I’ve been skeptical of population estimates for a long time because it just seems there are far fewer people roaming around Planet Earth than statistics suggest.
Who hasn’t run into a friend from Ukiah at an airport in Detroit or somewhere just as unlikely? If there are 350 million people in the USA how could I have once met an Ohio woman in Boonville and six months later run into her on a dusty back street in Central America? Or met a Willits teenager and a few days later wave to each other at an intersection in Midtown Manhattan?
Can it really be that millions and millions and millions of people get hungry three times a day yet our supermarket shelves are full 365 days a year? No shortages ever? Why is every breath of air we breathe so fresh if six billion people just exhaled it?
How can it be that Ukiah, of all the pushpins in all the maps in all of America saw the population of lost souls from Lucas County, Ohio go from zero to 100 in a matter of a month in 1975? It was a tsunami of immigrants that might have been called New Toledo and could have been the sixth largest city in Mendocino County.
When we travel Trophy has very few rules, but all of them are the same: I am not allowed to strike up stray conversations with strangers. Anywhere. I’m not to speak to anyone in a pub in London, a gallery in Florence or a hotel lobby anywhere.
Why? Because everyone everywhere is from Ohio, and a “Hello” quickly turns into small talk about the midwest and the weather and the Buckeyes and the Browns. Trophy’s had it with standing around while yet another elevator goes up, comes back down and I’m still gabbing at some couple from Columbus with memories of the good old days.
Turns out they left Ohio, now live in North Carolina, and are here at the South Pole to visit a niece who once lived in Ukiah who happens to be a good friend of daughter Emily.
So how could all this (and tons more!) happen if there were millions of inhabitants on this lonely planet?
Here in the American South the land is thick with ex-Clevelanders, Youngstown gangsters, Dayton bicycle shop owners. The numbers are overwhelming and Trophy sincerely believes there must only be a dozen or so people left in Ohio. She may be right.
When we left for the Carolinas, friends asked if it was because we had family back east and wanted to be close.
Well, yes, I said. And no.
Two years into our southern adventure we’ve had no inclination to visit my brother 150 miles away in Charleston, or my sister in the middle of Pennsylvania.
We’ve uhh, never been all that close.
But last week Craig Pickering, an old pal from Cleveland got in touch and suggested since we both now live in the Carolinas we should get together and share some laughs, tell some lies, remind one another that in the past 50 years we’ve seen each other just about never.
We met at a big hotel South Carolina’s capitol city and marveled at our boyish good looks. We were stylish and well-dressed too. (Craig had remembered to wear shoes.)
After a couple hours dawdling poolside I went in to fetch a couple more beers. The lobby is dark, the lounge is darker, and as I stand at the end of the bar, fumbling through my wallet, holding it up sideways to pick through matted bills, I lightly jostle a woman seated on the last stool.
“Oops,” I say. ”Sorry. Dark. My fault.”
She turns to look at me and so does the guy sitting next to her.
My eyes, pinholes from bright Carolina sunshine, slowly adjust to a dark that would make a cat hire a guide dog. Dark as a coal mine. Took me a while…
“Oh.” I said. ”Hey.” And with that I greeted my brother and his wife. (We’d seen each other as recently as five years ago.)
Being a family member, he was clearly thrilled and displayed the cheer and exuberance I’d expect. When I left a few minutes later Bill was still facing the mirror, draining a beer, and with his back to me raised a hand in a gesture of goodbye.
Ahh, we’ve never been that close.
The point remains that it would be impossible to vector two people together in circumstances such as those if there were hundreds of millions of humans to sort through.
But wait, you say! What about the 65,000 that go to the Super Bowl every year? Answer: I dunno. There’s that PhotoShop stuff, and maybe everyone brings an inflatable doll to the game. And seriously: Do you personally know anyone who’s ever been to a Super Bowl?
The only big crowd I was ever in was Woodstock, but they made me take drugs and I wasn’t able to count.
I think there are about 300,000 people in the world, and I’ll stick with that total until we line everyone up and give each a numbered badge.