Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Terminal E and Spring Break…

Two hours and forty-eight minutes in Hartsfield is about the longest you want to spend, but it seems that flying into Ontario, California from Jacksonville, FL offers about as much choices as a lemonade stand - you go when you go, you get there when you get there, and if you don’t like lemonade, well tough. I did my obligatory E Terminal to T Terminal laps, that’s, from what I am told, two miles round trip, and it kills about 28 minutes of the total wait, and you get to do some pretty fierce people watching. Atlanta Hartsfield is not terribly representative of the city, it is a true melting pot, everyone deals with the same gate changes, and waits in the same lines, and smokes in the same smoking rooms. Even the Delta Sky Club rooms are standing room only, and are merely a respite from the hustle of the terminal, and have a little more comfortable décor and free drinks. I generally avoid the Sky Club – when you live on Delta planes, apparently, that membership comes with the rent, and although they provide free wireless and squeeze tubes of hummus, I tend to reserve the visits to the Sky Club for when I am going on vacation, or trying to rebook my flight. Perhaps an internal sense of inferiority, but more likely, I like being in the terminal. The terminal is where everything happens.

Tonight, no exception, I had my regular three course laxative at Panda Express, that should kick in somewhere in between Los Angeles and Atlanta to the dismay of my fellow passengers, and followed with a quick smoke break in the Sojourners To Go smoke closet, keno hall, and bar down by gate E27. There really is no need to smoke in that room, you can just walk in, sit down, inhale for a couple of minutes, and then leave – mission accomplished. The room re-circulates all of the second hand smoke from all of the bars within a 60 mile radius, and pumps it directly, unfiltered, through the ice cold air blowing out of the ass level air conditioning ducts. I am not complaining, I am extremely happy that they have those rooms – they encourage me to put off quitting smoking for at least one more flight, and seeing how there are no warning signs blatantly posted on the walls that smoking is hazardous, and when coupled with drinking, could lead to a massive hangover and other less than desirable conditions, I figure I have another party to a lawsuit for creating an environment in which I am able to do further damage to myself. That’s what I started this post about, the victim mentality.

Terminal E shows the dichotomy that exists still in today’s world. This is the terminal where the 18 to 22 year old kids on Spring Break are heading to Cozumel and Cancun and Europe and all of the other fun places. This is where they are dressed in flip flops and loose fitting t-shirts with ripped blue jeans and hang out in swarms - giggling, laughing, getting loaded on seven dollar beers, this is where all of that happens. It also happens to be the same terminal that, on any given day of the week, there are hundreds of 18 to 22 year old soldiers in uniform getting ready to board their flight to Ireland or Germany en route to their 14 month stay in Iraq or Afghanistan. You see their scuffed tan boots and their slightly faded desert camo uniforms. They carry a backpack with everything they own for the next year, and for some reason, they are not getting loaded in the bars or telling jokes or bitching about how cheap their parents are for putting them on coach. They are guarded, reserved, almost somber – everyone in the terminal knows where they are headed – they know where they are headed, and they still have the ability to come together in groups, and you see them talk about the things that kids talk about – cars, girls, bars, but they also talk about things that most college kids never have to deal with outside of a philosophical discussion with their sorority sisters or fraternity brothers on the campus green over a hot latte. It actually stands out like a sore thumb. Granted, not all of those kids in uniform had to join, but I am sure, the overwhelming majority of those young soldiers did not have the same alternatives as the kids dressed in pink polo shirts and creatively plaid shorts – they did not have the alternative but to sign up for an $18,000 a year job, free health care, and the opportunity to make more whenever they are in harms way. It probably holds true that some of the kids on their way to topless drink fests and azure blue oceans had to work really hard to put themselves in that position – but I reckon the majority of them did not – they just did what they were told to do, and in turn, their folks rewarded them with four years away, and the best chance to avoid being shot at by zealots. It is ironic. I don’t see too many college kids protesting at the funerals of fallen soldiers where Christian zealots blanket the grounds with “God hates Fags” signs, and thanks their god for the death of another kid in uniform who was just looking for a way to make a better live for themselves, and ended up with a hero’s return and a flag for their mother.

Blogs are places for political views and dissent. I don’t think I do either – I just write what comes out, and sometimes it makes sense. This time, it does not even make sense to me. This is the way things are. Some folks have opportunities, some folks have better opportunities than others, and some folks just never get the chance. I think everyone of those young men and women in uniform that I saw today realize the opportunity they are working for. I am pretty sure that everyone of those kids talking about how Sarah really pissed off Jessica by sleeping with Tyler at the Chi Omega round up last week have little understanding of what opportunity they are being given. It almost seems like an entitlement. I don’t pretend to understand the way things are. I cannot provide any solace to myself that things are the way they are supposed to be – and I don’t try. I just know, that the more I see flag waving, god fearing folks yelling “nuke them into a sandbox” – if they know what they are saying. I wonder is anyone other than myself sits down and thinks about the Sixty-four million dollar price tag those tomahawks we hurled in the first volley (actually, if you take the weighted average with Research and Development costs, the price almost triples to $1.4 million each) – how many school teachers and classrooms and college degrees and clean energy projects could that money have funded? I certainly don’t expect to see that payback in my lifetime – just like I don’t expect other nations to assist us in rebuilding New Orleans, cleaning the Gulf, or rehabilitating our young soldiers.

I know I am starting to sound like an isolationist, and perhaps, to some degree, I am. I understand we have interests in the Middle East. Most of them, in my personal opinion, are in the form of the thousands of young men and women in uniform putting themselves in harms way to protect a dying energy source. Truth be known, I want my kids to be the ones dressed in pink polos and snazzy shorts. I tell them now, if it does not feel right, then it is not right – and I guess that is all I am trying to say – I can’t justify to myself what is in the Middle East worth dying for, and can’t do it for them either. I don’t expect to see folks from State Colleges replaceing the Goldman alumni or Harvard, Yale, and Columbia grads anytime soon, but at least, in most cases, they are not targets – theymay be tools for a bigger system, but at least they are not targets. My thoughts go out to each of the soldiers I saw tonight – and I certainly thank each of them for their service – and hope that they are able to make a difference for themselves.

Until next time –

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