Eight plastic chairs were arranged in a tidy square in the waiting area of a local tire company. Seven of those chairs were occupied. One customer was reading “Time” magazine, another a library book. A woman talked in a not-so-quiet voice on her cell phone while the teenager beside her scrolled through Instagram on her own phone. The remaining customers stared with rapt attention at the flat-screen TV that hung on the wall above a cardboard cut-out of the Michelin Man. “The Price Is Right” was blaring.
After consulting with the young man behind the counter about my impending purchase, I pointed to a spot in the waiting room under a lovely potted ficus tree. “I don’t mean to be anti-social,” I said, “but would it be okay if I move a chair over there while I wait for my tires?”
He shrugged. “You can sit anywhere you want.”
I picked up the one empty chair and set it under the ficus so that I faced the Pepsi machine with my back to the TV. I pulled a bottle of tea and my book—“Down the Great Unknown” by Edward Dolnick, the riveting true story of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 river journey through the Grand Canyon–out of my tote bag and settled into my little oasis for what I hoped would be a peaceful few minutes. Then my own cell phone rang. I gathered my belongings and headed out to the sidewalk to take the call, which lasted no more than three minutes.
I returned to the waiting room only to discover that the man with the “Time” magazine, clearly a kindred spirit, had taken my seat. He stood up when he saw me. “Sorry, I thought you had gone,” he said. “I didn’t mean to steal your spot.”
I assured him it was okay and that I didn’t really want to read anyway, which wasn’t true but what else could I say? I sat down in the chair he had vacated and turned my attention to “The Price Is Right,” grateful that–vapid as it is–at least it wasn’t Fox News.
While I spent the next few minutes watching Drew Carey invite wildly enthusiastic members of the studio audience to COME ON DOWN, I pondered why TV has become as essential a part of many businesses as a public restroom. You can’t go to the dentist or the airport or the laundromat or most any restaurant without having to cope with whatever televised nonsense the management has deemed more important than your conversation or your quiet time.
I didn’t come up with any good answers, but I did decide what gift to put at the top of my Christmas wish list this year: A “TV-B-Gone” keychain remote control that stealthily turns off any television set from up to 50 feet away. I sure hope Santa’s listening.
(December 11, 2016)