Where the hurricane ain’t

Harry Drabik

 At this writing I’m going on calm seas in a direction opposite that of the hurricane heading for the Florida panhandle. Roughly off the Maine coast the weather at sea is at a pleasant 54 degrees roughly 20 degrees cooler than the day before but by no means cold. Why I bother writing about the weather is no more than casual politeness in trying to establish a tone and setting for the next few pieces. I have to say that unlike many that gladly scoot off to warmer and fairer climes I leave the Northland reluctantly. It is home in fact and spirit. If I did not want to live with the experience of –40, the fact of ticks, pure air, and the scent of woodsmoke coming from scattered homes I’d live elsewhere. I love the place, which means you’re stuck with me for some time to come. Yet it is good to get away for the sake of perspective and (as well) the delicious cherry on top joy of eventually returning home to the amazing Northland.

The hurricane season is, I suppose, much as it’s ever been, but travel has certainly changed by a lot. It wasn’t very long ago when people who went on vacation did so looking quite formal rather than appearing as if recently tumbled from bed and having been forced to dress in haste without the aid of light. Another observation: in generations past I don’t recall seeing nearly as many painted toes on plane passengers. That may well sound snobbish or at least geezerly, but I’m also remarking on the way distance travel has become much more open and available to the average person. In earlier days air travel was limited in availability and limiting by cost. Few could afford it. Distance travel in the US was by rail. This was affordable for the average person, and the same train that hauled the coach passenger also carried the Pullman traveler. Rail travel was profitable both for the ordinary traveler bringing their own meals and those who ordered from the dining car. With AmTrak being essentially socialized we should (if some are correct in their view) see a general return to rail travel to serve the masses, huddled or otherwise. With profit removed rail travel should boom, though of late AmTrak has removed dining cars, I suspect as a way to promote economical and healthy eating of one’s own choice. If you went across country by rail you’d need a small pantry. Perhaps that’s in the plans.

In any case, I am not complaining about cramped seating and elimination of other elements that has made air travel more affordable for the masses because the same argument says this makes airlines more profitable for avaricious owners and investors. Can both be true? Imagine, for fun, what we’d enjoy in benefits from having a universal right to air travel to match rights for all to live where they wish and have healthcare provided. As I watched people in the bigger terminals the flow of humanity wasn’t too different than anything you’d see in a big box store, but with the exception of noticeably less obesity. Air travelers don’t appear as much of a privileged elite. The numbers of fair skinned fliers starts out higher in Nordic Minnesota, but that changes as you leave the area and enter different population pools.

There are, no doubt, many things I can say to compare the Northland to NYC. For one I was quite taken by the amount of garbage piled up outdoors Saturday night along side streets going to Times Square and Broadway. There was much activity and entertainment on the streets and off. New York night life is a good deal different from wildlife at night in the Northland where a garbage scrounging bear (they should thrive near Times Square) or flying squirrel is as crazy as things get. And gads there are a great many people. I’d say too many for comfort. Having throngs on people around all the time has to have some kind of personal implication. If I were forced to stay there any length of time I fear I’d snap and try to use a chainsaw to thin out the numbers as I would weed the balsam fir that pop up like tree fleas infesting any opening. It hit me after a time that a suitable way to express the people element of NYC is to comment on the number of tour boats. Residents make up a large number, but there must be staggering numbers of visitors to keep as many tour boats going as I saw over a two-hour period watching. Admittedly I viewed from a location in sight of the Statue of Liberty meaning, I suspect, a lot or a majority of the tour boats would pass my way. In any case it seemed there was rarely a space of ten minutes without a tour boat or two passing, not infrequently in opposite directions. I wasn’t counting heads, but only one boat appeared lean on passengers. If you factor in the sure bet that not all visitors do a harbor tour the need of so many boats for those that do is worth taking note. I wonder what New Yorkers’ think of so many visitors. Do rthey want them or feel stuck with them; no escape?

Another element of this trip is trying to get the technology to work. My netbook doesn’t seem to want to mesh with things, and I have to say it’s not at all convenient when I’m machine-asked to verify my identity by a call to a phone a thousand miles away at home. So I’m looking for some clever solution to this problem which may not be settled until I’m home again to sort out the pecky details that are now in the way.For now I can hope for the best. Ane btw, among foreigners the name Trump gets quite an interesting range of laughs that turn dumbfounded when I tease “He is an envy isn’t he?”