2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  FINDING HUMOR IN THE STRANGEST PLACES

THURSDAY, MARCH 25

 
"Humor is everywhere, in that there's irony in just about anything a human does."
 
~ Bill Nye, in a 2005 interview with wired.com
 
 

If there is any legacy I'd like to leave, it's one that includes as much humor and adventure in it as I can continue to muster as I get older. I love seeing both irony and humor in many of life's situations -- and being around people who have a similar perspective.

I tell ya, there's no lack of material out there!

VIEWING THE WORLD THROUGH A HUMOROUS LENS

"The wit makes fun of other persons;
the satirist makes fun of the world;
the humorist makes fun of himself."
~James Thurber

I've mentioned previously that I "see" the world differently than a lot of people.

What I meant when I wrote that several months ago was pretty literalbecause of my love of nature photography, I often look at a scene outdoors when I'm running, walking, or riding in a vehicle as if I was taking a picture of it with my camera. My eyes are the camera lens and my brain just sort of automatically tries to find the most pleasing or interesting composition. It sets itself to "landscape" or "macro" mode on its own! I rarely do this indoors because I don't enjoy taking photos indoors nearly as much.

Then there are the more figurative perspectives I have of the world around me. One is the frequent use of my "humor lens:"  I can find humor in just about anything! Probably more people are like me in this regard than the camera lens analogy.

My perspective of this crazy world has morphed through the years. Whose hasn't? Hopefully, we all gain some insight and wisdom as we age.

I may be a bit odd in that I probably took things more seriously when I was younger than I do now. In my seventh decade (I'll be 61 soon) I'm able to laugh at things that I wouldn't have thought humorous thirty or forty years ago. I've always been able to enjoy good jokes and comical incongruities and yes, laugh at my own foibles, but I've learned with time to lighten up even more and just enjoy the heck out of however many years I have left to live.

It was only natural that I learned to see the humorous side of things when I was growing up. Although I don't remember that either of my parents had much sense of fun, I have an older brother and sister, maternal cousins and uncle, and other relatives and friends who are/were great role models in this regard: positive, happy people with a great sense of humor even when things have been very stressful or sad in their lives.

LAUGHTER IS OFTEN THE BEST MEDICINE

"Life is too short to be taken seriously!"
~ Oscar Wilde

You've heard of gallows humor and black comedy, right? Morbid as it may seem to make jokes about deadly serious or taboo subjects, this type of humor can serve a useful purpose.

Being able to make jokes and laugh at very serious things doesn't mean we don't take them seriously at all. Truth is, it can help us cope better during and after a crisis. I've seen this most recently in my brother's and his wife's struggle to beat ovarian cancer; being able to laugh at various aspects of their circumstances has definitely helped them -- and the people who care the most about them -- to cope with this devastating disease.

Being able to laugh at my own foibles and faux pas, what's known as self-deprecating humor, also runs deep in my roots. Mom was pretty good at that.

Sometimes I'm clumsy, forget things, or say and do silly stuff that's not really important but makes me scratch my head and wonder, "Why did I do that?" or "Where did that come from?" I have a strong enough sense of self to usually laugh it off as a "brain fart" or "early Alzheimer's," despite the fact that my mother died with Alzheimer's and it scares me more than the prospect of any other type of debilitating or terminal illness.

Joking about my memory lapses helps me cope with the fear of dementia. Laughing at my own goofs and clumsiness helps keep me psychologically healthy. I love to laugh!

I figure if you can't laugh at yourself, you're taking life entirely too seriously.

One of the things that attracted me to Jim was his sense of humor and quick wit. We're not sure where in his family tree it came from, but I'm glad it's there! I wish he'd write more entries in this journal because some of the things he says in person or writes in e-mails are downright funny, sometimes wickedly so.

Our minds often think alike -- and when they don't, well, that can be amusing, too. It's great fun to share jokes and comments with him, as our skewed view of the world is often skewed in much the same manner! The first two stories below are examples of that; my thoughts were pretty much the same as his when he related the incidents to me later. They're just small, recent examples of finding humor in situations that other people might not find comical at all.

YMMV. Everyone has a different perspective on what's humorous to them and what isn't. I hope our readers see some humor and amusing irony in all or part of this essay, where I will share mostly WalMart comedy and a little bit of Texas humor.

WalMart???

Yes, WalMart. You really can find delicious irony and humor anywhere . . . just look around you.

CUSTOMER "SERVICE?"

"Total absence of humor renders life impossible."
~ Colette

Jim had some unusual encounters with employees at the Livingston WalMart Super Center in the week we were camped out at nearby Lake Livingston State Park last month. Since we'd been working on some modifications to the new Cameo camper (I'll talk about those in another entry) we ran into town about every other day to either purchase or return items we'd gotten at Lowe's or WalMart.

