Friday, November 05, 2010

Living in the past

by Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley

So here we are, and it’s November. Thanksgiving’s coming up, and the suggested topic for the month is things we are thankful for.

Luckily, there are lots of things I can mention. Life, health, health insurance, doctors, modern medicine, my children, their schools, my husband, his job, my book contracts, my computer, air travel, cars, grocery stores, toilet paper with Aloe Vera oil...

I could keep going, but I won’t. Much of it comes down to one thing: modern life. Or maybe more specifically, technology. The technology that allows us to live fairly long, fairly healthy lives of relative ease and comfort.

I had an idea for a historical mystery recently, and as a result I’ve given some thought to living in the past, specifically in the American West some hundred and thirty years ago. I’ve also spent quite some time over the past week watching episodes of a certain old TV-series.

(No, not Gunsmoke. I’m not that old.)

It was called The Young Riders and debuted in 1989. Set in the Wild West in 1860, it dealt with a half dozen or so young men (and a girl in disguise) who delivered mail for the Pony Express.

The Young Riders never did become a huge hit, but it held its own for a few years, and spawned what I can only describe as a huge fangurrrl following. Given the eye candy factor, it wasn’t surprising. It also launched the careers of a few actors who have gone on to do rather well for themselves, including Josh Brolin, who played a young Wild Bill Hickok, and who was my own personal eye candy of choice. To be honest, I still gush when I watch those old episodes, and it’s more than twenty years later.

Each real life Pony Express rider rode up to 75 miles per day, changing horses every 15 miles or so. Today, we can cover 75 miles in a matter of an hour on a nice smooth interstate. Then, it was an all day thing. Sometimes another rider wasn’t available at the next way station, so the first guy would have to keep going. The Pony Express covered the distance between St. Joseph, Missouri and San Francisco, California, in ten days. Riding for the Pony Express was hard, dangerous work; just check out this advertisement:

In 1860, the Pony Express owners, Russell, Majors and Waddell, used the 1860 presidential election as a way to promote the Pony Express and how fast it could deliver the U.S. Mail. On November 7, 1860, a Pony Express rider departed Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory, with the election results. Riders sped along the route, over snow-covered trails, and into Fort Churchill, Nevada Territory, and from there California’s newspapers received word of Lincoln’s election only seven days and seventeen hours after the East Coast papers, an unrivaled feat at the time.

Earlier this week, there were elections held in the here and now. I don’t know about you guys, but in my house, the TV stayed on and hubby got the news as the votes were tallied. Could you imagine waiting seven days and seventeen hours to find out who won?

So let’s hear it for modern technology, shall we? News at our fingertips... the ability to pick up the telephone and talk to someone halfway across the country, or halfway across the world, at the press of a few buttons, and from the car yet!... not to mention the ability to see episodes of my favorite TV show twenty years after it went off the air just by signing up for a free trial with Netflix!

So what's your favorite piece of newfangled technology? I have to admit to being rather partial to air conditioning myself, although I don't honestly see how I'd be able to do without any of it. I wouldn’t last a week in the Old West, and today, I’m thankful I don’t have to!


Gina said...

Good morning, Bente/Jennie -

The problem with modern marvels (and pretty much everything else in life, for that matter) is that what seems great to one person may be a nightmare for others. For example, I'm allergic to aloe vera oil!

My favorite modern convenience is everything that goes into processing words. I'm old enough to remember manual typewriters, and how we had to erase errors on multiple carbon copies while keeping them still in the machine so the corrected letter would type into the correct location (not above or below the line, nor too far to the left or right of the original place) so it would match up with the rest of the text. Yet that was a tremendous advance on the one-letter-at-a-time hand writing that took place in medieval scriptoriums.

I also appreciate air travel that allows us to reach Europe in a matter of hours instead of having to spend weeks on a ship, the microwave that cooks a baked potato within minutes (great when you're really, really hungry), and the freezer that keeps ice cream cold. Maybe most of all, I appreciate electricity, because it makes so much else possible. I know, I used to work for an electric utility, so maybe I'm too attached to this, but to me electricity remains magical.

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Bente.

With winter coming on, I'm going to vote the other way and vote for central heat. I can't imagine having to chop wood every day or shovel coal to stay warm. Of course, I would have hopped on one of those ponies and headed for Texas!

And, come to think of it, indoor plumbing probably runs a close second...great post!

Joyce Tremel said...

I'm with you, Bente. I love technology! I remember typewriters, too. When I was about 19, I attempted to write my first mystery novel on a typewriter, which, thankfully is long gone. Actually both the manuscript and the typewriter are long gone.

Central heat and AC are good, but we have a woodburning stove so the furnace is rarely on. We still have a credit on our gas bill from last winter!

