Bruce Day grew up on a farm in Cullman, AL, forty acres of cotton plus forty acres of subsistence farming and forest. They picked cotton by hand, which commanded a higher price than machine picked: $1000 a bale in the 1950’s. Two acres yielded one bushel: the family took in about $20,000 a year and netted $10,000. When price supports came in, they limited the crop to five acres, so the family sold the farm and moved into town. Bruce didn’t miss rising at 4:30 a.m. and three hours of chores before school. “Life was better in town.”
One of Bruce’s brothers died from a ruptured spleen, another in a car accident. Realizing that either might have survived with better medical care motivated Bruce to become a physician. He served in the army, interned at UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham), and practiced internal medicine. “It was all old people with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and COPD. They all needed to quit smoking, cut down eating and begin exercising, which of course they wouldn’t do.” He married a woman from Knoxville, moved to Nashville to be between their respective families and became an ED Physician, which suited him better.
Bruce is a tinkerer and a Renaissance thinker. “I can see maps in my head. I can look at a coffee maker and visualize the wiring diagram. I don’t understand how people can go through life and not wonder how things work.”
Bruce began taking long bike rides in 1996 to counter the stress of ED work. He started touring, and has crisscrossed the US and England, more recently with riding buddies. The Fogbees (fat old guys on bikes) ride all around the region and are the primary bicycle advocates in an area with better bike lanes and signage than most I’ve travelled. For the past three years they’ve been championing US Bike Route 23, which will run north/south from Bowling Green KY through Nashville to Huntsville AL. The route is approved, though not yet signed.
Fogbees have discovered shared interests beyond their bikes. Bruce and a group of four others, ages 49 to 75, have a Wednesday Night Discussion Group that focuses on science and technology. They are currently taking a Stanford online course about machine learning. The night I visited, Bill invited the group to tackle my question. Some excerpts of our discussion:
How will we live tomorrow?
“Ten years ago I thought we had 200 years to continue as humans before we either evolved or disappeared. Now I wonder if we have that long. When you can get a gene kit for $100, the genie is out of the bottle.
“Look at CRISPR-CAS 9 (CRISPR = Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindrome Repeats; CAS 9 = RNA sequence), bacterial viruses that can defined themselves against viral infection. We can use that process to cut out certain pieces of DNA and replace them with other genes. But once we put new genetic material out there, we can’t control how it will spread or mutate. We can create genetic wonders but we don’t know the genome well enough to know how the genes will respond.
“CRISPER CAS 9 was only discovered in 2012. It can change the way we live, or if we live, within a few years. Working on these bike routes, Tennessee Department of Transportation’s planning cycle is 20 years. Science is moving a different rate of change.
“What are the limits to our resources? So far, very few humans are living large, as we do, but more want to. What will happen when the Chinese start living large?
“I’m not a bit worried about resources. We will find ways to reduce water, use renewables. There is always a ghost that’s going to annihilate us. How many times did we duck under our desks when we were young? How many years has it been since the energy crisis? We have more energy now than ever.”