We've probably shopped in more WalMarts in more states than 99% of the population on our extended forays across the country so we pretty well know how they operate from the customers' point of view. If you've been in one WalMart Super Center, you've pretty much been in every WalMart Super Center. There are some minor regional variations but overall consistency is one way the company keeps costs down.

So we quickly noted several differences in this particular WalMart.

Theft must be a bigger problem here than in most of the stores. For example, employees are stationed at each door to check receipts as customers go out. We see that all the time at Sam's Club (or Costco, when we had a membership there) but rarely at WalMart.

Jim noticed that the returns procedure is a little different in this store, too.

As usual, one day the "greeter" at the store entrance slapped bright little stickers on the two items he was returning as soon as he walked in the door. However, this woman hand-wrote what they were, added the date, and signed them. She also adhered the stickers as tightly as she could so they were next to impossible to remove. Our experience in dozens of other WalMart stores is that a return item is scanned electronically, a little sticker pops out with the pertinent information, and the employee barely adheres it to the item so it's easy for another employee to remove at the customer service desk.

When Jim took his returns to the customer service desk, the young man behind the counter had obvious difficulty getting the stickers off. Jim commented empathetically that they sure were stuck on there tightly.

Instead of politely agreeing with Jim, Mr. Diplomacy -- not missing a beat -- remarked, "That's so you can't go stick them on other more expensive items and try to return them." 

Come again? Not so "someone" can't try to rob the store blind, but so Jim couldn't do that.

Jim took personal offense and the conversation apparently went downhill from there! Despite that, Jim tried once more to be helpful by pointing out the specific items being returned on the two separate receipts he presented but the employee quickly retorted, "I'm on it. That's why they pay me 10 an hour more than the minimum wage."  

Methinks the guy was having a bad day at work or simply considered himself well above the job description. Thank goodness most WalMart employees aren't this cynical and undiplomatic with their customers or we wouldn't shop there.

Still, this fella's inappropriate remarks gave us both a good laugh when Jim told me about them later.

COMEDY CENTRAL

"Humor is our way of defending ourselves from life's absurdities
by thinking absurdly about them."
~ Lewis Mumford

Another day Jim went back into the same store to get a few items and remarked to the cashier at one of the quickie (?) lanes that he was surprised that he'd never seen any of the four self-checkout lines open. He'd rather use one of those than stand in line for a cashier.

"Oh," she chirped, "We don't have enough employees to keep them open!"

OK, think about that one for a few seconds. Self-checkout, not enough employees . . .

What's wrong with that picture???

I might have been laughing my head off at that point but Jim was more diplomatic. He immediately saw the irony but gently pointed out to the poor misguided woman that it takes only one employee to monitor four self-checkout lines in every other WalMart we've shopped in.

"Yes," the cashier replied, "but that would mean a cashier would have to be taken off another line."  (Think about that response, too.)

After hearing both these scenarios when Jim got home, I was thinking two things:

  • this store must have a rookie manager, and
  • this is good fodder for a comedy routine!

You can find humor and irony anywhere, even (especially?) in a WalMart store. As they say in Texas, "The engine's runnin' but ain't nobody drivin'." 

(Translated to other slang we use, "Not the brightest bulb in the pack" or "Not the sharpest crayon in the box.")

My sister would probably say these are only a few of the reasons she dislikes Big Box stores, especially WalMart, but they remain favorites of ours. You just have to maintain your sense of humor and work around the ironies when you shop there.

PARKING OVERNIGHT AT WALMART

"A sense of humor is a major defense against minor troubles."
~ Mignon McLaughlin

While we're on the subject of WalMart . . .

Some folks find humor in our practice of parking at WalMart or Sam's Club overnight in our camper when we're in transit from Point A to Point B.

OK, we laugh about it, too -- all the way to the bank!

To us and many other RVers it makes perfectly good economic sense. All we want is a safe, convenient place to park overnight so we can rest up for the next day's journey. The stores where we park have security guards and cameras outside and they are convenient to the freeways or highways we're using. We don't need hookups or any of the amenities for which private campgrounds charge $30-$50 a night. In addition, private campgrounds are often miles out of our way.


The sun sets behind a WalMart parking lot somewhere in NM or AZ
during one of our trips. That's our previous camper and truck.

Call us cheap if you want but we prefer "frugal" and "savvy." Once we reach our destination we're more than happy to stay in a real campground (although more often a public one than a private one).

