Remember When Virtual Reality Was More Virtual Than Reality?

Facebook’s Director of Newfangled Operations was sitting at his desk, reading reviews on Yelp for a good place to get turkey salad. An assistant knocked at his door.

“Come in, come in,” he said, facing the assistant. “So what’s the good word?”

photo of human wearing virtual reality headgear

Photo courtesy of Sensics, Inc. via Wikipedia.

“Well, sir, you know that ever since we acquired the virtual reality company Oculus VR, the, uh, upper management has been anxious to learn about the user experience.”

“Yes, yes,” the Director said. “And what is the user experience? Do the people, the salt of the earth, the great unwashed masses yearning to be free…do they like virtual reality?”

“Yes, they do, but—”

“But what? Are people displeased with the gaming?”

“No, they love it. They say the exploding bodies have never been more life like.”

“Are they able to access enough pornography?”

“Of course. We’ve enabled even individuals with visual, hearing, and tactile disabilities to enjoy it. A Congressional committee has commended us.”

“Don’t tell me they’re concerned about privacy.”

“Most people accept the theory that privacy was a myth originated by the Sumerians around the same time as the Epic of Gilgamesh.”

“Well what then?”

“Sir, the users’ concern is that when they wear the virtual reality headgear, they can’t tell if people are touching their food.”

The Director stared at the assistant for a few moments. “Touching their food?”

“Yes, you know. Like putting their hands all over a bowl of potato chips, and then watching while the virtual reality user eats the potato chips that have just been touched.”

The Director was a silent a moment. “I see how this could be quite a problem.”

“Sir, should we tell Mr. Zuckerberg? Perhaps—”

“No! Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t like problems.” The Director chewed on a nail. “We’ve got to fix this ourselves.”

The solution was to offer virtual reality users the services of someone who would sit in the same room with them, without wearing headgear, and would stand guard over the users’ food or drink or bodily integrity. These hired individuals—called “guardians”—could also watch coats and book bags. And for a while it worked.

But then people started to worry that these guardians were doing things to them that they had been hired to prevent. What if the guardians had been bribed by someone who wanted to dip a finger in the users’ coffee and stir it around? How would the users ever know?

So then the guardians were scraped and instead the headgear was fitted with a little camera that would broadcast the user’s immediate surroundings through a little window in the corner of the headgear’s screen. So now users could watch the real world while they were immersed in virtual reality.

After a while, users found that watching their real life surroundings was more interesting than the virtual world. If they were alone, they could watch an empty room and see if anyone came in. If they were in a room with other users, they could watch a bunch of other people wearing headgear, bobbing around in their seats and waving their hands.

Users started talking to each other while they were immersed in virtual reality. Now that they could see everyone else in the room, they could talk freely, knowing that they weren’t speaking to an empty room. At first they talked about the virtual reality simulation they were using at the moment. But soon they moved on to other topics, like the weather, or upcoming weddings, or what each of them had done that day. Tech bloggers dubbed this growing practice of in-person conversation while wearing the headgear “non-virtual reality.”

Non-virtual reality became so popular that the software engineers kept enlarging the size of the window projected on the inner screen. Before long, this window took up the entire screen, so that when the users put the virtual reality headgear on, they saw a live, perfectly to-scale rendering of the same exact scene they would see if they took the headgear off.

“Sir!” the assistant said, entering the Director’s office with the headgear on. “Your program is a complete success! It is reported that 98% of the world’s population now walks around with headgear on all the time.”

“Splendid!” said the Director, wearing his own headgear. “But who are the 2% that aren’t wearing headgear? Are they from those primitive societies that walk around in loincloths and star in those movies they show at the Museum of Natural History?”

“No, sir. That was our initial theory, too. But it turns out that the 2% are hardcore techies.”

“Techies! But how can that be?”

“They say the original headset was better.”

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Remember the Cold War?

Is it East versus West
Or man against man?
Survivor, “Burning Heart”
Rocky IV Soundtrack
(Volcano Records, 1985)

The President of the United States wasn’t having one of his better days.

“He wants to annex what?” he asked into the phone. “Moldovia? I’ve never even heard of Moldovia…What’s that you say?…It’s ‘Moldova’ and not ‘Moldovia’?…Well, I’ve never heard of Moldova, either…I don’t care how many athletes they sent to the Olympics.” An advisor walked into the Oval Office and the President glanced at him briefly. “Listen, John, I’ll have to call you back.” The President slammed the phone into its cradle.

