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I took a little vacation last week and headed out for some sun and fun on Cape Cod. The beach was great, and except for my one close call where I barely escaped/survived a harrowing shark attack*, my time on the Cape was thoroughly enjoyable.
What was not so enjoyable was getting to the Cape. Air travel has devolved from being a modern marvel of man’s ingenuity to being a crucible bordering on a crucifixion. The Passion of My Flight began at 4 am when I had to get up to get to LAX to run the gauntlet of both airport traffic and TSA security. My flight to Boston was delayed leaving LAX for 45 minutes because of traffic on the runway, but at least we were right on time to run into a “microburst” at Logan airport which forced us to divert to Bangor, Maine, of all God forsaken places. For three interminable hours my flight was held, Dog Day Afternoon/hijack-style, on the tarmac at Bangor while we waited to refuel and for Logan to recover from its “microbursting”.
To be fair, my stay in Bangor was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Part of what made it tolerable was that the passengers in my section all bonded over the misbehavior of two passengers who were kicked off in Bangor. I didn’t see what happened, but was informed by a gaggle of gossipy flight attendants, or as I condescendingly call them “stewardesses”, that once we landed in Bangor a guy in his 30’s or so, declared he was going to exit the plane to have a smoke. The stewardesses informed him that, no, he was not allowed to leave the plane and was not allowed to smoke. Joe Camel was having none of it and since the stewardesses had opened the cabin door in order to ventilate our plane, he forced his way off the craft and onto the tarmac to light up. The funniest part of this story, and a strong indicator of this guy’s extraordinary genius, is that he was trying to smoke right next to the fuel truck that was refueling our jet….what could possibly go wrong? To the flight crew’s credit, they put up with none of the Marlboro Man’s nonsense and called the police who quickly escorted this gentlemen to his barred Bangor accommodations for the evening (I can attest that I did actually see the Maine State troopers drive up to our plane).
To the further delight of our section of passengers, the stewardesses also informed us that Smoking Man was traveling with his mom, who was also kicked off the plane for her bad behavior, as she had berated the flight crew as they had her son arrested. The crew shared with us that this woman, who sounds lovely, had also cursed at them throughout the flight because they failed to point out the Grand Canyon to her when we flew over it. While I did not enjoy my brief time in Bangor, I can only imagine that this mother and son combo REALLY disliked their extended stay in Bangor.
My return flight was no walk in the park either, as it was delayed at Logan for 3 excruciating hours before we ever boarded, and this was after I got to the airport two hours early in order to once again, run the gauntlet of traffic and security. Frustrations were running high at the gate as passengers tried to gather information on when exactly we would be leaving. Not surprisingly, airline staff on the ground were not fountains of abundant knowledge.
As far as I know, there were no arrests on this flight but there was a very tense confrontation between a middle aged father and a younger mother sitting behind him. What started it all I have no idea, as I had earplugs in…but by the time I removed them the confrontation was close to becoming a conflagration.
The younger woman, who was maybe in her thirties, had a smaller child with her, around 5 or so, and she was cursing up a storm at the guy in front of her who was with his teenage son. The guy told her to watch her mouth and not curse out his son, and she continued to “motherfuck” the both of them. The middle aged guy raised his voice threateningly in response, and then the woman played shocked and appalled that a man would raise his voice to her, and then the stewardesses arrived and did nothing but watch the argument escalate. Like the “microburst” at Logan on my earlier flight, this storm revealed flashes of shocking intensity but then dissipated into an uneasy quiet.
From my very brief observations of these two people before, during and after their confrontation, I can say with some level of certitude that both of them seemed like pretty shitty, self-absorbed human beings. The guy struck me as a total douchebag, as I had a brief interaction with him before we boarded and sensed he rated high on the asshole scale. The woman was no ray of sunshine either, as she struck me as just as entitled and obnoxious as her male opponent. If a fist fight had broken out between the two I am certain that I would have intervened, but only to punch them both in the face and lock them in the aft lavatory.
So why do I share these stories with you? Am I morphing into a travelogue writer or something? No…I share them because I think these anecdotes reveal a great deal about the current state of America and the American psyche.
One of the first things that stood out on my travels was that our infrastructure is a disaster area. Traffic both to and from LAX and Logan was an utter catastrophe. There are too many cars and too many people and not enough space. And it isn’t just the roads that are too congested…the skies are as well as my plane hit traffic trying to take off from LAX which was just as bad as the traffic on the drive to the airport.
