Things tend to break sequentially in my life, much like the Fukushima meltdown. This weekend, I had my first flat tire in years, high up in the Berkeley hills. Although it was a Sunday and lots of cyclists pedaled past asking if I had everything, I would have never asked for help. Cyclist’s Code of Honor: Fix Your Own Flats.
I remembered all the techniques my former bicycle racing coach, Mike Cox, had showed me for changing a flat, so I put the bike upside down, resting it on the seat, removed the front wheel, and got out my tools. While a single mosquito water-boarded me with its buzz, I pronged off the tire and felt inside to discover what caused the puncture. A tiny piece of gravel had gone through the rubber, which was getting worn from cycling around the pock-marked Berkeley roads.
Not everything in Berkeley is Elysian.
The scary part – which also proved the easiest task – was filling up the tube, once I’d nestled it back into the tire. That’s because I was using a newfangled CO2 cartridge, which I’d carried around for a few years but had never used. The illustrations on the instruction sheet were dead simple, and within 2 seconds, my tire was back to full pressure.
Later, I began to wonder if this cartridge emits the same CO2 that’s destroying the planet through global warming. On the other hand, it saved me the agony of 5 minutes of hand pumping plus the inconvenience of carrying a bicycle pump.
Sometimes, I can sympathize with the polluters.
So then, I got a new client who wanted me to Skype. I have an iPhone with an operating system so antediluvian, Skype wouldn’t have anything to with it. So I cycled (with my commuter bicycle, not the hill-riding vehicle) to the Apple store down on Fourth Street in Berkeley, and it looked like a Castro Street parade. Geniuses and whatever they call their salespeople all wore black and sported more ear and nose and lip rings, tattoos, and fluorescent hair colorings than you’d find backstage at a Cirque du Soleil dressing room.
I had brought along my computer, a 2008 MacMini, which I found out is nearly obsolete, just in case. It took the MacMini a really long time to download the current operating system for the iPhone and in the meantime, I realized I might as well get a new MacMini running the latest OS, Mavericks (what cool names Apple or its branding agency comes up with), so I could do things I couldn’t even imagine I could do.
And because I couldn’t even imagine what I could do with all these new operating systems, I signed up for a year of one-on-one tutoring at the Apple store for only $99.
The MacMini is way faster, and smarter, much like the CO2 tire pump eliminator cartridge. And the latest system on the iPhone emits some euphonious new ringtones plus a screen that lights up like a Van Gogh midnight blue sky. Alas, however, I still can’t install Skype, and will have to wait until I meet the Apple genius I signed up to meet next week will solve the original conundrum.
The final breakdown was my cracking a crown that clamped too harshly on a loose shard in a package of Trader Joe’s frozen steamed clams. (If I’d have finished law school – which I flunked out in the 60s -- I might have filed a civil suit.) I went to my dentist, whose children’s college tuitions were largely funded by the genetic deficiencies of my enamel and the lack of fluoride in Bremerhaven’s water supply, where my decaying teeth first emerged.
I was shocked when I walked into the familiar room, its walls absorbent with the tortures of thousands of patients past.
Dr. Olson had gone high-tech. Lighting the corner was a cheap screen, and protruding from the wall like a nubile dancer’s leg was a new x-ray machine. The last time I went to see Olson, a descendant of dentists whose daughter is continuing the line, he had pulled out a tattered manuscript, handwritten pages documenting my dental history. Now, everything was to be on the Internet. Or perhaps the Dental Cloud.
During the three hours I spent in the chair – for a root canal, insertion of a titanium pin, cauterization of the gums, and a temporary crown – the x-ray machine was put to use at least six times. And immediately after each x-ray, the screen displayed a vision of the latest iteration of my mouth. It finally felt as if dentistry – or at least my dentist – had leaped from the Middle Ages into the 21st century.
While waiting for the cement to settle, Olson wistfully asked his assistant, who told me the staff had spent more than a day in training to operate this equipment, whether she thought one day they both might be replaced by robots.
Frankly, I hope we’ll find a technology to prevent cavities and eliminate dentists, robotic or not, completely.