The thing I really love is my grind and brew coffeemaker. Couldn't live without it!

Ramona said...

Would a nice potent painkiller qualify as newfangled technology? Because I know I would not want to have a tooth pulled, a baby delivered or a wound stitched up with just a few shots of whiskey to help me through it.

Not that there's anything wrong with a few shots of whiskey.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

"I have to admit to being rather partial to air conditioning myself..."

Now Bente, don't get me started on how air conditioning started the downfall of socialization in America. Don't believe me, think back to the 50's & 60's if you can to when families would flock to local restaurants, pubs & corner taverns to soak up the A/C, dirnk and be with friends & family. Now we sit in the comfort of our air conditioned homes and... Well you get the picture. Some of us dream up ways to "literally" kill people.

Rant over. I began thinking of this during my extended trips to China where A/C is a luxury.

Anyway, I love and hate my phone. But one of the love features for my Android Phone is VLingo. Now all I have to do is click an icon before entering my car. Once in the car, I put the phone on the seat next to me and if I need something, I say, "Hey Vlingo."

A sexy female voice responds "Yes Master. What can I do for you today?" Okay, yeah I set it up to say that.

Then I can tell it to phone someone, text someone, email someone, or navigate me to a location without ever picking up or looking at my phone. The voice to text feature is amazing. If I want, I can say, "Text Linda Bereswill, I love you." The sweet Vlingo lady will read the message back to me and I say "Send."

I score points with the Lovely wife and sometimes I get lucky.

Karen in Ohio said...

Wil, I love that. Now I really wish I'd gotten the Droid when I got my new phone a couple months ago. Rats.

Gina, I remember the tediousness of typing, in particular since I was such a lousy typist. I really dreaded multi-page, multi-copy manuscripts, and usually ended up with holes all through my papers. The first thing I noticed with typing on a computer/word processor was how much faster I could type. (Cue the fanfare.)

But I'd have to say that microwave ovens changed my life, and I'm tremendously grateful for that technology. And since my husband always says he married me because A) I could both pronounce and spell his Polish last name, and B) for my microwave. :-)

Laurie said...

Fun post, Bente! I wish that I had a specific item of technology that I could say that I was thankful for because I'm thankful for them all. I agree with what Will said about A/C. I can still remember when my daughter was a toddler and I couldn't afford AC for my house and it was like an oven inside. I'd spend the entire day with her outside the house finding any place that was air conditioned to keep us comfortable: library, mall, movie, restaurants. Looking back maybe it would have been cheaper if I bought central air. lol

Bente/Jennie said...

Gina, yes, airtravel rocks! Lets me go home and visit my family frequently!

Martha, heat is good. And hairdryers. Just imagine living 100+ years ago in, say, Dakota, and having to wash your hair in January. No wonder people died young.

Oooh, coffee maker! I don't drink coffee, so I can't totally relate to that one, but sure, as cranky as all you coffee drinkers get when you don't get your fix, I can imagine many a marriage has been saved by a good grinder.

Bente/Jennie said...

Ramona, definitely! Pain killers count big-time. As does modern medicine in general. I would have died having either one of my kids without it. No kidding.

Freddy, LOL! You programmed your phone to say 'yes, master'? Knowing you, I can totally see that, btw. Does she have a name?

Bente/Jennie said...

Karen - love my microwave. I'm the queen of microwave cooking. Not TV-trays, but anything that can be cooked in a microwave. Baked potatoes, bacon, broccoli (apparently it's better for the broccoli than cooking in water; keeps more of the nutrients)...

Laurie, yeah, I can see Will's point about AC. It sure is nice when you live somewhere where it goes over and stays over 90 all summer, though.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Does she have a name?

I like to call her Jennie.

Bente/Jennie said...

Awww! *blushing* I love you too!

Patg said...

No one would ever think to call me 'an old fashion girl', I love all things modern and futuristic. Air travel was a major part of my career that probably gave me a million bucks in free travel, so I'm thankful and grateful, but as far as I'm concerned, it still takes too long. I love having a car at my disposal, but why do "I" have to drive it. Why isn't it programable?
Thanks, Will, I'm going to get one and have a male voice respond with 'Please, mistress, command me.'

Bente/Jennie said...

Actually, Pat, I enjoy futuristic and sci fi stuff, as well. I gave that some thought too a few months back, due to another story idea. And yes, I did the airline beat for a while - SAS - and agree that it does take long. But 5 hours from New York to London sure beats 7 days on the QE II.

Patg said...

Ahhh, if I had the chance at a good cabin on the New Queen Mary transatlantic vs the super sonic
have a hard time deciding.