Just how hot does it have to get before the people of the United States finally acknowledge that global warming is happening? When are we going to stop arguing about it and start doing something to at least slow it down from getting even hotter?
We have known about this for at least a couple of decades. The science was settled on this back in the 1990s when I wrote a doctoral dissertation about media coverage of global warming.
There is no doubt that humans are causing the warming of the planet with our insatiable demand for electric power from the burning of fossil fuels, which causes greenhouse gases to build up in the atmosphere and trap heat around the planet.
What will it take to convince the corporations that profit from electric power generated by the burning of coal, natural gas and oil? What will it take to convince the Republicans? What will it take to convince the Christians?
Once again this summer, temperatures have soared over the 100 mark in the United States and around the globe, setting more records, just as we have seen over the past 20 years. From Philadelphia and New York, to Louisville, Kentucky and Birmingham, Alabama and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the heat baked the landscape like a plague.
At least 30 deaths were blamed on the heat, including nine in Maryland and 10 in Chicago, while officials said the heat caused highways to buckle in Illinois and Wisconsin. Thousands of mid-Atlantic residents remained without power for more than a week from deadly summer storms and extreme heat, including 120,000 in West Virginia and some 8,000 in the suburbs around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In the Washington area, Pepco asked customers to conserve power, saying the heat was stressing the system.
This heat wave and an accompanying drought — and freak storms and massive power outages — will continue to spread over the next couple of months. But the Republicans in Congress and the states would rather try to defeat President Obama at the polls by lying to and exploiting their conservative constituencies than to tell people the truth.
Corporations like Southern Company, which controls Alabama Power and Georgia Power, would rather spend their money on campaign contributions to Republicans who oppose doing anything about global warming — or air pollution and water pollution for that matter — than to get onboard and try to help reverse the warming of the planet and the inevitable changes in climate.
As for the Christians, who tend to vote Republican, they just seem to figure that when the entire planet catches on fire, some god will snatch them out of the flames and save them and take them to another planet in the universe where they can live in what they call “heaven,” while the rest of us burn.
I’ve often wondered if these Christians, like our not so esteemed governor of Alabama Robert Bentley, really believe there are separate planets in the universe reserved for the white Christians and the black Christians? Is there another planet set aside for the brown Christians and the yellow Christians?
Since scientists have not found a suitable new planet to house any of us yet — or a way to travel there — would it not behoove us to try to slow down the warming of the planet, the melting of solar ice caps and the rising seas until we might find such a place?
Or is god a space alien like the Mormons believe? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Let’s elect a Mormon for president and put off doing anything about global warming for another eight years and see what happens. Morons.
If the U.S. Supreme Court had not handed George W. Bush the presidency in the year 2000, we could be a long way down the road of doing something about this by now. But no, we just have to keep on having a silly argument that drags on for years and serves no purpose except to make a few people richer, while the rest of our lives just continue to get worse.
Now I know a lot of people on the left, including a lot of environmentalists, are no fans of President Obama. But if everybody does not get onboard and prevent the election of the Massachusetts Mormon Mitt Romney to the White House in November, we may see the world end as we know it in our lifetimes.
At least science and merit are back to some extent in the federal government, although we’ve got a long way to go to get rid of all the bureaucrats Dick Cheney hired. Maybe we can do that in a second Obama term.
Otherwise, we might as well fool ourselves like the Maya did by committing human sacrifices and polluting their own water supply. Oh, but we learned this week that the Maya calendar doesn’t end on Dec. 21, 2012. Maybe it ends by the end of Romney’s second term? Let’s ask Nostradamus why don’t we?
Or, perhaps it’s time to stop fouling our own nest and to take responsibility for conserving this planet so there can be future generations.
If we would make up our minds to get on with a program to change this warming trend, it would not cost us jobs or hurt the economy. In fact, fixing the power plants we have and building new, cleaner ones would create millions of new high paying union jobs and save the economy.
And while we’re are it, if we really wanted to fix the economy, there are two other things we could do right away — if we could find the political will. Get rid of the ridiculous Cold War trade restrictions on Cuba, and legalize marijuana. Trade with Cuba could save the Southern states from economic ruin, and the taxes we could collect on pot would immediately save us a billion dollars on law enforcement and eliminate the budget deficit overnight.
I’ve got it. Why don’t we end the war on drugs and start a war on global warming? Would that help people understand?
We can do these things. But not if we cower to the corporations, listen to the Christians — or elect Republicans. We must first face reality in our politics.
(Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in our sister publication, The Locust Fork blog.)
by Tom Campbell
NEW YORK — Few people ever have a chance to be arms’ length from greatness. As a lifelong fan of Alabama football, I feel lucky to know that I’ve been a witness to an event that will become a part of Alabama’s fabled history.
To have had such an opportunity twice is remarkable. On both occasions, I tried to burn each detail into my memory because I knew the events before me were celebrating a legacy of pride and greatness.
Two celebrations of excellence of historic proportions for the storied University of Alabama football program will endure in my memory.
Mark Ingram will carry the Heisman experience for the rest of his life
Over 25 years ago, as my last official act as student body president at the University of Alabama, I attended the funeral of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. As sad as Bryant’s funeral and grave site procession were, the Alabama family celebrated a man whose impact upon his players, coaches, university and fans proved immeasurable.
Economic times were hard then, and folks rallied around the prowess and class surrounding the football institution Coach Bryant built. During a time when people were losing a lot — jobs, bonuses, homes — Alabama football offered fans in the community something to be proud of and helped people feel like winners. Despite the celebratory remembrance of Bryant’s life and career, this event nevertheless marked an end.
Now, decades later, in the midst of a terrible economic climate, I had the opportunity to observe another event crucial to the history of Alabama’s football program as a special assignment reporter for the Locust Fork News Journal. However, this celebration, at the announcement of the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, marked a new beginning rather than an end.
Before the announcement of the Heisman winner, the press was treated to a banquet dinner in Times Square. Surrounded by the five finalists, their esteemed coaches and a legion of legendary figures from football history, I felt like the room was filled with electricity and promise. Pluck and grit and winning attitudes really had made a difference in the lives of these young men and their proud coaches, and I was inspired to see the culmination of a football season filled with talent, drive and teamwork.
In each of the five young finalists, Tebow, Ingram, McCoy, Gearhardt and Suh, I saw student athletes brought to this level not only by their physical prowess but also by the humility and class that comes with winning character. Each finalist was being celebrated for personal greatness. Each young man was supremely self-confident. But to a man they exuded gratitude for their God-given talent and appreciation for the coaches, programs and teammates who allowed them to shine. None appeared to express an air of entitlement or arrogance.
Of particular interest to me personally, was of course Mark Ingram. The Flint, Michigan, native turned Alabama standout sat before me with poise and polish. This young man had a brilliant turnout in what may well be a National Championship season, and it was easy for me to forget that just a few miles east of Times Square, Ingram’s father awaited transfer to prison — that Ingram achieved this accomplishment amidst personal turmoil and hardship.
Equally hard to believe was the fact that Ingram has achieved this honor as a sophomore. I wondered if he would follow Tim Tebow as the second Heisman winner to earn that distinction as a sophomore.
Alabama’s Nick Saban winks as if he knows a secret after Ingram dodges a question about the Heisman Curse
Before the result was announced, the pride Coach Nick Saban exuded for his player proved infectious, and I found myself forgetting my journalistic objective for attending the Heisman banquet in the first place as I hoped to hear those two words revealed, “Mark Ingram.”
Would this be one more mark of greatness for the University of Alabama football program? Would Ingram prove himself a formidable opponent on the national stage? Would Saban continue to create his own legacy at Bama, marked as much by the quality of the character of his players as their domination on the football field? Would their affiliation with the University of Alabama continue to be a rallying point of pride and celebration for fans in a time of financial difficulty for many in our state?
And the answer was yes.
Mark Ingram was awarded the Heisman — a storybook beginning for what surely will prove to be a heralded football career.
And I was fortunate enough to witness another legendary chapter in the story of the Alabama football program.
I almost lost my breakfast in my plate as I watched CNN’s John King interview Dick Cheney on his “State of the Union” show this Sunday. It made me want to get rid of my television set, reinforcing an idea that seems to be growing among the American population.
As newspaper circulation continues in free fall and as we begin to acknowledge that broadcast news let us down as well as newspaper reporting over the past eight years, more and more I’m hearing people say they would rather have a high speed Internet connection than a cable TV package or a newspaper subscription any day.
I mean who gives a damn what Cheney has to say at this point? Is he the only guest King could get to assess the state of the nation? What a joke.
More and more young people are getting their view of the world from shows such as the Daily Show on Comedy Central, where this week Jon Daily took on Jim Cramer of CNBC for his failed coverage of the economic meltdown. This is a video series worth watching in case you missed it.
