Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's So Obvious

There are some things we can all agree on.

Well, no, actually there aren't. But I keep forgetting and finding myself faced with awkward silences or worse when I try to make party talk out of one of those things we supposedly can all agree on.

The first time I remember it happening was back in the '80s when I found myself standing at a hotel bar in Des Moines next to a pretty girl and decided to chat her up while we waited for our event to start.

CNN was gassing away on a TV above the bartender's head, and an item popped up on convulsions in South Africa as apartheid neared its final days.

"Who in their right mind," I wondered aloud, "would imagine that it's okay to run a country by suppressing the rights and opportunities of 90 percent of its inhabitants?"

D'oh.  "Anybody who can get away with it" is the right answer to that naive question. There are lots of such people, and they've been getting away with it on every continent but Antarctica throughout recorded history.

One of them was my bar companion, whose accent I had failed to register as South African. Who'd have expected to run across her in Iowa? I thought she would throw her martini in my face. She didn't, but she gave me a piece of her mind and a passionate lecture on the shortcomings of her indigenous countrymen.

No matter how utterly wrongheaded or even downright evil you are sure something may be, there are people who are just as sure the world would be a better place with bigger helpings of it. Don't assume one of them isn't seated beside you at dinner or sharing your church pew.

I was reminded of this lesson last year when I saw an article in the New York TImes about people in Chelsea and the West Village who wished the High Line Park had never been built.

The High Line Park is a mile or so of scenic landscaping installed over the tracks of an abandoned elevated freight line, providing hitherto unseen and unexpectedly stirring mid-rise views of the surrounding converted warehouses and factories, stylish new condo and hotel buildings, and the Hudson River.

It struck me the moment I saw it as visionary, an indisputable benefit to mankind. A rusting hulk of unused infrastructure, haven of derelicts and vermin, had been transformed into a beautiful space, open to all, without displacing anything or anyone. Surely we could all agree that this was an unalloyed good.

But no, the park's very perfection and popularity doomed it in the eyes of many locals, who complained to the Times that rents were rising and the new crowds of well-heeled visitors were spoiling the post-industrial funkiness they treasured in their neighborhood.

Which brings me to the images above, before and after views of the Los Muertos pier here in Puerto Vallarta. It's where fishing, water taxi, and snorkeling excursions begin from the busiest beach on the bay. The new pier was just opened this month to great fanfare. Even without the opening night lighting, it's very good looking and far more useful than its predecessor.

Around the central sculpture there's lots of seating with excellent views of the bay, the town and the surrounding mountains. And the business end of the pier descends toward the water in three levels so boats can be easily boarded, high tide or low.

The old one really did look that bad, a crumbling lump of cheap concrete and rotting iron work. Still, there are people who miss it.

I forgot myself a couple of weeks ago and innocently remarked to an acquaintance at a social gathering how puzzling it was that anyone should prefer the old wreckage to its replacement. She happened to be one of the contrarians, and once again I had to listen to the indefensible being defended.

"I've done it again," I said to myself.

And once wasn't enough. Not a half hour later I was talking with a man who's been slowly building his own house next to the barbecue restaurant he runs in the rain forest just outside town. I casually told him how strange it is how Mexican builders seem to leave rusting rods of rebar sticking out of the roof of almost everything they put up.

I expected to share a wry chuckle and a shrug with him at the fecklessness of local builders. Instead he replied, "I've sure got them on my house. If I have a good year I may go up another floor."

Some people never learn. Maybe that's something we can all agree on.

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