I just returned from a 10-day trip to North Carolina and Atlanta. Seeing the family was wonderful. Getting there and back was not.
Every day we Americans are enthusiastically informed that we live in the best of countries in the best of worlds and are enjoying the best government, health care, benefits, travel, wholesome and easily affordable food, and even (I blush to mention, in view of recent economic developments) employment opportunities. I don't think so.
In case I hadn't been aware of it, this recent family visit was a definite heads up regarding the real state of affairs in America today. It began with a bone-rattling trip by shuttle ($54 for two people) from Santa Fe to the Albuquerque Sunport, followed by a grueling ordeal at the Security check point, during which I was profiled, X-rayed, my tiny 1-inch Swiss Army knife (used only for opening recalcitrant bags of potato chips and emergency nail trimming and placed discreetly in my makeup bag) confiscated, and my husband body-searched. (Do I look like a terrorist?!) Then an hour's wait until time to board the 11 AM Delta non-stop flight to Atlanta. Now the last time I flew Delta to Atlanta, in 2001, the plane was a 747, with triple seats on both sides of the plane, triple seats in the very wide aisle, a movie, and fairly decent food. Mine was not a first class seat, either. This trip was quite different. The plane boasted triple seats on either side of an aisle so narrow that most folks could hardly get their carryon luggage to their seats-none of which were ample enough to be comfortable, even for my 5'3" 118 pound body. Complementary juice, Coke products, or water, and (this was hard to believe) you could buy your peanuts. The next leg of the trip, from Atlanta to Charlotte, NC, although much shorter, provided the same level of discomfort. Thankfully we drove my daughter's van down to Atlanta.
The return trip, from Atlanta to Phoenix on US Air, was equally as bad. This time Security decided that this dangerous-looking senior citizen probably had some explosive device hidden in a compartment of her glasses case. More X-rays, more sifting through the luggage while I stood around in my bare feet on a filthy floor. (At least this time my husband escaped the embarrassment of a body search.) On board the plane we enjoyed the same seating arrangements, same tight aisle, same parsimonious allotment of food. However, the pilot and crew of the much smaller plane (Mesa Airlines, flying for US Air, with only two seats on either side of an even narrower aisle) that brought us finally back to Albuquerque were phenomenal-managing a slick landing in spite of mountain updrafts and thunderstorms. The return shuttle trip to Santa Fe was better-a larger vehicle and more careful driver, for another $54-and the taxi driver who delivered us to our house was quiet and friendly, and the fare reasonably priced. The total cost in dollars for the air fare was roughly $1076. We're still recovering from the cost of stress to the physical body.
The point of this grumbling is that we Americans, over the past 20 years, have allowed ourselves to accept less and less while we pay more and more, in every walk of life. We are like the frog in the pot of slow-boiling water, which doesn't realize it's being cooked until it's too late.
Take Security, for example. Every time I raise the question, "Do we really need this level of security?" I am dismissed by friends and family members who insist that they now feel much safer from terrorism. (Never mind that a true terrorist would hardly trudge through Security checkpoints like a normal citizen when all normal citizens are being subjected to such intense scrutiny-he would find some other way of infiltrating a plane.) So we are not any "safer," but the combination of Security protocols and constant broadcast reminders to "report any unattended luggage" has made a lot of people think we are. Does no one remember World War II and the smug sense of safety that many Germans felt as Hitler's SS troops detained, searched, and imprisoned their neighbors-until they themselves were brought in for detention, search, and imprisonment? There is a huge difference between "national security" and the true safety of law-abiding citizens. Have Americans all forgotten Hitler's real agenda, which was to eliminate any group of people who might disagree with his plans for a "brave new Aryan world?" Hello!!!
And what is this business of charging exorbitant prices for perfectly terrible service? Do corporate airline owners care about the comfort or physical safety of their passengers? Certainly not! The more people they can cram, like sardines, into planes that rattle and groan as they leave the ground and sound as if they're coming apart in flight, the better. More money for them, right? (Given that attitude, I shudder to think what pilots and crew are earning-if there are heroes in the industry, it's these people.) Greed-driven economic cutbacks in every industry are rendering our day-to-day lives far more difficult, if not almost unbearable.
I could continue to point out similar examples of dishonest mismanagement in just about every aspect of our lives-government, health care, grocery shopping, buying a home. Suffice it to say that this one brief glimpse of how it is for many of us, particularly those who must travel in order to support their families, has truly alerted me to the fast disintegrating quality of American life. One of our founding fathers is said to have noted that "If the people will lead, the leaders will follow." It's way past time to step up to the wagon and reclaim the reins, before the whole outfit goes over the cliff.