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Slowing Down in Hogtown

Back home, in Gainesville, also known as Hogtown. Gave the commencement speech last night, and the entire time I was writing it I kept forgetting that I was 44 and not 17 still. Admittedly, I'm a 17ish 44 -- if you know what I mean -- but you never outgrow the primal fear of having to get up in front of your high school and deliver a commencement speech. People laughed at the appropriate times (that is, the inappropriate jokes) and now I will try to recycle the material for a column, except the parts of the speech that were already recycled from previous columns. When you have only about 7 jokes in your entire arsenal, you're constantly struggling to remember which ones you've already used (lately). My policy is that I can't use a joke if I've deployed it in the previous 120 days. If you don't have a standard for self-plagiarism it can get totally out of control.

Just between us: There should not have been any speakers at the graduation ceremony other than the students. This was their night. The four student speakers were uniformly excellent, and their musical peformances amazing. In my day, no one had talent like that. They were better than Bo and Carrie, I kid you not!

The big problem with being in Hogtown is that everyone moves at a somewhat slower pace. Why? Because the traffic's lighter and the parking's easier. Human behavior is entirely a side-effect of transportation logistics. People used to be much more relaxed in the Dark Ages, when everything moved by wagon. It is a historical fact that in the 11th century no one ever needed to see a therapist. True, they died at the average age of 23, but they were incredibly laid-back. Occasionally they'd get in a fight over a leg of mutton, and have to eviscerate someone, but it's just a basic rule of life that you don't need Paxil if you're a toothless lice-infested peasant.

But today, in a place like Washington, there's a background buzz of anxiety and haste created by bad traffic and the lack of decent parking. There are garages in the District and the inner suburbs that are so cramped they cause permanent psychic scarring. In a place like Hogtown, you can drive clear across town in about 12 minutes, and when you go to, say, the performing arts center at the university, you just pull into the lot and park and you're there and that's it. The problem comes when you bring along your Washington psychology, and find yourself trying to compete for the best parking space, or trying to jump into a lane of traffic -- still living as though the only thing saving you from total social oblivion is a burst of aggression.

So when you come here, you have to watch your elbows. Slow down. Stop butting in line. Stop asking people to rate themselves in some statistical manner (annual revenues, amazon ranking, number of page views).

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 27, 2005; 8:57 AM ET
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Next: Hillary vs. McCain in '08: Part 1


OK, so you were out of town, and jw brought up a topic. You can argue that is is a lame topic, but it certainly was more interesting than American Idol. I am here to demonstrate to you that the consequence of cutting off discussion on one blog entry is that people will just post their comments on the next one.

jw: I have thought about this issue and decided it is evidence of longterm effects of racism in society. Until relatively recently, African Americans weren't allowed in public pools or even public beaches (until the 1960's, in Florida). That resulted in parents who didn't know how to swim and who naturally kept their kids away from the water, so they didn't learn to swim either. And the result is tragedy. Toddlers drown all the time, but they tend to be from affluent families who have pools in the back yard. When you hear of older children drowning, they are often black kids. Of course these tragedies make it even more likely that the parents will be wary of letting the kids go to the pool or beach, and so the cycle continues.

On a related note: Patrick O'Brian (Master and Commander author) says in the 19th century and earlier, many sailors did not know how to swim, and they had a theory that it was better not to know, since if you fell overboard in the middle of the ocean, being able to stay afloat would only prolong your suffering before you died. I thought that was interesting, but hard to believe.

OK, Joel, now you tell us what we're supposed to be thinking about today!!

Posted by: nother fan | May 27, 2005 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Talk about whatever you want. Go crazy. Heck, just take over the blog. I'm out of town and kind of busy with other stuff, so you can just start picking random, speculative topics and go hog wild.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 27, 2005 9:59 AM | Report abuse

By the way, I had trouble calling up today's blog entry, I kept getting yesterday's, and apparently this is because i needed to clear my cache. Just a tip to those who sometimes find old blog material under what seems to be a new headline on the home page.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 27, 2005 10:00 AM | Report abuse

You don't need Paxil if you're a toothless lice-infested peasant.