The advisor spoke without preamble. “Mr. President, the President of Russia says he won’t withdraw Russian troops from Crimea and he won’t give Crimea back to Ukraine.”

“Really? Did you make him the offer?”

“Of course, Mr. President. And he said thank you, but that he already had a neck basket.”

The President frowned and nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “Time to think outside the box.” He went up to a white board along the wall of the Oval Office and wrote “military action” in red erasable marker. “Let’s brainstorm. Give me some options for dealing with Russia.”

“Military action, Mr. President,” said the advisor.

“Great! Now, let’s flesh that out a little. What are some things that go with military action.”

“Um, troops,” said the advisor.

“Yes, okay.” Underneath “military action” the President drew a dash and wrote “troops.”

“What else?”

“Tanks.”

“Okay, great.” The President wrote “- tanks” under “- troops.”

“What else?”

“Planes.”

“Great. We’re moving right along.” The President added “- planes” to the list.

There was a knock at the door.

ya

“Come in!” yelled the President, wiping away some stray marks from the white board. In walked the Secretary of Defense.

“Mr. Secretary!” said the President. “Come on in. Take a doughnut. We’re just doing a little brainstorming on what to do with Russia. As you can see, we’re off to a great start.” He presented the white board with his hand, palm turned up.

“That’s very good work, Mr. President. But I don’t think military action is going to work. The Russian forces are well set up inside and around Crimea, and our forces are frightened of going into a country that has a backwards ‘R’ in its alphabet.”

“Hmm, that’s a good point. I never trusted that backwards ‘R’ either,” said the President, shuddering.

“Mr. President,” said the Secretary of Defense with a tight smile, “may I offer an alternative strategy?”

The media did not respond favorably when it was announced that the President of the United States had formally challenged the President of the Russian Federation to a game of Flappy Bird to determine the ownership of Crimea and Russia’s overall designs on world domination. The criticism was especially sharp over the fact that the challenge had been issued over the President’s Twitter account. But to everyone’s surprise, the challenge was accepted, and the coverage shifted from anlysis of foreign policy to analysis of the two leaders’ video game skills.

American historians noted that when the President of the United States was in law school he had won a Super Mario Bros. tournament against the other students in his constitutional law class.

But Russian historians noted that the President of the Russian Federation had been the top scorer in a first-player combat video game developed just for Russian government officials, called KGB versus Journalists.

Flappy Bird was a two-dimensional, side-scrolling game with primitive graphics, like Super Mario Bros., but required laser-like precision and impeccable reflexes, like KGB versus Journalists. So both Presidents had an edge.

As the time of the match approached, people were anxious. No one wanted to be unpatriotic or find themselves imprisioned. But Vegas odds never lie, and the odds on the two contestants were neck and neck.

TV stations had arranged to broadcast the match during primetime. Since Moscow is nine time zones ahead of Washington, DC, to prevent either President from playing the middle of the night, the match was arranged for 10 a.m. eastern standard time, and 7 p.m. Moscow time, on the same day. Video cameras were set up so that in the left corner of the screen would be live video of the American President, and in the right corner would be a live video of the Russian President, and the middle of the screen would be the video screen of the leader who happened to be playing Flappy Bird.

The rules were simple. A coin flip would decide who would go first. Then they would take turns, and whoever had the most points at the end of ten rounds would be declared the winner. If the American President won, the Russians had to withdraw from Crimea and forget about the Soviet Reunion.  If the Russian President won…well, no one really wanted to think about that.

Everyone – East and West – was nervous as the coin was tossed at a live video feed in Reykjavik. As the coin flipped end over end the Russian President said “Golovy!” – heads.  And the coin landed heads.

Immediately there were arguments all around the world over whether it was better to go first or last. The Russian President chose to go first, and his compatriots cheered him for taking the initiative. But the Americans were, for the most part, relieved, as more than a century of baseball had taught them the value of last licks.

In the end it didn’t matter who went first.  Flappy Bird was so hard that even after ten rounds neither man had scored a single point. There was no winner and nothing changed in the geopolitical world. But since it had stayed unchanged without a single shot being fired, both sides declared victory and were wrapped in the flags of their respective nations by the warm embraces of their citizens.

