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MailTribune.com
  • Welcome to the evolution

  • Hey there, how are ya?
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  • Hey there, how are ya?
    Wait " what? You're actually going to answer the question? See, the thing is, I'm already halfway into the next paragraph and wasn't expecting (or, truth be told, desiring) a response.
    Just doing my civic duty, getting a checkmark in the great scorebook of life. So, um, see you later.
    When? " There you go again.
    We pass people in the corridors, on the sidewalks, in stores all the time " give them a nod or a grunt and move on. Suppose these days they click cellphones or text each other — although that might be reserved for someone across the table from you at a restaurant.
    Who has the time, really, to greet another person anymore?
    Case in point, the trouble the state is having getting a Welcome Center constructed outside of Ashland. Seems the neighbors — wherever they are, their property probably butts up against I-5 somewhere — are worried about the water rights (R.I.P., Jake), the construction, the lighting " knowing Ashland, probably the aura of a Welcome Center.
    Heck, the state promises to put a chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire, around the place. And nothing says "Welcome" like barbed wire!
    As is the case with neighbors everywhere, the problem is that it's planned for their backyard. Well, next to the interstate, through a field, over a fence (topped with barbed wire). So, it's not so much a matter of NIMBY as NIMBYAI5TAFOTFTWBW.
    Welcome to Oregon " now leave.
    Medford doesn't have that problem, of course, since there's a viaduct to safely guide travelers — who would otherwise window-shop along the empty storefronts on Main Street — from the rest area outside Phoenix to the one near Central Point.
    And if by chance someone gets lost and takes an off-ramp that — eventually — leads downtown, they can make their way to the Greyhound portal ... that monument dedicated to the desire to go somewhere else.
    We do this on a small scale, as well. Notice how few welcome mats outside the front door actually say "Welcome" anymore? And even if they do, what's the proper etiquette for such a greeting? Yup, scrape the schmootz off your shoes on it.
    Cats, at least, have the courtesy to occasionally deposit a gift on a welcome mat — though how many dead birds you want in the house is an owner's prerogative.
    Speaking of what the cat dragged in, most welcome messages are just so boring, generic to a fault. Hello. Welcome. Greetings. You can almost feel the strain in someone's voice when they rise to the effort of saying, "Nice to see you."
    And no one dares say "Good Morning" anymore without running the risk of being asked, "What's so good about it?" or a begrudging admittance that "It's morning, at least."
    We're much more comfortable telling people to leave: Scram, buzz off, get out of here, beat it, later alligator, peace out, TTFN, make like a banana and split, like the wind and blow, like a tree and leave, take a hike, fly a kite, live long and prosper, don't do anything I wouldn't do, catch you on the flip side, are you still here?, don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out "
    Wait, how'd my father get in here?
    The problem with welcoming someone is, of course, that they might never leave. And, as Dan Hick and the Hot Licks taught us, how can we miss you, if you won't go away?
    Maybe the most familiar song about welcoming someone, on the other hand, comes from "Cabaret":
    Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
    Fremde, etranger, stranger
    Gluklich zu sehen, je suis enchante,
    Happy to see you " til the Nazis get in the way.
    There you go " open the back door and in march the Nazis. Or, in the case of the Welcome Center south of Ashland, Californians.
    Americans go to great lengths to keep people from entering. Drones along the border with Mexico, step through a full-body screener before getting on a plane, Do Not Enter if you are eating or drinking, No Shoes No Shirt No Service, You Must Be This Tall To Get On This Ride, No Dogs Allowed, Except Service Dogs (which, when you think about it, puts a lot of pressure on seeing-eye dogs to read the sign), a points driven "path" to citizenship, Children Under 18 Not Admitted Without A Parent Or Guardian.
    It's not surprising that we depend more and more on our gadgets to live our lives. Sure, there's the occasional FaceSpace "friend" who refuses to accept our entreaty, and our texts can be blocked, but for the most part every anonymous person is pretty much equal to every other pseudonym on the Internet.
    It seems as long as no one else knows who we are, our simselves can be as welcoming as all get out ... so to speak.
    Culturally, though, our wariness alert level has been raised to Stage Orange. And if we see a Nazi or a dog or a Californian or a shirtless, shoeless, under-18 wanderer nearing our personal space, it doesn't seem as though our handheld devices will save us from actual human interaction.
    Unless, of course, you have a handheld device that can do more than save you from a teenager wearing a hoodie, carrying an iced tea and a bag of Skittles — it can make sure he never comes into your neighborhood again.
    The great existential cartoonist S. Gross — beloved to fans of The New Yorker, National Lampoon and Sesame Street, among other outlets — summed up in a single panel the American predicament of not knowing whether we're coming or going.
    A worried man, with his hat on his knees, sits in the lone chair of a nondescript room. There are doors to his left and right. One has a sign reading "Do Not Enter," the other a sign reading "Do Not Exit."
    Fear begets immobility in a time and place when every choice seems like the wrong one, and you can't be sure of what's waiting on the other side of the door.
    Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@mailtribune.com.
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