Retired software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...
By: Bogon , 6:37 PM GMT on March 29, 2011
I notice it has been a month since I last updated the Dry Slot. We're talking about a full 31-day month like March, not a wimpy short month like February. A month is too long.
Granted, that's a self-imposed deadline. I have excuses and rationalizations. But I also have (admittedly modest) ambitions and expectations, which are now straining at their limits. It's time to ante up.
Among my excuses and rationalizations there's a family situation which tops the list. I plan to blog about that soon, but I'm not quite ready now, because the situation is still in flux. I expect a resolution within a few days. Then, when I can find a few quiet hours to center my thoughts and pick a way forward, I'll write the story. Meanwhile, there's this.
Sunday my wife and I returned from a trip to New York. The reason for the trip was to visit a mutual friend, who lives in Brooklyn. My wife travels frequently as a consequence of her job. For her the trip was no big deal. For me, in my official capacity as malingering blogger dude, it was outside my comfort zone.
That's a good thing, I think. One does not learn and grow and keep fit and alert by waiting safe in bed in one's favorite flannel pajamas. Once in a while one must venture out into the greater world to peer about myopically and squint into the sunshine. So I did.
* * *
The first new thing I saw was the Transportation Security Administration. The T. S. A. has been around for a while now, but it was new to me, because I have not flown on an airplane since 9/11. Blame it on the T. S. A. I have a problem with the whole idea of the T. S. A. Until now that attitude has sufficed to deter me from flying. To make this trip possible my wife wheedled and cajoled until I relented.
When we got to Raleigh-Durham airport we checked a bag and headed toward our gate. Soon we became lost in a maze of twisty passages, similar to the ones I first encountered at Disneyland. It was a waiting place, a place where people shuffle along and look at each other. The difference was that in Disneyland I was waiting to take a fun ride. At RDU I was waiting to be inspected. Not fun at all. In fact, it was a major inconvenience. First I had to leave many of the usual contents of my bag at home. Then we had to shuffle and tarry. I had to empty my pockets, take off my shoes and belt. I had to juggle my carry-on bag, boarding pass and driver's license. I had to submit, when I would much rather have ranted about the silliness of the ritual, the futility of the mission, the indignity and frustration that we and all our fellow travelers were forced to endure.
And for what? For the illusion of security? So that these blue-suited functionaries might have a job at public expense? I would not take that job for any amount of money, but maybe that's just me. Obviously the T. S. A. had no problem filling a nationwide ensemble of blue suits. Maybe those job applicants were really hungry, or maybe they just like hassling people. There might even be a few idealists in the group, who imagine that they might one day apprehend a terrorist. More likely they'll apprehend me, when I get tired of being hassled and start mouthing off some of the concerns I've enumerated here.
For what it's worth, let me point out that I do not view it as my patriotic duty to submit to a search before boarding an airplane. It is my patriotic duty to rock the boat, to complain, to assert my liberty. We do not preserve freedom by supporting infringements of that freedom. You get free by acting free, by empowering people. I used to be free to walk to my gate unimpeded. I want that freedom back! Screw the T. S. A., and screw the mentality that conceived it.
* * *
Okay, where were we? Oh, yeah, detained on the way to New York. To make a long story short, like everybody else standing in line on that very early morning, I submitted. My wife made sure I fumbled through the rigamarole, and in due course we landed at La Guardia.
That was the second new thing I saw: massive conurbation. I have been to New York before, but that was many years ago. I am a different person now, and I saw the city through different eyes. My younger self was beguiled by the power and majesty of the place. My elder self is... repelled. Too many zillions of bodies in too small a volume. Too much noise and smoke. A universe of architecture, billboards and signs. Graffiti: spray painted across the façade of a building by the freeway in black letters a story high, "WHAT'S THE POINT?" We passed two enormous graveyards full of former New Yorkers. Like the skyscrapers of Manhattan, each corpse's marble monument strives to reach higher than the next.
We stayed in a fine old brownstone in Brooklyn. Our host informed us that there are roughly one hundred square blocks of brownstones in Brooklyn. There are subtle architectural variations among them; to me they all looked about the same. A hundred square blocks of sameness — the only way you can tell where you are is by the street signs. I suppose that to a denizen of Brooklyn a forest might appear to be acres and acres of sameness. The difference is that the forest is alive and growing. It's a part of the natural world.
There is a wrongness about great cities like New York. Their power and majesty is at least partly illusory. They cannot stand on their own. They depend on a constant flow of inputs from outside: water, food, energy, fuel, money and talent. Without those the cities would begin to wither and die in a matter of days. That they do not is a testimony to the marvels of economics, infrastructure and organization that enable them to persist.
* * *
It wasn't so bad, really. As I often tend to do in these pages, I rant. Perhaps I overstate my case. We had a good time. We're glad we went.
I'm glad we're back. :o)
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