Change roars, and we retreat from the noise


In the characteristically Vineyard argument over dirt bikers and the noise they make roaring around the track they use at Nip and Tuck Farm, some of the debaters argue that the dirt bikers indulge that particular activity because there’s so little for young Islanders to do. Others list the abundant possibilities for diverting ourselves, which are familiar though in some cases peculiar, but do not include motorized vehicles.

Of course, no reasonable person would argue that in fact there is nothing for young people — or anyone at all — to do here. And no fair person would argue that dirt bike riding has no place in the list of pastimes that may attract the enthusiastic participation of Islanders. But, leaving aside reasonableness and fairness, and despite these rather generous limits on the nature and practice of disputation over such issues, people do hold and argue just these baseless positions.

I do the same thing. Packing some boxes of books the other day, I was reminded of the pleasure I’d taken in reading so many of them. (Not all of them, naturally, and not all of every one I’d ever taken up.) It also struck me that over the years, I’d allowed the inventory to build alarmingly, overwhelmingly actually, and that books, large and small, when taken together weigh tons. An onlooker waggled his head and said, “You know, you can have all these on one or two Kindles.”

Similarly, during the same backbreaking exercise, I came to Encyclopedia Britannica, which at the time it was published, maybe 15 years ago, promised to contain and index everything that everyone knew or had ever known. I thought, How could anyone be without such a treasure trove? How could the kids make their way to adulthood without ready access to the Britannica in the bookcase next to their bedrooms?

I suppose today, if I Googled those questions, Google would reply with a smirk, What Britannica knew is now outdated, and anyway it and every new bit of knowledge is available on their smart phones. Makes you feel something like a dirt biker in a fly-fishing world.

Dirt biking, I gather from websites devoted to the practice, has a long, British pedigree, stretching back to the early part of the last century. The Brits were big in auto racing and motorcycles then. It’s gotten bigger since, and naturally Americans have blown the whole sport wide open with big events, big machines, dedicated off-road courses, an industry of equipment manufacturers, and organized lobbying to protect the sport from the depredations of Congress and deafened and irritated neighbors. Plus, because you can’t be a dirt bike racer and be flabby, the sport’s supporters tout participants as among the fittest of the sports minded. It’s apparently an intensely aerobic activity, jacking up the heart rate to artery cleansing heights, and no wonder given the speeds and the bumps the riders experience. Here, heart rates also rise among neighbors, who are unanimously cold to the charms of the sport.

If you pause for a few moments to consider the blooming conflicts among enthusiasts for various types of recreational activities, you can see that video, video games, and pizza that’s delivered to your house in 30 minutes or less are all going to boom in the next few years. If you have a few dollars to invest, I’d pull them out of Exxon and put them into streaming video and games that you can play along or with friends on your iPhone or TV. Who wants to be the fisherman who has to fight with the owner of the beach to bait a hook and make a cast? Who wants to be the hunter who has to hunt cheek by jowl with a hundred other hunters, because the amount of private land where you can hunt has diminished, and the deer have learned to hang out where hunting is prohibited? Who wants to be the pedal-pushing bike rider who has to duke it out with drivers, mopeders, in-line skaters, walkers, joggers, and turkeys to claim a few feet of the public road? Who wants to be the snowboarder condescended to by skiers? Who wants to be the snowmobile rider who is ushered out of Yellowstone so the bison can roam? Who wants to be the bass fisherman prohibited from catching bass? The skateboarder chased by police for skating around the roundabout at the Steamship Authority wharf in Vineyard Haven? The kid who wants to drop a line in the water from the fish pier off the North Bluff, but has his bike towed because an irritated neighbor called the cops?

Better to be the gamer on the sofa, giving those fingers a workout, communicating digitally with the outside world, making not one single sound, except an occasional, exuberant “Take that, you slimeball” when a particularly brilliant keystroke brought a virtual car thief to his knees. Better to be the Wii dirt biker roaring around the TV screen, but with the sound turned off so your mother doesn’t know you’re messing around instead of looking up the gross national product of Ethiopia for the term paper that’s due tomorrow in social studies.