Exploring the city
The wooden furniture outside the cafe blends seamlessly with the surrounding trees. Nearby, a Siberian husky pants while trotting next to a man on a skateboard. Pine needles speckle the black pavement beneath their feet. A stone’s throw away, the vast lake—impossibly, paradisiacally blue— shimmers beneath the sun.
“Living here, you learn to tell the difference between the footsteps of baby hedgehogs, squirrels scuttling, and mama skunks pitter-pattering,” a male passenger tells me (pretty sure, but not 100%, that he was joking).
When I first arrive in South Lake Tahoe, I almost don’t notice the Applebee’s, Denny’s, or McDonalds dotting the main highway drag of this town of 22,000 (which the September ’18 edition of the SF Chronicle travel section describes as generally having the more “touristy party scene” in contrast with the North Shore’s “quieter, more nature-oriented scene”).
To accommodate to their foresty surroundings, the otherwise incongruous chain operations seem to masquerade themselves inside the structures of cozy log cabins— which, while charming, also briefly bring to mind a salesman trying to befriend consumers by adopting their lingo and mannerisms in order to sell them something.
The older lady I drive later on—who wears glasses and her silver hair up in a high ponytail—has opinions on all of them, which she shares with me not long into our ride.
“I much prefer iHop, but will go to Denny’s every once in a while,” she discloses. “It’s better than McDonalds at least— that’s for sure.”
When Greta* does eat at McDonalds, she orders the McMuffin without cheese, and gives her husband the hash browns.
“You have a good day now, Dear,” she says to me at the end of the ride, sweetly handing me a pinecone as my tip.
Other (almost) passengers include two girls standing next to a bike, one of whom says, “My friend’s too drunk to bike home.” They cancel after realizing it will be too complicated to try to fit the bike into my car.
A baby skunk crosses the road when another passenger, a male tourist from Sweden, comes in with a notebook. He tells me he’s just spent the past few hours riding a chairlift up and down the mountain while reading and writing.
“I can’t get anything creative done unless I’m in motion,” he shares.
Back home where there is no ski lift nearby, his treadmill suffices. Charlie* also runs a lake-themed Instagram, the fodder for which he gathers by visiting different lakes across the globe. His next stop will be Clearlake, California.
Bigger passenger story: pushing past filter bubbles and how ‘bad art’ activates the mind
I’m recovering from the anxiety of having just watched what appeared to be a small corgi tumbling out from the back of the truck in front of me (thankfully it turns out to only be a loaf of bread) when Serena* gets into my car. With the door open the air briefly smells like pine needles; once she closes it, it goes back to smelling like sausage pizza brought in by the passenger before her.
Minutes into our ride, Serena is telling me about her unorthodox practice of seeking out and watching movies that have received negative reviews.
“I like being able to form my own opinion,” she explains. “I want to be able to point out for myself what I didn’t like about it—and also what I did.”
Serena sees this not as a waste of time but as an opportunity for honing her critical thinking skills. Her mind is clicked on as she pays attention to the mechanics of what worked and what didn’t work.
A passage from Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick comes to mind as she tells me this: “Bad art makes the viewer much more active,” while seamless delivery and impeccable presentation grant our minds the luxury of clicking off.
Author Lidia Yuknavotich’s words come to mind as well: “They should read everything they can get their hands on. What they love, what they hate, all of it. You wouldn’t jump into an empty pool, would you? Literature is the medium. You have to swim in it.”
Pre COVID, I sometimes put Serena’s philosophy into practice at Barnes & Noble— gathering a tall stack of reading materials and transporting them to the cozy chair by the Starbucks fireplace. After ordering a peppermint hot coco I’d then pore through them while trying to soak in as much as I could. The magazines, with topics spanning from bird-watching to mountaineering to geology, were ones I wouldn’t ordinarily purchase. When reading them next to the fireplace though, my brain delighted in unexpected knowledge.
Many people have something to teach us, I believe. Serena believes this too.
We talk about how watching movies that fall outside your typical “genre” can also be a way of pushing past confirmation bias. Humans are wired to pay more attention to information or content that bolsters our preexisting worldview. I’ve found though that seeing a movie that really confuses or challenges me pushes me out of that mindset, and can result in learning.
Author Jenny O’Dell also highlights why this is a positive thing: “Corralled by our filter bubbles and branded identities, we’re running the risk of never being surprised, challenged, or changed—never seeing anything outside of ourselves, including our own privilege,” she writes.
I think Serena’s mentality towards movies can extend into a more general life philosophy. Imagine if we pushed past confirmation bias in other realms of our daily worlds.
What if we engaged with people we didn’t immediately like, who may turn out to house some hidden treasures?
What if we prodded deeper into an argument or belief when our knee-jerk reaction is to reject and run away from it?
I don’t believe that doing this is equivalent to jumping ship and converting to an entirely new mode of thinking. Nor does it have to mean mindlessly absorbing “the opposing side’s” every word while abandoning your pre-existing beliefs.
Rather, it can simply mean incorporating new beliefs into your current repertoire. It can mean perhaps accommodating. It can mean allowing for the possibility that your thinking may ever so slightly shift without morphing altogether, or changing at a more fundamental level.
I think there’s definitely a such thing as letting in too much though. We all have limited time and attention, after all—and a critical lens (plus skepticism in general) can protect against the surplus of stimuli that threaten to steal bits of these finite resources at every turn.
Saying no to some things is also important for achieving depth and forging a sense of self. As Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, wrote: “Rejection is an inherent and necessary part of maintaining our values, and therefore our identity. We are defined by what we choose to reject. And if we reject nothing (perhaps in fear of being rejected by something ourselves), we essentially have no identity at all.”
Your homework for tonight, LyftTales readers: go see a bad movie and tell me everything you didn’t like about it. Ditch your family, your kids, your partner, your house chores, your whatever else for Tommy Wiseau.
Or bring them along with you, if they’re up for the challenge of pushing past their confirmation biases too.
If you liked this post, please share it on social media! You can also follow us on IG @lyft_tales