The young archaeologist was a little bit confused when the limousine took him into a very wealthy residential neighborhood. For that matter, he was confused when he got a limousine ride: most times he applied for grants he would take the bus to a foundation somewhere in downtown Los Angeles. He was even more surprised when he was greeted at the door of the mansion, and pointed to a staircase going down into a large basement. "Basement" was an understatement: it was a 10,000 square foot museum, with maps on the wall showing archaeological sites in North America, and with native American items displayed in museum style pillars throughout the room. He would have to be careful, not everyone who collected archaeological artifacts was an ethical person. The person who had made this contact for him knew he was a reputable archaeologist.
But the great moment of surprise came when he walked over to an office like area at the end of the basement, full of computer monitors, as well as over-flowing filing cabinets. And seated amongst them was an old man. An old man, that after a moment or two, he realized he knew. He blinked in surprise.
The old man asked, in a voice whose cadences and timbre were jarringly familiar in this unfamiliar setting, whether he was surprised to see him here. The archaeologist admitted that he was, indeed, a little surprised. The old man rejoined that while he was more than just a face that appeared on old television, pointing at cans of soup, it was natural for him to be surprised. And then, in a perfect act of radio announcer segue, he brought up something else that was incongruous. He pointed to a map, a map the archaeologist knew well, although the old man's map had a few new points on it. The old man gave a brief, technical rundown of the distribution of indigenous language groups in America, and highlighted the fact that there were two central mysteries: the wide division of Na-Dene speakers from the boreal regions and the desert southwest (with, he added in a quick intersection, the added mystery of the small populations along the northern California coast), and the division of the Uto-Aztec speakers between the hunter-gatherers of the Great Basin and the vast empires of Mesoamerica. And, the old man said, what he wanted to know, at the age of 95, before he passed away, was what was the connection between these events: had Na-Dene speakers displaced the proto-Aztecs out of the southwest? He went into some technical detail about where, and what, he wanted the archaeologist to investigate.
It was, for the young archaeologist, rather jarring, seeing that presentation, so familiar, used to present complicated academic topics. And he had some follow-up questions, the most important one being, "Why?". At that the old man pursed his face. He apologized, and said that he forgot he had to inform most people. This was, after all, his heritage. The archaeologist murmured a quick apology. There was some follow-up questions. A discussion entailed. He young man knew the old man was active in animal's right causes, and so the old man told him more, that he was not interested solely in the single issue he had contracted for, that he was interested in how societies change. That at the age of 95, he was in both the fortunate and sad position of not knowing whether humanity could adapt to the next one hundred years. That funding this research was his gift for the future, and a way to settle his own personal curiosity. And he admitted that it might seem odd, since he had become famous as a representative of American consumer excess, for him to be talking about these things now, but that as a vegetarian, he didn't hold it against his Lakota ancestors for living by hunting, and that he didn't hold it against his 1980s self for selling everything from toothpaste to six days and seven nights in Cancun. It was, he concluded, all part of the process.
It all made sense to the young archaeologist.
But the old man said, with a twinkle in his eye, perhaps there was something else to persuade him? In all that archaeology work in the desert, he was going to need some help getting around, and so (he paused for effect) perhaps he would consider taking the job if he got A BRAND NEW CAR.
And the young archaeologist laughed and said yes.