I’d like to wish Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson a hearty welcome back to blogging.  It’s good to see that familiar title in my inbox again. - MK

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Remember When Extinction Was Permanent?

I read in the newspaper that scientists have figured out how to bring back extinct animals like passenger pigeons and woolly mammoths. So filled with possibilities was my brain that I kept giving customers incorrect change. As I rollerbladed home that evening the words in the article kept going through my head.

Thanks to advances in genomic sequencing, the woolly mammoth will once again roam the steppes of Asia.

The idea appealed to me in a way I could not yet describe. Bringing back extinct animals – yes, that was impressive and would certainly be a boon for the manufacturers of squishy toys. But the real potential here was something even greater. Over my usual dinner of Cheerios I had a vision.

I am eight years old and I am sitting at the kitchen table. The morning sun is shining and I am eating a bowl of something called Ghostbusters cereal. The cereal is made of multicolored Os of grain and little dense marshmallows that don’t seem quite like food but melt it my mouth nonetheless.

Suddenly my father comes by holding open a garbage bag.

These sugary cereals are making you crazy,” he says, sweeping the nearly full box of Ghostbusters cereal into the large black plastic bag. I am devastated.

That was the last I saw of the great sugary cereals. Cereals made of pure sugar and oat-like structures with a commercial tie-in to a popular television show or movie. I blink back tears. Now I know why the article about un-extincting extinct animals moved me so.

I dress in all black and make sure there are batteries in my flashlight. The museum is a few miles but Mom is glad to drive me and doesn’t ask too many questions. Closing time was hours ago but I’ve seen enough movies to know how to cut a hole in the glass skylight and drop in like a spider.

In between the Monets and Caravaggios is the crowl jewel of the collection: extinct breakfast cereals, on loan from the Smithsonian. Behind heavy glass the boxes are lined up in diaramas. My eyes linger over each one. Mr. T Cereal, Smurf Berry Crunch, Nintendo Cereal System, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, and…oh yes…Ghostbusters Cereal (with Slimer inside).

These cereals have been off supermarket shelves for decades. These are last survivors, their genetic structures and free toys perfectly preserved for the viewing public, and a day when science fiction would finally become science.

The genomes of these cereals turned out to be not as complicated as I’d feared. All I really had to do was add milk, and the colored oats and marshmallows would distintegrate into an extremely sweet primordial soup. Then boil off the milk, implant the leftover cereal residue into boxes of newer cereals that are still in circulation, and voila – resurrection.

For days I was in a dream state. I was eating cereals that were supposed to be long dead. I pittied the poor fool that couldn’t eat Mr. T cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And then one morning I realized I had been up for days, functioning on nothing more than the sugar rush from the cereals. I wanted to stop but could not. I ate one bowl after another. Suddenly it was clear to me what was going on. These cereals had been created and marketed to kids in another time. Our present environment had no defenses against the glazed oats and marshmallows. If only I had not been so eager and fallen victim to human folly.

Just when I thought I would never be free of the sugar rush, my father appeared.

Dad, you were right,” I said. “It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourself.”

But instead of running away, I saw that he was holding something. It was a large, black, plastic garbage bag. I rubbed my eyes.

In one motion my father swept the resurrected cereals into the bag, and tied it shut with the built-in plastic drawstring. I could see the boxes writhing inside. He ran out of the house, just in time to catch the garbage truck, which was techinically only supposed to pick up paper, but could be bribed into taking some extra baggage.

And as I watched the truck drive away, I soberly reflected on the danger of bringing back creatures long extinct. Sometimes your curiosity gets the best of you.

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Remember Privacy?

The Director called a general staff meeting.  All hands on deck.  He gave everyone a few minutes to grab coffee and bring it into the conference room.

“All right, everyone,” he said.  “I know this has been a rough few months for us.  The phone tapping, computer tapping, video game tapping.  They know all our tricks, and soon they’re going to shut us down and we’ll left to gathering evidence the old fashioned way, sitting up in a tree with binoculars.  I don’t want to go back to that.  Do you?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“Good.  We need to come up with a new way of spying on people without them knowing.  Something we’ve never done before. Yes, esteemed colleagues.  It is time for nostril bugs.”

Over the next few weeks agents fanned out across the country, in search of people sleeping so that bugs could be implanted in their nostrils.  People sleeping on subways, park benches, and commuter trains were easy.  Even libraries snagged a few sleepers.  But the real difficulty was breaking into people’s homes late at night and implanting the bugs while they slept.  More than one agent tried to go down the chimney.