A couple of weeks ago, when not one single Republican took up our new President Barrack Obama’s call for “bipartisanship” to vote for his stimulus package to aid the faltering economy — a measure backed by virtually every economist in the land as a needed step to avert a far worse economic collapse — a reader on an e-mail list asked: “Why is cable media spinning this as a failure for Obama?”
“Because they are the corporate media,” I wrote. “That’s why we are building a replacement here at the Locust Fork News-Journal.”
Before I get to the criticism, let me applaud all these commentators for getting a discussion going on these issues. It has been reported that the Moyers show got more comments than anything they have done to date.
This is just one demonstration of the public upheaval that has been building for several years against the establishment media in this country, sometimes referred to, and not as a compliment, as “the mainstream media.”
The blogging revolution started in part as a place to vent this backlash against the press and the media, the TV punditry, mainly for not doing its job in the run up to the Iraq war or for holding the Bush administration accountable on all kinds of issues.
There is no doubt the establishment or corporate press as I call it was complicit in allowing the Bush administration to get away with murder, literally, as well as torture, warrantless domestic spying, and turning the justice department into just another political wing of the Bush White House’s perpetual campaign operation.
With all due respect to Tommy Stevenson, Bill Moyers, Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald, none of them have ever chased major stories for the national desk of the New York Times. None of them have ever worked a major city bureau for a top 10 circulation newspaper like The Dallas Morning News out of New Orleans. None of them have ever had the experience of making democracy work like I did working for a chain of weeklies on the Gulf Coast, where for nearly four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thanks in part to my reporting, we won every environmental battle that came down the pike.
The history of the Civil War has never really interested me that much compared to the American Revolution. Neither has the Great Man theory of history interested me nearly as much as the study of science and nature.
But just like in life we can’t ultimately escape death or taxes, I can’t seem to get through life as an American or a Southerner without facing the baggage left over from the Civil War — and the man-centric view of history.
I would rather be camping out in the Great Smoky Mountains photographing birds in the wild.
But since Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis has thrust this race for governor upon us a year and a half ahead of time, like a lot of men before him whose ambitions drove the agendas of their state or nation, it is impossible NOT to spend some time thinking about these things.
But we do have much more work to do building the Web Press…
Connecting the Dots
by Glynn Wilson
We aren’t going to have George W. Bush to kick around anymore after Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. So what’s a liberal-tarian blogger to do?
In our case, that’s an easy question to answer. We will be right here continuing to develop the next evolution in the Web Press and building the infrastructure to replace newspapers as the primary information source for a democratic nation.
It’s the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson
I can’t wait for 2009.
When the ball drops and the calendar changes at one minute after midnight this Wednesday evening, Thursday morning, I’ve got a feeling the world is going to take a dramatic turn in a better direction. I could be wrong, but I say change is good.
If what I’m thinking turns out to come true, 2009 may be the year the human species turns it all around and starts living up to a smarter, more positive destiny. Maybe we can begin to escape the yoke of ignorance and religious dogma once and for all.
I captured the legendary blue mist of the Smoky Mountains on film one day in 2000. This is not just fog. It emanates from the pine trees there and is the reason the Cherokee people called it “the land of the blue mist.” European settlers came up with the translation “the Smoky Mountains.”
For starters, there will be a massive celebration among intellectuals on January 20, the day when George W. Bush boards that presidential helicopter with his dog Barney and leaves the White House lawn forever to head back to that fake ranch in Crawford, Texas.
On the same day, of course, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. He will arrive in Washington, D.C., on a train, after riding a two-year campaign of “hope.” We will be drinking more than one toast to his victory on this New Year’s Eve, full of hope that he will be able to fulfill his promises.
The mainstream, corporate news media will treat every proposal he offers with a fake skepticism, questioning whether he can really make a difference. But here in Webland, we are going to reserve judgment and keep hope alive.
In addition to coverage of the new world under Obama, we will be spending a good bit of time and space in 2009 celebrating a couple of noteworthy anniversaries.
You will not be able to escape coverage of these events, so you may as well learn about them here first, since few American news organizations have turned the page to these issues, yet.
For the next year, it will be hard to turn on the TV and not see something about the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. The year 2009 also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his myth-shattering book, On the Origin of the Species.
A column in the British newspaper The Guardian has the first story we’ve seen on this yet, and even acknowledges a fact you won’t see reported by any American news organization, since the religious backlash to Darwin is still powerful after 150 years.
