The politics of scarcity

In Portland, where there are many people traveling via many different modes of transportation, I rarely wave at people driving cars. Sometimes I’ll wave a “thank you” if someone does something nice, or sometimes if I’m feeling particularly exuberant I’ll wave at someone else who also looks happy. But mostly, if anything, I smile.

When I’m out-n-about on country roads, however, where the traffic is scarce and I rarely see anybody, I’ll wave to anyone who comes by. Which, of course, on roads in the middle of nowhere, is mostly people driving cars. I was thinking about this earlier this week, as I waved to yet another Forest Service vehicle that passed me on my mini bike trip. I have no real affinity for these random people whizzing past me on some lonely forest road, but I still feel compelled to acknowledge their existence in a more tangible way than I do many people I see around me in my real community of Portland. In fact, it almost seems rude to do anything less than make eye contact and smile.

What I think it comes down to is what I’ve been thinking of as the politics of scarcity–not in the sense that having fewer resources will undermine national security the way some people who talk about “the politics of scarcity” mean, but in the sense that when something is more scarce, in this case the resource of other human companionship, it becomes more valuable. When I haven’t seen hardly anyone for days, anybody who comes by is kind of exciting. Or worthy of a wave, at least:)

I think this is also why, when I’m out-n-about, I will talk to basically anyone. When three dudes on loaded bikes pulled up behind me in Estacada, for example, I followed them to a taco cart not so much because I wanted a taco (although the hot food was amazing, and way better than the trail mix I was about to pull from my own bag) but because the idea of sharing tacos with other people who also had stories of adventure to tell was enticing in a way that it might not have been had I been hanging out with my friends all week.

So yes, absence may actually make the heart grow fonder. Or, at least, it makes this little chica actively seek out what I might otherwise take for granted. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there, but it’s not that I should wave to everyone in Portland, too. I think it’s something along the lines that my little place in Portland, my little sparkling gems of community and friendship tucked into the larger Portland world–those gems stand out from the larger context of the city the way actual people stand out from the yawning empty space of a national forest on rainy weekdays. Sometimes they’re far apart, sometimes unseen for days (or weeks), but always there somewhere, and always making my day brighter when we run into each other, lighting up the way with a wave and a smile.

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