Jul 04, 2024, 06:29AM

Trains and Planes Off the Track

A recommendation for Saint Lucia, if you can get there. What year is it (#501)?

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My son Booker, whose “Sultans of Swag” fantasy baseball team won the championship in 2023—he’s still cheesed off that Joe Biden didn’t invite him to the White House for a photo-op and bowl of raspberries and cream—wasn’t in the best mood when we chatted last Sunday night. His team is tanking this year, the peril of drafting too many injury-prone players (Mike Trout, Carlos Correa and Bryce Harper, just to start), and on top of that his flight from LaGuardia to Detroit was cancelled because of “weather.” Although the thunderstorm was over by the time we spoke, it’s the reality of America’s third-world transportation that he was screwed and had to reschedule the next morning. I don’t agree with obsessive nostalgists that life in the late-20th century were “simpler times,” since decades come and go with unique quirks, innovations and problems (remember when the 1960s-70s smog, centered on Los Angeles and New York, was going to kill us all?), but the airline industry is out of control. A rainstorm, with lightning, is reasonable cause for a delay, even three hours, but cancellation? Some executives are getting rich from this purposeful slowdown, but it sure isn’t Americans who just want to get there-from-here.

That’s not to argue that “flying the friendly skies” was always easy pre-9/11 and subsequent airline mergers and price-gouging, but snafus were of a lesser magnitude. For example, I boycotted United Airlines for years after a flight from Chicago to Baltimore was delayed eight hours. I fumed and ranted, and though the personnel was more pleasant than today—I was given a $25 certificate to assuage my ire—it ticked me off. Today, that’s just part of traveling, and you’re used to it. And I fly United: there are worse carriers.

The picture above is my son Nicky at a roadside restaurant in Saint Lucia (Guinness signs are ubiquitous on the back roads), the Eastern Caribbean island that has a lot to offer: gorgeous bushes and trees, bananas growing everywhere and pretty good native food—bouyon, green figs, saltfish— if you venture away from the hotel. We did encounter some difficulty arriving there, though, flying from Newark to Kingston, and then getting stuck in a very chaotic Jamaican airport where no one was in charge and every single person was grumpy, a foreshadowing of America today, when a flight from New York to Detroit is cancelled for a relatively brief spell of weather (hurricanes are understandable, summer thunderstorms aren’t). In any case, we arrived at our destination not long after midnight, exhausted, but glad to meet up with a friend from NYC, a Saint Lucia native and so an excellent guide for our four days there. I’d skip the Sulphur Springs, a touted tourist attraction.

I was reminded of another trip we took around the same time, a short excursion to an alleged “resort” in Hilton Head, SC, where the pool water was filthy and service nearly non-existent, but in sum it was a lot of fun, with a side-trip to the justifiably-lauded Savannah, Georgia and a stop on a South Carolina highway to buy some fireworks at a store as big as a Target. The boys and I were excited, although I had to purchase the good stuff on the sly, since my wife, at least then, wasn’t up for much more than sparklers and snake-sizzlers. One morning, at six, I woke the boys and we put on a mini-display in the hotel’s parking lot, and none of the other guests were bothered.

It’s said that “woke” newspaper commentary is on the wane, but New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl—who must bow at the altar of Liz Warren—missed the missive. Under the headline “Enough With the Fireworks Already," she wrote: “The conflation of selfishness with patriotism is the thing I have the hardest time accepting about our political era. Maybe we have right to eat a hamburger or drive the biggest truck on the market or fire off bottle rockets deep into the night on the Fourth of July, but it doesn’t make us good Americans to do such things.”

I’ve no idea how to respond to that. It’s the first time, at least in recent memory, that I’ve read it’s “selfish” to eat a burger.

Look at the clues to figure out the year: The erased-from-history Dennis Hastert was Speaker of the House; Rage Against the Machine plays at Wall Street, causing an early close of trading; Disney’s Dinosaur is released; The Smashing Pumpkins break up; Elian Gonzales returns to Cuba; Dora the Explorer premieres on Nick Jr.; Brian De Palma directs his final studio film; the Pirates play their last game at Three Rivers Stadium; Sophie Thatcher is born and Hedy Lamarr dies; Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Philip Roth’s The Human Stain are published; Radiohead’s Kid A is released; and the UK’s Coronation Street celebrates its 40th anniversary.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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