"That's why my economic plan and my health care plan are inextricably linked. Please vote for me in 2008. This message was approved by me, Bill Frist."

Posted by: | May 27, 2005 10:01 AM | Report abuse

hope you slowed down enough to at least have the good sense to get a slice of leonardo's while you were there

Posted by: Marvin | May 27, 2005 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Good thinking. Haven't been yet. Though did stop at Steak N Shake.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 27, 2005 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Do you think any of those graduates will actually remember anything you said? Our high school commencement speaker was a State Senator. Can't recall a thing he said. Our AU commencement speaker was John Kenneth Galbraith. He looked like a big white hawk in the cap and gown. He said right off the bat 'None of you will remember what I say here today.' He was right, although he made a few humorous statements but I don't remember those. My brother, who attended as my guest and didn't know who Galbraith was, said 'That old guy was kind of funny, wasn't he?' I think this was the last commencement before President Richard Berendzen was caught for making obscene phone calls. To this day my mother can't recall the name of American University, only that it's the college where the President made dirty phone calls.

Words to the wise, Joel.

Posted by: WASP | May 27, 2005 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Joel, did you advise the youngsters to use sunblock?

Just wondering.

Posted by: Bilbo | May 27, 2005 10:49 AM | Report abuse

My AU commencement speaker was the guy who is married to that woman in Burma who keeps getting arrested for protesting aginst the government. (Got to love google - type in burma democracy woman and you get Aung San Suu Kyi) Only thing I remember about it is that the guy next to me had the foresight to bring a flask.

Posted by: sasmf | May 27, 2005 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Dear WASP,
I hope you feel better soon. Have a joyous weekend.

Posted by: Dreamer | May 27, 2005 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Say WASP, for what it's worth, I spoke at my high school graduation. Even I don't remember much of what I said.

Posted by: Bilbo | May 27, 2005 10:51 AM | Report abuse

If you're en route to either poe, ginnie or blue springs, where should you go????? Huge debate right now! Life is full of conflicts!
Guidance from blogosphere???
Clear your Cache!!

Posted by: Chip | May 27, 2005 11:19 AM | Report abuse


I feel fine, thanks. Been on drugs for ulcers and depression for a long time now. And therapy. My therapist owns a Porsche and a BMW. I drive a Hyundai.

Posted by: WASP | May 27, 2005 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Whew, finally the blog came up on the blackberry so we post while en route to the springs. Apparently they're trying to turn Alachua into a yuppie town and we're not sure we approve. Where are our boiled peanuts??

Posted by: Mike and Joel | May 27, 2005 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Hey, bilbo--I gave the valedictory address at my high school too--I didn't expect anyone to listen, much less remember, but I definitely remember what I talked about.

What I remember even more vividly was being called into the principal's office to be told that I had been chosen for the honor of giving the speech and instead of the guy telling me that he was proud of me for all my years of groveling and grade grubbing, he advised me not to say anything in the speech that would "embarrass the school". My biggest regret in life is that I didn't say to him, "You know what? Never mind. Let someone else give the blinkin speech." Graduation was soooo boring!

Dan Rather spoke at my college graduation and I don't remember a single thing he said.

Posted by: usually anonymous | May 27, 2005 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Caramba!! What a lot of drivel on the brog, er, blog. Is this what a bfog, er, blog is supposed to be? In any case, have a greet wleekent, er, weekend. M

Posted by: Melvin | May 27, 2005 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Joel clarifies: this is not "just" a road trip to the springs. This is still journalism. It is cultural anthropology. Mike(Joel is dictating as he drives...we're now in High Springs...)

Posted by: Mike and Joel | May 27, 2005 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Joel had I known you'd be in G'ville last night I'd have offered to buy you a beer. You must not have tried to park at UF though.....Oh well off to Sarasota for me for the weekend!

Posted by: Mike | May 27, 2005 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Didja know that if you google "hogtown" you get mostly and firstly references to Toronto? Somehow I like Gainesville better now that I can see it has something in common with a civilized city like T.O.

Posted by: FYI | May 27, 2005 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Whew. Found the boiled peanuts finally, life is good. Ginnie Springs was a combination of Woodstock and NASCAR. Big camping weekend. Sadly there is a digital divide in the springs so we lost data connection for a bit there. Back en route to Hogtown now. We'd like apologize for no podcasting from the springs. Maybe on the next road trip.

