It is a dangerous proposition to wax nostalgic about the American tradition in the 21st century. As a national community, we don’t care much for the company of each other. It’s like we’ve all overstayed our welcome at Thanksgiving, the conversations turned political, the Cowboys lost, and someone dropped Grandma’s seventy-five-year old recipe for mashed potatoes in the dishwater, erasing it from the annuls of time.
Everyone’s tired of everyone else’s bullshit.
If we could just get a little distance– if we could just get a freaking second to take a breath without someone telling someone else how the whole sum of the human universal is supposed to behave, we’d really all appreciate it.
The internet makes us close. The very nature of its invention cries out for interconnectedness and social media’s grip herds the digital public forum down to standing room only. We’re like a motley of No.2 pencils rubber banded together; our sharpened opinions ready to scrawl our superior positions on the dented can, thrift-store version of the online journal–Facebook. We can’t help ourselves, we really need to let the world know how it really is. Maybe get enough Likes to ring the Pavlov Bells, that’ll announce with mortal authority, announcing our value, that those blue, up-thrust thumbs of light will illuminate our little cosmos, and one like by one like, self-confidence growing with each red bell alert, we’ll be able to shoulder a confident cyber life. Hell, we might even get a Share and some Comments; really pop the cork on what could be a champagne-soaked celebration in the Life & Times of Us.
This post isn’t a rant about the social or even mental health issues developing from Mark Zuckerberg’s online dopamine drip.
It’s about my trip to the airport.
When I take a trip, I think about America. I think about old American traditions of worldly and self-exploration, new feelings of experiencing America, and of rivers and mountains and streets with old American names. There is a lot of bluster and bullshit that’s been built into the American identity. Much to do about the rugged, self-made romantic valorously tramping across the American landscape. So much of what American’s perceive themselves to be is really a good, ole-fashioned Texas Tall Tale with an Uncle Sam beard spirit-gummed to its adolescent face, wrapped in a “Don’t Tread on Me” t-shirt, and stars and stripes Daisy Dukes.
We’re so deaf.
So goddamn short of memory.
The American self-perception is twisted, wound up so tight that its ready to snap or lose all its elasticity trying to hold itself together. And America isn’t just this goofy dressed pre-teen who can’t figure out how to talk to his parents…
America is an airport
Flying in and out of any major city in America is the process of being taken from one highly-secured shopping mall to the next. Shop after shop of over-priced regional memorabilia to segmented food courts that sell you seventy-five cents worth of spaghetti for twelve dollars. They are landmarks whose eternal legacy will not be the ports of embark of technologically advanced flying machines, but that of the panama suit wearing profiteer; a professional, capitalist grease ball who loves one thing above all else—the markup.
The airport is shopping center and I hate it.
If you look closely into the bleary-eyed or over-caffeinated faces of patrons shuffling from checkpoint to checkpoint, you will see the final pinprick of light in their soul flickering out of existence. That is because the Airport sucks human vitality right out of the marrow; and there’s nothing you can do to increase the pleasure of that experience. You can smile and be nice to people, but ultimately, no one will remember that little courtesy when they are busy pulling off their shoes and getting bombarded with radiation just before their flight to ensure that none of the people you are flying with will try to kill you.
The airport is the worst thing about a marvelous event. In order to fly, you’ve got to pay the exorbitant price of admission then, navigate your way through hordes of people staring at their phone or the people who are angry about the people staring at their phone.
There is no in-between.
America is an airport. Full of fear and regulation of fear and the memory that this place used to be something pretty special. People used to get excited about visiting this place. Giddy, at the stomach-churning thought that you were going to get on an airplane and fly. Not walk like a caveman. Not ride like a coachman. Not drive like a chauffeur.
Fly like the Wright Brothers.
Fly like Superman.
America is an airport and that used to mean lots of white men in suits going from one big stakes meeting to another, cigarettes perched between lips smirking at each other. And the thought of that homogeneous, jerk-off culture makes me want to throw something into the sun.
America is an airport and the airport is a melting pot now. Walk into any airport in America and you will see the wide-eyed expression of children running the whole spectrum of color. You will see the dress of a thousand far-off places that now call America home. Men, women, and snotty, screaming children who you goddamn well know, that when you board, will be sitting right next to you. And that is the beautiful thing about America, the beautiful thing about the airport—the problem isn’t the people.
The problem is the airport.
Every door, every stall is a franchise chain dressed up like a slot-machine begging you for money and here, it costs more than it does outside, not because it changed or because it’s more valuable, but only for the sheer fact that you are…at the airport. When you aren’t being prodded for a donation to the “Shit I Don’t Need” Foundation you are trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be, because if you aren’t there on time, for whatever reason—be it sickness, or traffic you couldn’t control, or that the security line took too long, the plane is going to leave your ass the gate—no exceptions. And if that isn’t a microcosm of the Millennial experience in America, then I don’t know what is.
America is an airport and it really doesn’t have to be.
That’s the great thing about it. America is the greatest idea in the history of the world.
America doesn’t have to be an airport.
It can become whatever the people will it to be.