a team of MIT graduates and a computer the size of a Frigidaire.

My friend informed me that she now considers a heated steering wheel a must and complained when she had to have her new car serviced and was given a loaner which required a key to open and start and forced her – sorry, I’m starting to mist up and need a moment to regain my composure – to roll her windows up and down by hand.

Oh, the humanity!

Anytime I see one of those commercials showing cars that park themselves or make a steaming hot cappuccino in the glove compartment, my first thought it is:

“Wow, that’s a whole lot of shit that can break.”

But that’s progress...I guess.

Things are better

Despite my grumpy old man tendency to complain about new-fangled ideas – which makes me wonder if there are old-fangled ideas because I seem to have some – lots of stuff is better.

I used to get three TV channels if the aluminum foil on the antennae was installed correctly and now I can watch a cooking show in Chinese or completely inaccurate weather forecasts 24-hours-a-day.

Also, I don’t have polio.

But it does seem that some things were perfectly fine just the way they were and somebody who had to justify their job kept improving them until they didn’t work and then those people have to be paid to fix the shit they screwed up in the first place.

But that’s just me.

I wonder what Vince Lombardi would say.