Another great convenience at WalMart or Sam's is being able to find just about anything we need in the store. As much milk as we go through, for example, we have to restock frequently. Our nine-cubic foot RV refrigerator reasonably holds no more than two gallons of milk at one time. Jim and I go through two gallons of milk in about three days. It's the same story with fresh produce.

There's usually something we need. Consequently, we always drop some $$$ at the WalMarts and Sam's Clubs where we park overnight. Not only is it convenient for us, it's a good way of saying "thanks for the free parking."

There are downsides, of course. It's healthy when we find humor in that, too.

Bright lights, nearby trains, and traffic noise are the biggies. It's usually a little quieter at Sam's Clubs because the stores close overnight (most WalMarts are open 24/7 now) but the Sam's we choose for convenience sake are usually close to busy freeways and sometimes rail lines, too. They also keep their lights on all night and clean their parking lots at oh-dark-thirty.


This is our newer camper and truck parked at a relatively quiet Sam's Club
with no construction or train noise. We even had a Bradford pear blooming outside our door.

We managed to find two Sam's Clubs within the past year where construction workers were doing their thing after the stores closed. We didn't know that, of course, until after 8 PM and we were all settled in and didn't want to move. One crew was working on the building's faade, the other adding decorative stones with a front-end loader to the dividers in the parking lot. You can imagine how noisy that was! Ear plugs solved those problems pretty well but not entirely.

That's the real price we sometimes pay to stay overnight at a Big Box store but we still managed (later) to laugh at the humor and irony: Boy, we sure know how to pick 'em, don't we?!

Occasionally we find a community that has local ordinances prohibiting overnight parking in a WalMart or Sam's Club lot. Those are usually precipitated by nearby private campground owners who are losing business, not Wally World. In fact, a couple WalMart managers have told us it's perfectly OK with them to park there despite city ordinances. They weren't their idea. They appreciate the business loyalty of many RV owners.

We usually move on when we see those ordinance signs, however, preferring not to be awakened by a possible knock on the door at 3 AM by the local sheriff whose sister owns a private campground down the road. There's nothing funny about that until much later!

Despite the negatives we appreciate the generosity of the company and will continue to do business with them.

LIVING AT WALMART VIDEO 

Staying one night in a WalMart or Sam's Club parking lot is fine but folks who abuse the privilege can ruin it for others. Some definite no-no's are parking near the entrance in a big rig, dumping gray water in the parking lot, littering, staying several days in a row, or looking like you're "camping" there.

Which lets me segue into the next topic . . .

"I just lost my job in this troubled economy.
I couldn't make the payments so the bank foreclosed on me.
Well now I've hit the road, looking for the land of the free,
And this is what I found in every little town
from sea to shining sea . . . "

"I'm livin' at a WalMart, America's free campground.
Livin' at a WalMart, night parking is allowed.
Well, ain't that somethin', though I ain't got nothin'
I've got everything I need . . . at a WalMart,
Good livin' in my little RV."

~ first stanza and refrain of a song on Pat Pepin's CD,  In It For the Long Haul

We recently found a hilarious YouTube video by Michele Midnight Productions with Pat Pepin singing a song called "Living at WalMart." You gotta watch it!  It's just over three minutes long and requires Adobe Flash on your computer.

[Warning: this is one of those catchy little tunes that may stick in your head for a while . . . ]

Although the video is "over the top" and (hopefully) a farce, it illustrates all the goods and services you can find at a WalMart Super Center. One-stop shopping has always been as important to Jim and me as the corporation's generally low prices but until we watched this video we hadn't really thought about the wide scope of offerings.

Just think of some of the basic things you can purchase at most Super WalMarts:

  • groceries and deli items
  • "health" foods or fast food like McDonald's and Subway
  • wine and beer
  • clothing, shoes, and accessories for the whole family, from infants to the elderly
  • watches and jewelry
  • electronics of all types
  • furniture, home furnishings, and decorative items
  • books, magazines, movies, and music
  • toys
  • sporting goods, bicycles
  • camping equipment and supplies
  • vehicle parts (like tires) and supplies
  • hardware items
  • cleaning supplies
  • office supplies
  • greeting cards and party supplies
  • postage stamps and mailing supplies
  • pet food, beds, toys, and other items
  • indoor/outdoor plants and gardening supplies
  • OTC and prescription medicines
  • other health and beauty items
  • eye glasses, contact lenses, other vision supplies
  • craft items
  • gasoline and sometimes diesel fuel at some locations

How many different specialty stores does that cover? As some wags say, if you can't find it at WalMart, you probably don't need it!

