As a futurist, I’m usually watching the leading edge of change: new user interfaces, new ideas, new products. But a futurist also has to think about the way the past impacts the future. About the way living history keeps the future coming a little slower.
This past week, six of us took the Coast Starlight train up and down the west coast from Seattle to San Louis Obispo and back to attend a double ceremony for my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary and my son’s recent wedding (7-7-07).
We had rooms in the sleeper cars. Everyone in our car – both directions – was white or Asian. The stewards were black men with skin so dark that at night you saw their clothes and their teeth and the whites of their eyes. The older white women (I guess some were in their nineties) dressed in long dresses and layers of fresh makeup to eat in the dining car. Except for the occasional glimpse of a laptop or dig-e-player (free to sleeper passengers) behind the swinging blue curtains of the rooms, our part of the train was nearly electronics-free. We played cards with physical decks in the parlor car. People talked with perfect strangers.
No one searched us getting on or off or asked us where we’d left our luggage lately. We carried on water bottles and shampoo and kept our shoes tightly laced to our feet.
I felt like we has stepped into the fifties. The furniture and the setting and even the clacking of the wheels and the high sharp sound of the horn contributed to the sense of something long and old and long lost — even partly well lost, like the sense of separation between races which I hope was accidental. I kept wanting to sing Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans.”
It’s a good thing to remember the things that stay the same when thinking about the future. Maybe it won’t be Amtrak, which is threatened on the budget chopping block every year, but it will be people and families and the basic things that drive us. It will be love and the desire for adventure and the curiosity of the many. Maybe it will even be sitting at a table and playing with real cards.