But before long the entire population was walking about with tiny electronic sensors in their nostrils.  Like the bugs in cell phones and computers, these nostril bugs recorded data and then transmitted it back to headquarters.  But unlike the bugs in cell phones and computers, these nostril bugs did not record communications.  These bugs recorded smell.

The Director’s dream was to map the entire country by smell.  An internal memo had once mentioned that a certain group of mischief-makers liked to eat pizza the night before a big event.  So whenever the detected that there was a cluster of nose sensors picking up the scent of pizza, agents would immediately surround the area and detain everyone for questioning.

After the fiftieth raid on a student council meeting, the Director decided to alter the strategy.

“Forget the pizza rule,” he said.  “It’s yielding too many false positives.  Let’s focus on another smell.”

Another internal memo mentioned that the groups liked to meet in basements.  So whenever they detected a cluster of musty or moldy smells, agents would surround the location and detain everyone for questioning.

After the hundredth raid on an innocent poker game, the Director knew that once again he had to change focus.

“What’s done is done.  Enough playing around.  Time to go for the jugular.”

He ordered all agents to focus just on the smell of instruments of sudden disaggregation.  It was so simple, so obvious, that he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it at the very beginning of the nostril project.

The agents waited on the edge of their seats for the smell clusters to appear on the big screen.  But the clusters never came.  They checked the parameters for incorrect calibrations.  They checked the software for glitches.  They banged the side of the big screen.  Nothing.

“Maybe there is no more mischief!” the Director exclaimed.  “Hey, we did it!” he shouted and put his palm up for someone to high five.  Then he saw the news flash.

An attack on a series of lawn ornaments had taken place.  The news footage showed bits of miniature windmill and terracotta clay gnomes littering a suburban street, with homeowners standing around in their bathrobes, crying and hugging each other.

And then they showed a picture of the group claiming responsibility for the attacks.  The members were wearing masks over their eyes, and clothes pins on their noses.

The Director looked around the room, wondering who had leaked the nostril program and endangered the welfare of the nation.  But he knew it was useless.  There was no single unwarranted invasion of privacy that could stop these kinds of activities for good.  You just had to keep coming up with something new.

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Remember When Delivery By Drones Was Not Within the Realm of the Possibile?

The assistant walked into the big office.  “Sir,” he began.  “I – ”

“Hold on.  Here, look at this screen.  Our drones cover 75% of the U.S. airspace.  Isn’t that wonderful?”

“That is wonderful, sir.  But there appears to be an issue with the drones.  People are getting upset.”

“People?  What are people?  Oh, you mean those creatures who are always eating and losing things, and walk around sniffling when it’s cold.  Ugh.  Why don’t they blow their noses?”

“I don’t know, sir.  But yes – those people are now getting upset about the drones.”

“Is this about that accident last week?”

“Well, sir, when a drone carrying a snowblower falls out of the sky into the middle of a bar mitzvah, there is usually some negative public reaction.”

“But I told them, it wasn’t our fault.  The ground-pilot was texting with his wife about what they were going to have for dinner.  Totally unforeseeable.”

“I know, sir.  But these accidents aren’t the only thing.  People just didn’t anticipate that the sky would be filled with thousands of drones at every moment, so that you couldn’t even see a clear patch.”

“Well what did they expect?  Invisible drones?  Hmm.”  He pulled out a little notebook and scribbled something.

“Sir, the point is if we don’t stop the drones soon we may find ourselves the subject of a scathing op-ed piece.”

“Whoa, whoa.  We definitely don’t want that.  But what alternatives do we have?”

“Sir, we could go back to shipping by truck and regular air mail.”

“And go back to the Dark Ages of delivery that took all night?  We may as well trade in our toilet paper for corn cobs while we’re at it.  No, if we have to stop the drones, there’s only one option.”

“Sir, you don’t mean…”

“Oh, yes, I certainly do.  Delivery by catapult.”

It was an unusual change to the system but soon everyone got used to it.  The delivery centers were reorganized throughout the country so that every home and business was within catapulting range of at least one delivery center, and every delivery center was within catapulting range of another delivery center, so that no matter where the ordered product originated, it could be conveyed via catapult to any place in America.

