The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 1, 2000


Deep pondering for the new era: Teleporters, Barry White, snow globes and positive vision

Bar Talk: for the Commentary page

By Teresa Leo
Want to go into the next millennium wrestling Bill Gates for the title of richest person in the world? Forget getting on the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Invent the teleporter. That's the number one device people I interviewed wanted to see realized as we move into the 21st century.

What else was on people's minds as we stand on the precipice of a new era?

I visited three local watering holes to find out: Space, a dance club in Northern Liberties, where folks gyrated to Cher's "Believe" and K.C. & the Sunshine Band's "Shake Your Booty"; Lena, a restaurant/lounge in Old City, for a sedate Friday after-work happy hour; and the Strike II Tavern, a former longshoreman's bar in Queen Village, during a Saturday afternoon screening of a WWII movie whose drawn-out plane crash scene synchronized uncannily with the lyrics of "Freebird" playing on the jukebox.

I asked pub dwellers who they thought the most important person of the last 1,000 years had been. Move aside, Einstein, Edison and Da Vinci. Word on the street (or at least in the bar) is that songster Barry White tops the list.

"More people have been conceived through Barry White albums than those of any other singer," said graphic artist John Wilson, 33. "So he single-handedly increased the world's population."

As for the greatest invention, though many gravitated toward such cornerstone innovations as the mimeograph, the movable press, electricity and the Internet, there were a few who rallied around the unsung creations that we might take for granted in our everyday lives. I heard arguments for everything from the toilet seat to the tampon to canned beer.

"I'd have to go with the paper clip," said Web designer Cassie Quillen, 29, "because it's got 101 uses." Kate Stapleford, 28, an administrative assistant, favored the Wonder Bra: "It gave many small women hope." And software developer Michael Kmiec, 29, mused on the wonders of the enigmatic snow globe: "What other cultural artifact allows someone who's traveled all over the planet, to Singapore, Tokyo, Istanbul or Africa, to come back home with a $3 chunk of plastic filled with water that lets them remember their great world travels?"

What else (besides the teleporter) do we still need to invent? "Fully immersed interactivity where you could become other people," according to Internet consultant Brent Halliburton, 26. "If you're in the basketball video game, say, it shouldn't be you versus Allen Iverson. You should be able to choose to be Kevin Garnett and be 6-foot-11 and dunk on Iverson."

Continuing the theme of self-transformation/transportation, Internet company executive Andrew White, 28, considered the time machine: "I'd go back to sixth grade so I could have a second chance with Julie Voellinger, to the day when I asked her behind the playground to profess my love and I was rejected. Now I'd be a little more suave."

When asked if there was anything in the world that might need attention or change as we head into the new millennium, people became pensive and suggested such things as the growing disparity between the rich and poor, racial and cultural tolerance, health care and the public school system.

Strategic director Dave Brown, 33, took the question so seriously he asked if he could use one of his lifelines and phone a friend. Via his cell phone, he and cultural analyst friend Jamie O'Boyle decided we needed "a more positive vision of the future," saying that "we've replaced the optimistic vision we had at midcentury with a more pessimistic view, like that found in such films as Blade Runner and Brazil." They believe, however, like most interviewees, that the new millennium will bring about spiritual renewal, revival and rebirth, and that it's a natural time for people to start thinking positively again.

So for a last look back, what might be a good theme song for the 20th century? Answers swung the gamut, including John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," the Doors' "Strange Days," Iggy Pop's "TV Eye" and R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It." Technical typesetter John Spiegelman, 28, tied the song "What You Won't Do for Love" by Bobby Caldwell to some of the most public scandals of the 20th century: "We had a king of England abdicating the throne to marry an American divorcee, a president of the U.S. receiving sexual pleasures in the workplace, and then there's O.J. Simpson - what these people wouldn't do for love."

As for me, though there were many tempting theme songs offered by the bar crowd, I have to go along with 30-year-old firefighter Frank Kinney's pick: "The Best is Yet to Come," sung memorably by Frank Sinatra. And yes, Regis, that's my final answer.


© 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.