Edd Merritt

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Come on baby do the juke box jive
Just like they did in nineteen fifty five
Come on now hold me tight
Baby, can’t you see
I’m gonna wait around all night
   ~ The Rubettes, Juke Box Jive

I was in Panera on Shelburne Road the other day, and while I was waiting for my coffee, I looked around at the other customers, many of them sitting two or three to a table. There probably were 15 to 20 people there, of which more than half were devoting their time to some sort of mechanical device—iPhone, iPad, Mac or other portable computer. And many had sound plugs in their ears. Direct human interaction was limited.

Particularly in my younger days, I remember going to neighborhood food joints to meet friends over lunch, Coke or coffee and build face-to-face relationships. Weber and Judd Pharmacy served food at one end of the counter and medicines at the other. I often wondered if there was a connection. I know that many of us youngsters went there for their homemade root beer floats, because you could watch them being made on top of the counter, and you could ask that they be blended to your own special taste. If your girlfriend commented favorably about her float, you knew you were in good stead, and you both headed to the table in the corner where the store kept the lights set on dim. The dimmer the better we felt.

The large medical organization I worked for had its own cafeteria filled with mostly doctors and nurses and an occasional famous patient (Sean Connery and I shared tables one day.). There were also hotels nearby, but they did not have cafes in which local kids could hang out. Away from the downtown area was a root beer stand next to where we played football. It was a favorite hangout because we didn’t have to leave our car in order to chat with the girl parked next to us. And the girls who delivered hot dogs and root beers on roller skates were cuties, selected as much for their attractiveness as for their skating ability. Our parents felt safe in letting us hang out there, too, because the manager was like a substitute parent, kicking out those of us who misbehaved or simply not serving us and telling his waitresses to leave the tray attached to our side window for the rest of the afternoon with no refills.

And, of course, Wi-Fi was still beneath the technical horizon as were Twitters and the Ethernet. For us, the ether was in an adjoining galaxy, as, “You must be lost in the ether.” Or it was something that allowed the adjoining of particles with dark mass, but those who had any knowledge of it were mostly astrophysicists. My friend Eddie had a little trouble with his pronunciation of certain sounds; “th” was one, so his choice of ice cream was “ether vanilla or fudge.”

Where is this leading, you ask?

It leads me to ponder how we have changed in terms of human interaction that we seek in the community food joints. 

Some of the duos I saw sitting together at Panera were obviously connected romantically, but you would never know it looking at them. They only talked to each other when showing their partners something on their device. Otherwise they were hard into the device itself. Plus, they each had their own devices, which led me to believe that they were not working on the same algorithm. Algorithms, though, help the user select data out of a large mass of information, and if it’s encrypted, it is coded so only the right people can read it.

Do you suppose that that was what was happening at these Panera tables? Were these pairs putting each other on their encrypted list for romance? If so, they may have been doing something that in my day was done face-to-face and verbally, not in the bowels of machines. 

They certainly did not look, however, as though they were pouring emotion into their work. They were exploring which button to push rather than which ear to tickle. In my old pharmacy cum root beer parlor I was a king because I could play the Jukebox without looking at its big screen that showed all its songs. I was proud that I could push the right buttons without looking where I pressed. Pet Sounds now comes on Spotify, not off of jukebox fingers. Demonstrating my jukebox abilities was how I thought I was impressing one of the lovely young lurkers. As a result I got really good at connecting eye-to-eye as she sat in the corner while I hit the right song while looking at her and not at the jukebox. 

Finding one’s way through the jukebox jungle was not in my high school curriculum. It was learning done under the overhanging palms of emotion, an entirely different setting for education, but one that held just as many opportunities to learn as I got from my teacher in “shop class.” 

Nowadays, it appears that emotion has shifted to the machine, and the brain feeds fingers instead of heart. The heart has to cook for itself and be careful that the product is not overdone.

Maybe Alexa, or one of these other talking cones, has the answer to what I need to know to make this new mechanism work. 

As long as she doesn’t begin her answer with, “Oh, Edd, you’re so dumb.”