Instead of the skies being filled with unstaffed aircraft, the skies were filled with packages being lobbed to the next destination.  But there was no noise, and because the calibration had to be done only once – at the point of catapult – the packages did not need constant mid-flight monitoring.  The accident rate dropped dramatically.

The catapults were also amenable to automation.  The packages would be sorted and placed on conveyor belt, but instead of being directed to a drone, the packages were directed to one of the catapults.  There were multiple catapults at each delivery center.  At first the catapults were arranged in a circle, with every point of the compass covered.  But then someone realized that by placing the catapult on a swivel chair, all compass points could be achieved with far fewer catapults.  A computer algorithm calculated the direction, angle, and force required to catapult each package to its destination, accounting for weight, drag, and wind speed.

In the middle of the delivery center was the reception zone, made of a large canvas piled up with couch cushions.  This model was copied at households and businesses across the country.  In every backyard or office parking lot was a reception zone where packages could land.  In households that didn’t have the yard space, the most athletic member of the family would run outside at the scheduled delivery time and catch the package by hand.  The increase in concussions and broken packages was more than offset by the increase in general fitness.

“Sir, I can’t believe it.  The catapult system is a success!”

“Of course it is.  The packages arrive just as quickly as with the drones, but we don’t have to hire ground-pilots.  We’ve been able to lay off so many people!  Think of all the money we’ll save on tissues.”

“Yes, sir, that’s wonderful.  But now the sky is filled with so many packages being catapulted that it’s no longer safe for airplanes.  How are people going to travel?”

“I am so glad you asked.  Let me show you.”  He got up, handed the assistant a helmet and parachute, and led him outside to an empty catapult.

Thank you all for reading this year, and have a happy and healthy 2014.  Can’t wait to see what’s in store!  -MK

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Remember When the Affordable Care Act Wasn’t In the News Every Day?

The Director knew it was time for a staff meeting.

“All right, everyone. The deadline’s almost here. The President’s promised a smoothly functioning healthcare website by tomorrow. Now, I know everyone’s been yellow capletsworking hard. Visits to non-work-related websites like Facebook and Above the Law dropped by 40% in November. I’m proud of that figure and will make sure that New York Times knows about it. But the fact remains that despite our intense efforts the website is, in a word, still not working. So we’re down to our last option – paper applications.”

The following day, when millions of Americans visited the federal government’s healthcare website to see who won the bet, they were confronted with a perfectly functioning, non-glitch riddled single webpage, with no links or forms or fields or even photographs, but one toll-free telephone number.

When the number was called, the caller would be put in touch with someone who took their information and then read back to them the different health policies that were available to the caller and the price. It was clear from the very beginning that the “qualified healthcare agents” that took the calls had been greatly influenced by technology and faced challenges adjusting to world run by humans.

“Thank you for calling healthcare.gov,” the agents would say in their best cheerful machine-voice. “Press 1 if you are calling about individual policies. Press 2 if you are calling about family policies. Press 3 if you have experience building large websites.” When they realized they couldn’t tell which number had been pressed, they would say, “Why don’t you just tell me what you are calling about?”

After a day the telephone lines were hopelessly congested. The Director had to call another meeting.
“Okay,” said the Director at another staff meeting, “the telephones aren’t working out so hot, either. The average wait-time has grown so long that people are complaining about the hold music. And here I thought people liked Lawrence Welk. All right, well, we’ve got to go back to the drawing board. What’s a drawing board? I don’t know. Look it up on Wikipedia.”

The only thing left to do was to have people sign up in person. People were annoyed at having to drive all the way to Washington, D.C. just to shop for medical insurance, but the complaints subsided a bit when the President issued Executive Order 94029 which authorized valet parking.

The wait time to see an agent was still very long. And the long journey made it even longer, since people figured, “Well, if we came all this way and waited all this time, we may as well ask as many stupid questions as possible.”
The wait time to meet with a federal healthcare agent became so long that people were practically living in the lobby. They had to miss appointment, including doctors’ appointments. The government had to arrange for doctors to visit the lobby and examine the people waiting in line. The convenience more than made up for the lack of privacy.

The people in line started liking the lobby doctors so much that they lost their interest in procuring health insurance that would require them to find a new doctor. They started letting others go ahead of them in line, hoping to extend their stay. “Oh, you go on ahead of us,” people would say. “We haven’t decided what we want yet.”

