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What?!? No Bananas?

By: David Leonhardt

"Where are your bananas?" It seemed like a logical question to ask. For all of my forty trips around the sun, bananas were a key item to place in the grocery cart. For the first time I could recall, the banana bin was empty. So I asked a store worker where the bananas were.

"We don't have any," he replied. "We'll be getting some in tomorrow."

It took me a few moments to absorb this information. "What do you mean you don't have any?" I thought. "Every store has bananas." True, sometimes they are almost green enough to pass for bent cucumbers. And they occasionally appear to have lost an arm-wrestling match with a watermelon. But there are always bananas of some sort in the store.

Then it dawned on me just how foolish my expectations were. I live well north of New York City. Even if somebody invented a way to cultivate them in the Great White North, it was early April, and they would not bear fruit at that time of year. For goodness sake, outside the snow was falling and inside I was expecting tropical bananas!

If you commute in a big city, you might have noticed traffic grinding to a halt.

Why? Look to bananas for the answer. Just as I was frustrated by my grocery expectations not being met, millions of commuters are frustrated daily by their traffic expectations not being met.

Consider some of the major machines in your life, such as television. Twenty years ago, we would watch a TV show. Ads would come and ads would go, but we would watch it from start to finish. Who does that these days?

"What were you watching, honey?"

"I dunno. But I think I caught 412 channels."

And if ever you should lose the converter ... I know, I know, this is a family publication, so we'll cut the profanity.

And what about the Internet? If a web site takes more than five seconds to load, where are we?

"Did you order that book from Amazon for me?"

"I dunno. But I think I reached warp speed with my clicking finger. Ouch! I think I sprained it."

If fancy TV gadgets and high-speed Internet feed our impatience, what about car ads? Vrroooooommm. See how fast this car can go? Wow. It does zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds ... in the ad. And zero to zero in half an hour stuck on the Santa Monica Freeway.

As we expect our machines each day to break yesterday's speed record, our cars seem to be slowing to a crawl. That's because more and more people are squeezing onto the same road space trying to zoom faster and faster and honking their horns louder and louder (because we all know that cars move faster when their horns get honked, right? Especially when they get honked LONG and LOUD, right?).

Is it just me, or is this poor math? A realist would expect traffic to get a little slower each year, which just proves how rare realists really are. Every one of us expects to move faster and faster.

And I expect bananas on the store shelf even when it is snowing outside. So what can we do? Easy, we can grumble and complain. We can shout abusive words at store clerks and other drivers. We can honk our horns (not recommended in the fruit section).

Or we can step back and ask ourselves logical questions about what we should realistically expect. For instance, "Can I really expect bananas on my grocer's shelves in the middle of winter when I know the truck is stuck in traffic?"

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