Monday, September 12, 2005

Sons Still Poor

Sunday, September 11, 2005

6:20 a.m. We are sitting at the departure gate at the Zurich Airport. This does not seem like an auspicious date to travel. Everything is going with Swiss precision. Swiss precision, however, did not note the fact when we entered the country last Sunday that Rosalee had not signed her passport. They catch it now; the deed is done and we are allowed to leave without any talking-to.

9:35 a.m. (Amsterdam time; 2:35 a.m. CDT) We are sitting in the airport (I won't attempt to spell the name) waiting for our connecting flight to Detroit. Our plane was 10 minutes late leaving Zurich, but got to Amsterdam five minutes early. How un-Swiss-like, but then I guess we were in Dutch hands.

We get our money changed back to U.S. dollars, and, amazingly, still have some money left. We brought along in cash half as much as I feared that we would need to spend; intending to use ATM cards for more as we needed it. I think sticker shock at the high Swiss prices made us more thrifty than we had planned to be.

We stopped at a book store because Rosalee thought she might run out of reading materials; having packed all of her extra books in the checked luggage. We asked if they take U.S. dollars and the clerk said "sure." But the bill was $30 for a book whose price tag on the back said $14 Canadian and an overseas version of the New York Times, whose price tag said $8. We must have paid one heckuva high exchange rate. But, then, this is kind of found money. Easy come; easy go.

We were told to be at the gate at 9:20, although the flight does not leave until 10:50 a.m. That seems excessive, but we follow instructions. It turns out that they are using special security precautions. Maybe they do this all the time now in Europe, but we have not gone through anything like this. They are interviewing everyone personally at little podiums set up through the secured part of the departure area. The line is very long. The security agent quizzes us about where we were; where we stayed; what we did; who packed our bags; whether we are taking any gifts that someone else packed. I forgot to mention, when the agent asked, that we were carrying a wrapped gift that we had not opened from Jorg and Regula for their friends in Champaign. Oh, well, they would not try to blow up the plane. Although it takes a long time to get through this process, I am not complaining. My sons can just stay poor.

As we are waiting to board, I overhear a conversation behind me. A man asks what sounds to be an older gentleman if he is from New Orleans. Apparently, there is some kind of identification on his carry-on bag. "Yes, I am, and everything is gone!" he said. He continued, "My wife is a physician and her office is gone; not there anymore. The water is up to the roof of our house and everything is destroyed; clothes, furniture, everything."

"Were you overseas when the hurricane happened?"

"Yes, and thank God, I was. We would have stayed. We have gone through many hurricanes and we always stayed." He went on to relate that some acquaintances who stayed are dead.

The man is disgusted with the government's relief efforts. He says, "If you're rich, you get nothing. All they do is give you a low intererst loan which you have to pay back with money that you have paid taxes on. If you're poor, you get all kinds of free things."

Some of the sympathy I had been feeling for him disappears. Poor little rich guy. Maybe he should give everything away, so he too would qualify for free government handouts. I want to go over to admonish him, but I decide that I do not want to die; this close to being home. (Rosalee would have killed me.)

We're sitting on the plane, waiting until 10:50 to leave. At 10:45, there is an announcement to please check our personal belongings. There is a computer notebook that has been found at the security checkpoint. Fifteen to 20 men jump up and check their packs. Rosalee says, "Notice they're all men." (She does not mean this as a compliment to men.)

We're three hours away from our estimated arrival time in Detroit. I have read my $8 New York Times and it doesn't contain 50 cents worth of news. It's amazing; I have been totally away from all decipherable media now for a week, and there is nothing in the newspaper of record that is really new. The Times, which in my opinion, is still the best of all the media, is still up to its old tricks of quoting anonymous sources when anonymity can't possibly be necessary except to hide the identity of some spin doctor and giving opinions disguised as news.

Example: There is an article on page 6 by Hassan M. Fattah about an inquiry into the murder of a former prime minister of Lebanon. A UN investigator is going to Syria next week as part of the investigation. Here is what the reporter says, "Damacus cafes were full this week and its markets bustled as an erie sense of normalcy belied the crisis the city might soon face. But, in stolen glances and whispered conversations, the city's growing anxiety bubbled to the surface."

This is not news; it is garbage dressed up on wrapping paper to make it appear to be news. There is no crisis in Damacus; it is the reporter's opinion that there might soon be one. In light of the fact that there is no crisis (by the reporter's own words) what makes the sense of normalcy "erie?" Well, he can tell that underneath the "normalcy" there is growing anxiety because he has noticed stolen glances and whispered conversations. Maybe, unlikely as it might be, there are people living normal lives. Flirting is going on with all these "stolen glances" and the "whispered conversations" are assignations. And this is from the best newspaper we've got.

At Detroit, we get on a little turboprop puddle jumper and an hour later, we are in Champaign, where Chris picks us up. He actually flew out of Zurich on Saturday; stayed overnight in Rochester, N.Y. and got to Champaign Sunday morning.

It was a wonderful trip. The flight insurance was a waste of money. But it was a fun waste of $100, and it did give some peace of mind to my fear of flying.

Don't go away though. The first weekend of October, we have a wedding in Bloomington, IN of the first of my nieces and nephews to get married. The nuptials will be pronounced by my younger brother whose credentials were bought by mail order 30 years ago. Then there is a trip to Atlanta to see some old buddies. So, I will probably still have some things to write about, although hopefully less frequently and voluminously than the past week.

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