Photos provided by Carolyn Forsyth

Relativity was discovered by Einstein and the practical implications always eluded me. Then I visited Wyoming and discovered that relativity exists within our own space-Time Continuum. 

February, 2018


Relativity - Practical vs. Theory

The Theory of Relativity is generally portrayed in movies with a good-looking astronaut rocketing off into space and encountering a black hole where the astronaut and the spacecraft accelerate to a speed very close to the speed of light (it’s very fast).  The net effect of this exercise is that the astronaut is in a space-time bubble that slows RELATIVE TO the folks that sent the astronaut on this errand.

Over this Christmas break I encountered a much closer bubble that I found both interesting and worthy of discussion.

For reasons that need not be explained, I was driving with my spouse across Wyoming.  More specifically I drove both West to East across Wyoming and then South to North. Now doing this during a winter cold snap could be considered stupid (note the -9 degrees Fahrenheit picture from our dashboard). I also need to point out that Wyoming is generally uninhabited (they put up road signs to factories, chemical plants and refineries because there’s nothing else that the road services).  I’m not complaining. It’s just that there’s a whole lot of sagebrush and not a lot of much else over most of Wyoming.

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At a certain point in the East to West journey we pulled into the town of Rock Springs and we went into a Starbuck’s where we paid the now well-established price of $4.23 each for a couple of coffees with foamed milk and some flavorings.  We were still in sync with our West Coast world.

Several days later we were on the South to North journey across Wyoming and we entered the town of Wheatland. We needed gas, bladder relief and it was really cold so a cup of coffee seemed in order. No Starbuck’s here and it was New Years Day so the town was pretty quiet having to recover from the dropping of the Swarovski Crystal Ball from the water tower the previous midnight (I don’t know if that happened but you’ll get my point in a second).

The I-25 Pit Stop (Sinclair Gas) provided for all and there were a few folks sitting around a table and a gracious woman handling the cash register. I paid for my gas and got directions to the facilities. When I had completed those tasks, I requested a cup of coffee. She said, “Sure, that will be 53 cents.” She pointed to a coffee bar where I could draw coffee from an enormous metal urn and add my own milk, half and half or dairy substitute plus sugar or sugar sweeteners. She informed me that she made the coffee fresh this morning.  I could choose a small cup, a medium cup or a large cup. It was still 53 cents.

Over 45 years ago, my mother worked for a hamburger joint in San Francisco. She told me that the restaurant broke even on the hamburgers and apple pie they served. The profit came from coffee. They charged $1.00 for a cup (free refills).  My guess is that worked out to around 50 cents a cup.

The coffee in Wheatland was good and it kept me going.  It also made me realize that I had entered a time-warp of sorts that needed assessment. They weren’t advertising “We have the cheapest coffee in the universe.” They sold gas and sundries and coffee. There was a table to sit and rest.

I don’t want to make fun of Starbuck’s.  They don’t advertise on TV. They make lots of flavored coffee and tea drinks that they sell at enormous markups and people line up to pay for it. I won’t go into the issues around calories but each individual can make their own assessment. It’s for you to decide if paying $4.00 (and more) for a flavored, hot milk (or milk substitute) and coffee drink is a worthwhile investment of discretionary income. It’s hard to argue that Starbuck’s is providing sufficient value to the consumer when you can drop by the Wheatland gas station (it’s on the West side of the highway) and get a decent cup of coffee for 53 cents.

My point here is, in case it isn’t obvious, that we tend to see things relative to the tight circle that we generally live within. As you move away from that circle you can be exposed to things that don’t meet your normal expectations. Business people who travel tend to stick to patterns that they develop (airlines, hotels, car rentals all work to establish this through travel programs that encourage you to return). Moving outside of your patterns will expose you to things that are different. They can be good or bad experiences but they are different.

Different allows you to reevaluate current patterns and set new choices.

To make the Wheatland coffee more accessible we will need to invent a faster than fast transport device that uses little or no energy (and can pass an EPA review). I’m sure Elon Musk will have this ready as soon as he gets those Tesla production issues worked out.

We will also need Wheatland to get another urn to handle the increased business.

Until then, there’s a black hole somewhere around Wheatland, Wyoming. A cup of coffee will take you back almost 50 years and you can ponder how far we’ve come (or not).