Origin Stories

I’ve always been intrigued by the beginnings of things.  Like, who was the first person who decided that a gas station might be a good idea, given the proliferation of cars back in the early part of the 20th century?  I mean, we all know about the Fords and their Model T, but who was the savant who said, “Hmm, there needs to be a ready source of petrol for these new-fangled vehicles”?

This fascination with how things begin runs the gamut from big things – like, who planned and built the first skyscraper in New York City? – to a family name on the side of a landscaper’s truck.  Like, what possessed Mr. Maldonado to open his own landscaping company?  How did he generate the capital to buy the trucks and equipment and hire the workers?  Was his family nervous when he took on this huge responsibility with no promise of a return on his investment?

I’ve been thinking about this as a blog post topic for a while.  It seems to arise in my mind when I’m driving, for some reason.  I look around me and all I see are daring “firsts” – who invented traffic lights?  Who opened the first yoga studio?  Kudos to all those folks who came from some other nation with the express goal of opening a family restaurant and introducing Indian food or Peruvian rotisserie chicken or even the ubiquitous Chinese cuisine(now “Asian fusion”) to the palates of boring Americana!  Who were the city planners who came up with the completely illogical naming of streets in the West End of Long Beach, where every street bears the name of a state but there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the order that they are in.  (Example:  Arizona Avenue, where I live, is sandwiched between Nebraska and Oregon.  Huh?)

When I went back to live at my mother’s house in Seaford (a small town on the South Shore of Long Island, which always impressed me because, according to the “Welcome to Seaford” town sign on Merrick Road, was established way back in the 1600s) while attending law school, I used to power walk around the various neighborhoods, including the ancient (by Seaford standards) Seaford Harbor.  I imagined that some of the properties down there might actually have been “purchased” (or flat out taken) from the Native Americans who lived there before the incursion of the town-founding Europeans in 1624.  One of the (many, many) things I want to do when I retire is historical real estate research, to maybe track the stories of some of the oldest titled properties on Long Island.  SOMEBODY (or more likely a small group of SOMEBODIES) had to be the first settlers in a strange land.  We always hear about the Pilgrims and the Jamestown colony but what about the first Long Islanders?  And let’s take it back even further, to the REAL first Long Islanders.  Where did the original natives come from?  They didn’t just spring up from the earth.

Go back even further, hundreds of thousands of years in the past.  Dictionaries always include the etymology of words, but who was the first person to actually use that word in conversation enough so that it would be memorialized through future generations?  Among the first humans to use words to communicate, who decided on the meanings?  Who invented written words?  For that matter, who was the first human to sing, or play music?  Who built the first guitar, and how did that person know what he (or she) was doing?

[I could get off on a whole tangent here, and perhaps I will one of these days, for a deeper discussion about the origins of our planet, and specifically our species on this planet, which I think about a lot.  Ultimately I’m content that I have no answers and will in all likelihood never get answers to those deepest of questions.  But a mind exercise I often engage in when I’m among masses of people –in Penn Station, for example – is to note that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE PEOPLE AROUND ME came out of a woman’s body and was a tiny, helpless infant, unable to talk, walk or do anything on their own for at least the first five years of their lives.  EVERY SINGLE PERSON, AS FAR BACK AS HUMAN HISTORY GOES.  That is, except for the very FIRST person or persons, if you consider that a human being is born of sperm and ova.  There’s always a “first”, right?  (Shall we engage in the proverbial chicken-and-egg debate, anyone?)  I understand how organized religions strive to present their own take on some kind of origin story (none of which I find to be a satisfying explanation), because it’s the first prong of humankind’s most intriguing inquiries:  Where did we come from, why are we here, and where are we going?  I don’t claim to have any answers except for these:  I came from SOMEWHERE, because I am quite obviously HERE.  I have some purpose for being here; I just haven’t figured it out yet (but hopefully I will).  And I won’t know where we go when we die until I actually die, which I am in no hurry to do.  You might say that’s simplistic and that I’m not a particularly deep thinker, which would be true.  But I’ve always been a person who prefers the obvious explanation.  I would make a very poor conspiracy theorist.]

My daily email from the inspirational blog “The Seeds 4 Life” today featured a sentence that very much captures my feelings about this whole line of thought:  “When you look around, everything you see was once someone’s dream or vision.”  [“You Have Brains in Your Head. You Have Feet in Your Shoes. You Can Steer Yourself Any Direction You Choose – Dr. Seuss”, posted by: Johanna Rosberg, TheSeeds 4 Life, 7/18/17, http://www.theseeds4life.com/you-have-brains-in-your-head-you-have-feet-in-your-shoes-you-can-steer-yourself-any-direction-you-choose-dr-seuss#more-6273]  Yes, copycats usually end up cashing in on someone else’s ideas, although they also make improvements.  I mean, the Wright Brothers are the renowned fathers of aviation, but some much-later genius said to himself (and his investors), “I think we need a whole FLEET of these flying machines to actually carry multiple humans from one place to another”.  It’s those first risk-takers that impress me the most.

* * * * *

Speaking of beginnings, I was so excited for the return of Game of Thrones this weekend and Episode 1 did not disappoint, laying the groundwork for what promises to be a scintillating Season 7.  From George R.R. Martin’s brain sprung this endlessly fascinating universe, and I will be sorry when the tale ends, presumably a little over a year from now.  There’s talk of prequels and sequels, and those efforts may have merit, but none will ever match the grandeur and fascination of the original.  (There’s always the novels, though – and we have two more of those massive tomes to look forward to!)

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