The fragility of our infrastructure was highlighted by my flight being diverted from Boston to Bangor due to a 15 minute storm. Yes, the storm was a very intense one, but it did only last 15 minutes, and yet I had to sit in Bangor for three hours. No doubt other Logan bound flights suffered the same fate in Portland, Hartford, Providence and other mid-major cities across the eastern seaboard. The diverted flights then put strains on their new airports in the form of parking spaces/fuel etc., and then air travel along the east coast would be delayed and backed up because Logan had to land and take off the flights that were diverted/delayed before they let other flights already scheduled leave/arrive.
When you think about our civilization and how tenuous it is…it is pretty chilling. I mean, if there was some sort of solar flare or some other catastrophe that hit the U.S. and knocked out power, we would devolve into Mad Max/Escape From New York/Planet of the Apes territory in a matter of days, if not hours. It would be nice to think that a disastrous event would bring people together and illuminate the angels of our better nature, but as some of the passengers on my flight proved, that is unlikely. Considering that my toddler son behaved markedly better than full blown adults on my flights who could not control themselves or their impulses, is a pretty strong indicator that chaos is just a heartbeat away at any given moment.
In regards to the passenger misbehavior on my flights, the thing that stood out to me is that there is a palpable anger coursing through the blood of Americans. People are just really, really pissed off right now. I cannot recall a time in my life where tensions have been this high in America. People are stressed and scared and completely on edge, and the underlying tension and anxiety creating American’s anger and fury is only gaining in intensity as it expands across the country.
The Smoking Man who refused to listen to the stewardesses and tried to smoke on the tarmac while the plane refueled is a wonderful symbol of the epidemic of narcissistic entitlement spreading across the country. This guy wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it, and was willing to risk potentially blowing up an airliner with 200 people on board just to satiate his desire/addiction.
The funny thing is that everyone stuck on that plane in Bangor was so irritated and aggravated by our situation (our delay/diversion), that I am sure that if Smoking Man had caused a big headache that encompassed all of the passengers in my section, we would have torn him limb from limb like a ravenous mob. I take no pride in saying I know I would have gleefully participated in, if not instigated, that riotous behavior towards any scapegoat stupid enough to present him/her/itself.
It seems to me that America is rapidly losing its mind. We have devolved into a combustible people looking for offense, slights, or excuses to vent the rage that boils just beneath the surface of our seemingly mundane and terrifyingly meaningless lives. This perpetual state of stress, tension and anger blinds us to reality and causes us to see only those things that reinforce our worst instincts and impulses about other people and feeds our sense of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement.
As to why we are so angry and stressed…well…the causes are legion. As previously stated, our dilapidated infrastructure is a cause of stress as it creates irritants like traffic both on our streets and in the skies. Economic and financial pressure creates stress among millions who have to work longer and harder to make less and pay for more. Politics no doubt is a force multiplier of these stresses and anxieties as absolutely everything in our culture is politicized beyond recognition. Trump, love him or loathe him, is also a major contributor to American anxiety and tension as he is virtually everywhere. It is impossible to escape Trump, or talk of Trump, or opinions of Trump, no matter where you go or what you do. Social media is a toxic vehicle in and of itself, but in the age of Trump it has become a dealer of all things Trump 24/7, that keeps the addicted high on their own supply of Trump love/hate. The media, cable news in particular, are non-stop Trump and have devolved into reality television where Trump is the character they love to hate.
I also think Americans are suffering an existential crisis, where our lives have been stripped of purpose and we are left adrift in a vacuous sea of vapid consumerism devoid of any philosophical, religious or spiritual meaning. This emptiness used to manifest itself as a sort of listless malaise and ennui, but has now morphed into a volcanic rage and fury ready to erupt in order to release the pressure building deep inside its dissatisfied core.
It seems to me that we are on a very dangerous trajectory that is fraught with peril. As the events of the last week have shown, people of all persuasions (political and otherwise) are filled with anger and hatred and are a hair’s breath from snapping and hurting or killing lots of people. As much as I hate to say it, I fear that there is no turning back from the madness that is infecting us all…and when Trump is re-elected, and from my discussions with people on my travels I think he is going to be, this country is going to detonate and we will all be caught up in the conflagration.
America is a tinderbox and tense, anxious and stressed people are going to ignore the warning signs, throw caution to the wind, and try to satiate their selfish desires and addictions by lighting up next to a fuel truck which will cause this whole shithouse to go up in flames. Sadly we are no longer equipped with the personal or national infrastructure to be able to extinguish that inferno.