The lobby grew ever more crowded, and eventually some members of Congress introduced a bill to expand the lobby and the number of doctors that serviced it. The bill won bipartisan support, largely on the strength of a rider that increased the Netflix subsidies for senators and their staff. The Affordable Care Act Sign-Up in Person Waiting Lobbies proliferated around the United States, so that whenever people had to see the doctor they would just go to one of these lobbies, get in line, and wait for the doctor to come around with the stethoscope and little rubber hammer.

A cottage industry of lobby-care grew, and almost overnight people started seeing everything from examination tables on wheels to mobile MRI apps for smartphones. Around the time that they started adding operating tables to the lobbies, the website was finally fixed. No bugs, no glitches, no crashes. But no one bothered signing up. The millions of Americans waiting in line already liked the plan they had, and wanted to keep it.

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Remember When the Government Wasn’t Shut Down?

Wow.  This blog is three years old.20131011-045655.jpg

“Okay everyone,” the tour guide said to the travelers on the bus. “I know that our itinerary says that we’re supposed to see the Lincoln Memorial today. But unfortunately the federal government is shut down and the Lincoln Memorial is closed.”

“What about the Jefferson Memorial?”

“Um, that’s closed too.”

“What about the Washington Monument?”

“Yes, that too.”

“What about the American Battle Monuments Commission?”

“Yes, that’s closed.”

“And the Library of Congress?”

“Yes. Everything is closed.”

“What about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial?”

“Yes, that too is closed. All the federal monuments are closed.”

“What about the mouse laboratory at the National Institutes of Health?”

“What did I just say? All of the major tourist sites are closed! The Smithsonian, the National Gallery, the Congressional Barbershop – everything! But I know you all paid for this trip to Washington, D.C., and, doggone it, we aren’t about to take your money and not give you a hanging-from-the-chandelier bus tour. We have two choices: Denny’s and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Who wants to go to Denny’s?”

Half the people on the bus raised their hands.

“And who wants to go to Five Guys?”

The other half of the people on the bus raised their hands.

“Well, we can’t go to both places. Half of you are going to have to switch your vote. Or, I guess since we’re in Washington, majority rules, right? Heh, heh.” No one joined his laughter. “Anyway, so let’s vote again.” But the vote was the same.

“Well folks, we appear to be at a stalemate. You’re going to have to come to some kind of an agreement.”

The talks between the tourists went on for the better part of the morning. At noon, the tourists who were in favor of Denny’s reported that while the talks had been productive, no deal had been reached. Then the tourists who were in favor of Five Guys reported that the Denny’s tourists weren’t willing to negotiate.

“What’s to negotiate?” the Denny’s tourists asked. “We want to go to Denny’s.”

The stalemate dragged on. Nothing else could happen on the trip. In the morning the tourists would leave the hotel and board the bus, sit there for eight hours, report that no progress had been made, and rush back into the hotel in time for the complimentary oatmeal cookies.

After a week the tourists were out of clean clothes. The Five Guys tourists asked the tour guide if the bus could make a short trip to the laundromat.

“Sorry,” the tour guide said. “Only if you can agree.”

The Five Guys tourists asked the Denny’s tourists if they wanted to go to do laundry. The Denny’s tourists certainly needed clean clothes, but after a brief closed meeting in the back of the bus, the Denny’s tourists reported that they wouldn’t go anywhere until the Five Guys tourists agreed to go to Denny’s. “Once you agree to go to Denny’s, we can go anywhere you want, including the laundromat.”

Then the Five Guys tourists squeezed past the Denny’s tourists in the narrow aisle of the bus and had their own closed meeting.

“We will not negotiate under the threat of Denny’s,” the Five Guys tourists concluded. “We will not stand for these ‘my way or the highway’ tactics.”

Halfway through the second week the bus tourists were all wearing dirty clothes, and although none of the other hotel guests wanted to be rude, the clothespins on their noses were hard to ignore.

The bus tourists would board the idle bus each morning with the results of polls they had taken of the hotel guests. The poll numbers conflicted, and both sides respectively declared, “We’re winning!”

By the end of the second week one of the Five Guys tourists could no longer stand wearing the same shirt, and ran away under stealth of night.

“We have the majority!” the Denny’s tourists shouted. “Tour guide, call the tourists for a vote.”

“Actually, I’ve just received word that the government shutdown is over. All the monuments are open again! So where does everyone want to go?”

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