In the nascent days of this column and for several years into the new millennium (gah, that’s the first time I’ve used that word in 11 years, and it recalls its constant repetition back then, waiting for that apocalyptic Y2K), I would get the same response frequently to a single question begged by the column’s rubric. That question was, “How do you spend your Friday night?” or “What are you doing this Friday night?” The single most common answer was, “Not much. I’m pretty boring. I’ll probably rent some movies, maybe order a pizza.”
Among a few other things, I have learned at least this much writing “T.G.I.F.”: when people tell you they’re boring, they’re usually telling the truth. You should listen to them and move on. But the renting-movie response has shifted slowly into second place over the years in favor of this one, now cemented into first place as the Great Recession settles over most of us like the depressive miasma that it is:
Surfing. The internet, that is. As loathe as I am to belabor the obvious, this is the hand I’m dealt; “Where I would rent a tape for the VCR a few years ago, now I download movies or just get on Facebook or space out for huge amounts of unaccounted-for time with YouTube.” Dale Hansen is 39, a tall man with wide hands — “spatulate” hands, as some novelists describe mitts like these. He uses them to illustrate his speech. “Or I just hop around from site to site. What they used to call the Information Highway. You notice you don’t hear that anymore? No one says Information Highway now. When did that happen?”
“I know what you mean about YouTube,” I tell him, trying to appear down, establish my cyber creds. “No lesser personage than Stephen King said that YouTube was like cocaine. In fact, he said that on YouTube.” What I don’t tell him is that I know nothing of, say, Facebook, other than everyone seems to be into it yet no one can explain to me why I should follow suit. Nor do I mention that — sort of like my life in Manhattan for ten years included not one visit to the Statue of Liberty or the U.N. and only one Broadway show in all that time — I have owned one kind of computer or another since 1983’s Apple IIE and yet I have only really “surfed” the internet on occasions countable on one hand, I believe.
So, I made a point of doing that last night in order to share my experience with you, all the while feeling as if I’m reinventing the wheel: “Hey, folks, are you hip to Wikipedia?” I’ve quoted from that site several times on this page until my editor suggested I might want to find more credible, less populist, I suppose, sources. Besides, I’ve caught the site out on several questionable “facts.” For example, re George Orwell: “1984 and Animal Farm together sold more copies than any two books by any 20th-century author.”
Really? Stephen King, anyone?
But somehow I found ClassicEncyclopedia.org. I typed in “San Diego 1911,” 100 years ago. Don’t ask me why. Here’re bits: “port of entry — county seat — 10 m. N of Mexican border — 126 m. by rail S.E. of L.A. — pop. (1890) 2,637 — (1900) 17,700, of whom 3,768 were foreign born (1910 census) — the harbor, next to San Francisco, the best in California.” So, America’s second-finest harbor, then. “Mayor and five councilmen...” Ah, what’s this?
“San Diego began the first revolution against Governor M. Victoria and Mexican authority in 1831, but was intensely loyal in opposition to Governor J. B. Alvarado and the northern towns in 1836...occupied by the American forces in July 1846, and was reoccupied in November after temporary dispossession by the Californians, no blood being shed.... In 1850 it was incorporated as a city.... A land promoter, A. E. Horton (d. 1909), then laid out a new city about 3 m. S. of the old.... This new San Diego was incorporated in 1872, and was made a port of entry in 1873. The old town still has many ruined adobe houses, and the old mission is fairly well preserved. The prosperity of 1867–1873 was followed by a disastrous crash in 1873–1874, and little progress was made until 1884, when San Diego was reached by the Santa Fe railway system. After 1900 the growth of the city was again very rapid.”
At one point I caught myself staring out the window as I scrolled down the screen.