My observations of Americans during my recent journey made me think of the 1983 song "Synchronicity II” by The Police. The song is off of the band’s fifth, final and best studio album, Synchronicity. Sting’s insightful and prophetic lyrics speak to the meaninglessness of our modern lives and the primal darkness that lurks just beneath the surface of our civilized/middle-class veneer, and are accompanied by an edgy and grating guitar that haunts and pesters like an infectious bug crawling just beneath our skin. This song could be America’s new national anthem.
Another suburban family morning/ Grandmother screaming at the wall/We have to shout above the tin of our rice krispies/We can’t hear anything at all
Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration/But we know all her suicides are fake/ Daddy only stares in to the distance/ There’s only so much more that he can take
Many miles away/ Something crawls from the slime/ At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake
Another industrial ugly morning/ The factory belches filth into the sky/ He walks unhindered through the picket lines today/ He doesn’t think to wonder why
Secretaries put and preen like cheap tarts at a red light street/ But all he ever thinks to do is watch/ And every single meeting with his so-called superiors/ Is a humiliating kick in the crotch
Many miles away/ Something crawls to the surface/ Of dark Scottish loch
Another working day has ended/ Only the rush hour hell to face/ Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes/ Contestants in a suicidal race
Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance/ He knows that something somewhere has to break/ He sees the family home now, looming in his headlights/ The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache
There’s a shadow on the door/ Of a cottage on the shore/ Of a dark Scottish lake/ Many miles away/ Many miles away
Sting is right…and that primordial beast crawling out of an ancient Scottish loch is no longer slouching towards America…it is here, it is angry and there is no stopping or controlling it.
*Shark Attack - My shark attack story is this…there have been a plethora of shark sightings on the Cape this summer, so much so that the Boston Globe even had a front page story with the headline “Sharks on Cape Cod: Just how scared should we be?”. The Globe answers its own question with a resounding…”VERY SCARED!”. For this reason and because the absolute only thing in the entire world that I am afraid of is sharks, I was not going to go into the Atlantic during my vacation. I was assured by everyone I spoke with that the location of my Cape beach was on the Martha’s Vineyard sound, which would have no seals at all, and since it has no seals there would be no sharks. People were adamant that our beach was safe and that no seals had ever been spotted there and certainly no sharks. I admit I found this story to be at best dubious, but due to peer pressure I relented and trepidatiously ventured into the dark unknown of three feet of Atlantic ocean.
Except for the fact that there were dozens of shark sightings at other Cape locations, the vast majority of my Cape vacation went well…UNTIL…on my second to last day, I narrowly escaped death at the hands of a massive and ravenous Great White shark.
What happened is this…as I exited the water with my toddler son, I glanced east along the beach and saw…something. I stopped and focused my gaze to the spot where there was an anomaly in the water. There was a group of about ten kids playing on flotation devices in that exact spot and my mind raced back to the movie Jaws, where a little kid, Alex Kintner, gets eaten by the shark while riding on a flotation deviced, blood splattering everywhere. I could feel the camera zoom in on my face just like it had on Chief Brody when he saw the shark attack Alex Kintner on the flotation device…my mouth went agape as I saw…something!
Then the lifeguard blew their whistle and frantically yelled for everyone to get out of the water. I threw my son to my wife and ran down the beach towards the commotion. People were standing in my way so I courageously knocked them over and pushed them into the water in order to keep a barrier between me and the hungry shark. Then…the beast poked its massive head above the water, baring its razor sharp teeth…it was as clear as day…it was horrifying…it was a ferocious….SEAL!!!
To be clear…I’ve seen seals before…but this seal was absolutely massive. He deceptively rolled over onto his stomach in a playful manner and dove under and surfaced again, much to the delight of the crowds gathered at the beach but I wasn’t fooled. I knew that I had just come within inches of being mauled by a shark…because as everyone knows…where there are seals…there are sharks!
I was assured by the same liars and deniers who told me that a seal had never been spotted on this beach before that the seal I just saw was just “lost”. “Lost” my ass..that seal knew EXACTLY what it was doing. And regardless of whether this seal is “lost” or not...what is to stop a “lost” Great White from following this seal, coming to this beach and taking a giant bite out of my obviously delectable ass?
In conclusion…when I say I survived a shark attack what I mean is that I saw a seal playing about twenty feet from the shore at a part of the beach where I wasn’t swimming. This was a close call indeed.