Posted by: Mike and Joel | May 27, 2005 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I looked at the posts and comments again. I don't get it. Where's the humor? Isn't this supposed to be a humor brog, er, blog?

Posted by: Melvin (again) | May 27, 2005 2:04 PM | Report abuse

It's an acquired brand of humor.

Posted by: Dreamer | May 27, 2005 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I think Melvin's name is humorous.

Posted by: hahaha | May 27, 2005 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Melvin, if you don't like the blog, why don't you just stop reading it instead of complaining? Nobody wants to hear your complaints, we are all happily entertained on a regular basis by this blog. Today is a light day for the blog, as our guru is on vacation in hog town. Go out and enjoy the sunshine for goodness sake.

Posted by: TA | May 27, 2005 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm beginning to feel I came to right place. Make me laugh some more, please. BTW, I can tell hahaha is a woman.

Posted by: Melvin | May 27, 2005 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I sent the last comment before seeing the hostile one from TA. Something must be missing without the guru. Maybe it's manners, for one.

Posted by: Melvin | May 27, 2005 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Guess I chased everyone away. I'm sorry. So take it away, Mr. T&A. I will never darken this doorstep again.

Posted by: Melvin | May 27, 2005 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Melvin, you must remember that inflection and tone are missing from internet communication. My comments were not hostile, I merely was voicing some common sense advice, ie if you don't think the blog is funny, don't waste your time reading it. Harassing the bloggers will not make them better.

As for manners, it is rather poor manners to just pop up occasionally and denigrate the conversation rather than saying something to enlighten it. I would think that's something your mother would have taught you.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 27, 2005 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Forgot to note, that last one was from me.

Posted by: TA | May 27, 2005 3:14 PM | Report abuse

You know what's really funny? Watching a squirrel try to cross the road when there are cars coming from each direction.

Posted by: WASP | May 27, 2005 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I believe that it's impossible to denigrate any online conversation. The cacophonous discourse that results from allowing everyone to have a voice is itself a beautiful thing. Watching the trolls at work is much like observing the behavior of a banana slug on the Discovery Channel. To some, disgusting, to others, a fabulous example of Nature at work.

Posted by: Ken | May 27, 2005 3:44 PM | Report abuse

And isn't it strange how often the squirrel manages to cross without getting run over?

Posted by: Dreamer | May 27, 2005 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I once saw a squirrel cross the road when a car was coming about 40 mph and he went in front of the right front tire and behind the left front tire--this is like a fly going through fan blades; if I hadn't seen it myself I wouldn't believe it, in fact even though I saw it I didn't really believe it.

Posted by: kbertocci | May 27, 2005 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Today I almost saw a cat run in front of a car because she saw me and my dog coming toward her. She stood there looking from the street where a car was sitting at the light to the sidewalk and finally chose the sidewalk. I like to think that she was willing to walk right in front of us because she was smart enough to see that the dog was on a leash and couldn't get her. Then she stopped on the front steps of the house and gave my wimpy dog the evil eye as we passed. I love it when cats do that!

Posted by: TA | May 27, 2005 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree with Ken's comments above.

re: banana slugs, aren't they cool.

When I was in northern California (Linda Loomis' old neighborhood) I told anyone who would listen, "We have slugs in Florida, too, but we don't put their pictures on postcards."

Posted by: blogfan | May 27, 2005 4:04 PM | Report abuse

and isn't it strange how the holes under the rim of a toilet get clogged up?
give me a break!
we have brought this blog to a new low. it has lost all humor and is now into nature studies and dog-cat disintermediation.
give me a break!

Posted by: MelvinWannaBe | May 27, 2005 4:06 PM | Report abuse

That was nice while it lasted.

Posted by: Dreamer | May 27, 2005 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Was it good for you?

