Waiting room

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, January 18, 2015

I am sitting in the latest version of the waiting room at the dealership, a place I’ve been many times before in my three decades of Subarus. I’ve taken several leaves of absence. I’ve left happy, I’ve left mad and even vowed never to return. And yet here I am, swearing never to say never again, pressing a pod of coffee down and grabbing a bottle from the mini-fridge they have stocked for those waiting for the axe to fall. The axe of the hungry internal combustion expert to fall upon the vulnerable neck of the non-mechanical woman. That’s how I look at it.

Yes, I’ve had my Subarus. A gold early-80s model I bought for $500. Then the red Loyale, a lemon of a car that never made it up Lawson Hill over 23 mph, haters honking behind me. My silver Outback empowered me again, despite its CV joint issues and oil leaks. Finally, today’s model, the only new car I’ve ever purchased, a black 2010 Outback — with every single dash light currently blinking on and off even though it runs perfectly fine.

But this isn’t really about the cars; it’s about the waiting.

I come prepared this time around, with things to do. In the old days, you came unprepared, which was the only way to come. You had a novel, maybe a copy of the San Juan Horseshoe (I did cartoons for them back then and might have been doodling). Sometimes, you’d flip through the dog-eared copies of ancient Motor Trend and Sunset magazines, but mostly you’d fidget for a while and then settle in, thinking thoughts like, “Is coffee really as bad for me as I think?” And, “Who was that first person who roasted the beans, pulverized them and cooked them in water?”

Laptop. Phone. Bookkeeping project. Earplugs. I settle into a chair feeling smug with such wildly productive projected use of time. I eat a granola bar from the pile, dipping it in my pod coffee, wondering who buys a baseball cap with the word Impreza on it, or Subaru pint glasses. Someone must. Someone a lot like me, presumably, four Subarus later.

After 15 minutes of pod-coffee-driven data entry, I become particularly aware of the only other person in the waiting area, who is sitting kitty-corner from me in one of four Naugahyde faux-modernist club-style armchairs. A larger woman, about my age, maybe a little older, with long hair and a peasant skirt on. At first I figure she’s on the tail end of a wait, about to be handed her keys and liberated; but she continues to sit there. Half an hour passes and there she sits, peaceably doing nothing.

I’m not thinking of the old days now, I’m thinking, “How can she just be sitting there, staring ahead, hands folded?” No one does that. When someone she recognizes shows up, they chat about where she lives (Ridgway) and about mutual friends, and then he leaves and she is back to the sphinx-like meditation, even though I now know she’s actually in it for the long haul, she told him so. Hours of this old-school and minimalist behavior? How many hours, for goodness’ sake?

I stop my data entry when I realize I’ve misplaced my phone; and when my name is called in order to review the accordion-like estimate, I go into a phone finding frenzy, ready to retrace my steps. I call upon St. Anthony, patron saint of lost objects (my mother’s method), to help me, and within five minutes, I hear the ding of a text and realize the phone has fallen between the seat and the center console. Such relief! Because what on earth would I do without that phone?

Good question, and one that takes me back to the Flower Motors Sphinx and her ability to sit in a chair, to do that one simple thing, which is what is needed when one is waiting. This state, which scientists have identified as part of the brain’s critical down time — especially needed in today’s world of busyness and overstimulation — is central also to recent plethora of studies on boredom.

The right kind of boredom (the settle-in kind – known also as disengagement or daydreaming — that leads to something called Default Mode Network) is evidently crucial to the mental processes that affirm our identities and develop our understanding of human behavior. It is linked to better problem solving and creativity, and to un-congesting the brain. Daydream mode, in short, is compulsory for the health of the brain and for the human attached to it.

Stellar news! Now all we have to do is act on it. Relearn to sit. Wait. Disengage. Stare. And maybe notice that birdie on a branch, wondering how feathers work, and where it is these mysterious creatures actually sleep at night.

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