Now consider some of the services they offer, which cover several more specialty businesses:

  • take-out food or in-house fast food restaurant
  • vehicle maintenance
  • cell and Trac phone service
  • banking, insurance, investing, and other financial services
  • tax preparation
  • pharmacy
  • eye exams
  • blood pressure check-ups
  • Docs-in-a-Box at some locations
  • hair cuts and styling
  • manicures
  • professional portraits
  • photo processing

And I bet you've seen the news stories on TV of couples who meet at WalMart and even get married there! The video includes that, too.

Yep, you can find just about anything you need or want at a WalMart Super Center. I'm sure I've missed a few things, too. Think about it when you shop there next time, unless you prefer to go to separate stores for all of the above. Even loyal WalMart customers like Jim and me don't use all those services; we prefer to use more specialized businesses for some of them.

Much of this applies to Sam's Club and Costco, too. They have a  more limited selection of goods but offer some services to small business owners that WalMart doesn't offer.

If you prefer a little higher quality, Target Superstores offer almost as much variety as WalMart . . . usually at a little higher price, of course. And even large Kroger "grocery" stores now carry indoor furniture! Lots of businesses are trying to emulate the one-stop shopping concept.

TEXAS HUMOR

"Don't worry 'bout the mule, son, just load the wagon."

(Translation: "Just do your part and I'll do mine.")

In our multiple visits to Texas we've learned that it has a lot more to offer than oil rigs, cowboys, and ranches as big as Rhode Island. It's also got plenty of culture, reputable colleges, cool space vehicles, a wide variety of terrain and weather, numerous things to do, much colorful history . . . and a good sense of humor about itself.

Texas is more than a state. It's also a state of mind.

Even if you're just passing through the Lone Star State you can't escape reminders of its history. The state is so proud that it has over 11,500 historical markers along its many thousands of miles of roadways. That's amusing in itself to me. It would take a lifetime to stop and read them all!

"Six Flags Over Texas" isn't just a theme park. That slogan and business name came from the six flags that have literally flown over what is now Texas.

Actually, there were more than six flags. That number doesn't include any Native American flags or the multiple flags used by these six governments:  Spain (which had two different flag designs during the nearly 300 years it ruled most of the region), France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas (two flags, one of which is the current state flag with its iconic Lone Star), the Confederate States of America  (from 1861-1865, when Texas temporarily seceded from the Union), and the United States of America.

Native Texans are just about as proud of their sense of humor as their history. Many Texas legends and tall tales derived from the era when the region was a separate country unto itself. More contemporary wags have not only maintained that tradition, they've continued to add to it.

Former President Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of its better-known storytellers. At his presidential library in Austin you can hear an animated life-sized LBJ in his cowboy clothes telling some of those stories. There are many others who are still out there weaving tales and keeping alive the myths and legends that make Texas seem larger than life.

I get a real kick out of the "Don't Mess with Texas" billboards and ads. What a great slogan! Begun in 1986, the campaign uses typical Texas bravado and humor to combat the evils of litter. It also sends a secondary message, I think, about the fierce independence these folks have. There are some political renegades even today that would like to secede from the Union again!

I wanted to use the "Don't Mess with Texas" logo here but it's trademarked; even the slogan is trademarked by TXDOT. You'll have to go to this website to read all about the successful anti-litter campaign and see a quarter century of its clever ads . . .

TALKIN' TEXAN

"This ain't my first rodeo . . ."

(Translation: "I've been around a while.")

Then there's Texas slang and Texas wisdom. You hear examples everywhere. They are similar to the colloquialisms and sayings I heard when I lived in Georgia but there's usually more "cowboy" in genuine Texas sayings than your average Southern sayings.

One of the funnier expressions I've heard in Texas was at the Conroe YMCA when we were camping at Huntsville State Park last month. It may not be exclusively Texan but it was the first time I'd heard the saying -- Jim's, too, when I told him later.

One older fella greeted another one with, "Good morning, young man." [Both men had to have been at least 80 years old.] "How ya doin' today?"

"I'm just happy I'm still lookin' at the green side of the grass!" came the quick reply.

That's a good one! I was on a nearby weight machine and too amused to stifle my giggle. The geezers were very happy to entertain their new audience (me! almost a geezerette) for the next ten minutes. I was starting to feel right at home by the time I left the Y that day. Those guys were a hoot.

It's impossible to visit or live for very long in Texas without hearing some tall tales and regional humor. That's one of the state's many charms. I've learned to take what most native Texans, especially older men, say with a healthy dose of skepticism because they love to pull your leg.

When I hear what I think may be a tall tale, I just smile and play along. That way the person doesn't know if I bought it or not. They're pleased either way because they've passed on the tradition.

Got humor?

Go find some! It's real easy no matter what state you're in. (Yes, that's an intentional pun.)

Next entry: the many charms of Brazos Bend State Park in Texas

Cheers,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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