Posted by: MelvinWannaBe | May 27, 2005 4:14 PM | Report abuse

?uoy rof doog ti saW

Posted by: eBannaWnivlem | May 27, 2005 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Did you know that armadilloes will freeze at the sight of an oncoming car and at the very last second will leap straight up into the air so that they catch the full brunt of the front fender. It's kind of explosively horrible. This is the opposite of a squirrel running between the tires safely.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 27, 2005 5:08 PM | Report abuse

re: banana slugs, aren't they cool.

When I was in northern California (Linda Loomis' old neighborhood) I told anyone who would listen, "We have slugs in Florida, too, but we don't put their pictures on postcards."
Hey, finally checking in on the blog today! Yes, there are banana slugs aplenty in Humboldt County. Because they're such a bright yellow against the dense green foliage, a hiker or bypasser can easily spot them! Just something you traipse around on the trail, much like rattlesnakes in the warmer climes of the state. Just be quiet, listen those snakes rattle, possibly roll away, and give them a wide berth. (Reminds me of a T-shirt from Earthquake Jake's diner out in California--shake, rattle and roll, baby, rolllllllll!!!) And yes, the banana slugs do appear on postcards from the region! Maybe that should be the focus of the blog--instead of weird statues in inappropriate places--weird postcards!

This blog has so many entries I no longer know what the topic du jour really is. Like Joel in his adulthood, I was my HS graduation speaker in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, but haven't a clue what I said--just know it had to be clean and conservative! There was a very odd incident during the commencement ceremony--perhaps something better left untold. The year was '69, just heading into the crazy 'Nam years--but the incident had nothing to do with the war or protests--and eveything to do with one of the more unusual members of of graduating class of 900!

However, nothing can compare, banana slug-wise, with being chased by one of the rare coastal elk and wondering if my back was going to be gored and whether or not the surgeons would be able to sew me up at the hospital in either Eureka or Arcata. Warning: Never approach a male elk in rutting season with a 35mm camera! In all my life, I can never recall moving so fast! You would have thought I'd seen Sasquatch!

Posted by: Linda Loomis | May 27, 2005 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I take the day off from work, and look at what I miss!

Nother Fan: I honestly think that there is a parallel relationship (in a sort of Freakanomics way) between the disproportionate lack of black swimmers on the US Olympic team, and their disproportionate abundance in our prison systems. I would write a book about it and make heaps of money. If I was black. Since I'm white, I can only voice these opinions in an anonymous forum or risk starting race-riots (I'm kidding, sort of).

I am also a devotee of PO'B, so if he said it, I'll believe it. But maybe all those lower-class sailors just weren't allowed in the pool?

Posted by: jw | May 27, 2005 11:22 PM | Report abuse

I've long suspected Ginnie Springs was frequented by KKK types--any truth to that?

Posted by: InvestiGator | May 29, 2005 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Whoa now. How did the conversation go from peaceful driving to the KKK? This is getting out of hand.


Posted by: ?????????? | May 29, 2005 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, let's change the topic. Say, did anyone see that article in the Health section of the Post this morning, about the brain's role in our ability to understand sarcasm? I thought the piece was very relevant to some of the problems that crop up here on Achenblog from time to time. A study has shown that "the ability to understand sarcastic remarks (and thus to comprehend everyone from Jon Stewart to your 8-year-old son) depends on a complicated information-processing sequence in the brain's prefrontal lobe . . . damage to these parts of the brain impedes functions already known to reside in those areas -- such as interpreting the literal meaning of language, assessing the speaker's state of mind and the context in which he speaks, and reconciling the spoken words with their intended meaning -- that are key to comprehending smart-aleck remarks." The researcher commented that she's "not sure her study explains why folks without brain damage are so often clueless when it comes to sarcasm, though she allows that "people who are less tuned to other people or who are less empathic will have some difficulties in understanding sarcasm." And no, I'm not trying to imply that people who take exception to Joel's postings are brain-damaged; it's just that we're all very different. Take a look: The article is called "Sarcastic Much? It's All In Your Head."

Posted by: Achenfan | May 31, 2005 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm from Hogtown. I love it, but I'm glad I don't live there anymore. What HS graduation did you speak at?

Posted by: Hogtown | June 2, 2005 4:20 PM | Report abuse


Think Blue Wave.

Posted by: InvestiGator | June 3, 2005 9:12 PM | Report abuse

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