According to the British author, it is reported that Darwin “is one of the three great intellectuals of the 19th century who shaped modernity, along with Marx and Freud.”
That would be Karl Marx, the social theorist who is attacked by the ignorant on a daily basis in the U.S. because of his association with Socialism, and Sigmund Freud, who pioneered explorations of the mind known as psychoanalysis.
All three of these men had a profound impact on the 20th century, as much for their influence on other thinkers as for the ideas they published themselves. That’s what the uneducated masses and the anti-intellectual news media don’t get.
I spent a good deal of time in Tennessee in the late 1990s studying Darwin myself in a science communications doctoral program, so you can bet we will be following these stories all year with a great deal of relish.
And speaking of Tennessee, the year 2009 will also mark the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means, of course, that several camping trips will be in order this year to one of my favorite places on Earth.
In a world of hurt and bad news as the global economy implodes, there is some good news to report this Sunday morning as the late October air finally begins to cool off the brick walls of The Bunker.
The best news is that the presidential election of 2008 is almost over. One more week of negative TV ads and lying robo-calls and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and get on with trying to turn this country in a better direction after eight years of black Bush anti-rule.
That is if the Democrats win and we don’t have to spend another four years fighting the idiotic conservative policies of the angry John McCain and his right-wing nut running mate Sarah Palin.
The other good news is that with one week and two days to go, the aggregated polling at Pollster.com shows the Democratic Party ticket winning in a landslide on Nov. 4. Let’s just hope the lead holds up for a few more days so that Karl Rove’s hackers cannot steal another election.
While the not-so-liberal New York Times issued it’s reasoned endorsement of the ticket of Barack Obama for president this week, our wildly conservative Republican hometown newspaper just had to extend its losing streak with this hilariously misleading endorsement of McCain.
We are still waiting on the apology from that editorial staff for their two-time endorsement of the dufus president-prince George W. Bush. It’s a wonder the racist “pro-life” newspaper sells any papers at all in a city full of liberals and African-American voters. I guess it’s safe to say they sell more newspapers in the white-flight suburbs than the city itself. The financial calculation had to be that an endorsement of Obama would have finished off the paper that has lost a significant portion of its staff of late to early retirement packages.
If only they knew how to produce a Website readers could use, they might have a chance of surviving in this new online world. There are a number of us out here who will never forgive them for their role in killing the one Scripps paper in Alabama, The Birmingham Post-Herald, which might have been able to provide the kind of Web journalism this state needs. Other Scripps papers around the country are doing some amazing work, including the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado and the Knoxville News-Sentinel in east Tennessee.
But that’s OK, because we have a long-term plan to continue providing a viable alternative to the people of this state who want a FREE free online news source without all the bureaucratic baggage of a conservative chain newspaper where corporate profits rule the editorial roost.
Since we already endorsed the Democratic Party’s pick in this race, there’s no reason to re-endorse the Obama-Biden ticket. Our recommendation is for voters to check the Big D and vote a straight Democratic Party ticket on the Nov. 4 ballot, not so much as an endorsement of “the man,” but to throw the Republican bums out who have screwed up just about everything they can in this country for the past eight years.
It is really hard to understand how anyone can vote for another Republican with the economy in the worst shape since the Great Depression, along with the debacle of the Iraq war, the failures associated with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the complete loss of trust of the United States by people the world over.
We are concerned with some of Barack Obama’s suggested moderate policies, such as his hedge to the private sector on national health insurance. And we were not happy with his vote this summer for Bush’s spying bill that gutted the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
But we believe he is an educated man with an even-keel personality who can negotiate our way back into the hearts and minds of people around the world. And that should be our number one priority right now. We are going to need the good will of the world to right the wrongs and reverse the bad policies of the Bush-Cheney years.
Our first priority has to be an energy plan that begins to reduce our dependence on oil from the Middle East, a policy that also begins to address the top problem facing the world right now: climate change due to global warming. Even the Bush CIA and Senator John McCain realize that’s the world’s top problem, although that news gets buried in an election year when, in American elections, no one wants to be labeled a “liberal environmentalist.”
Once this election is over next Tuesday, that will be our focus. We will be working to influence the new administration in dealing with our energy and environmental problems, as well as figuring out how to provide health care to every American citizen. While the conservatives will continue to scream about “big government,” it’s going to take a pretty big government in the U.S. to tackle these problems.
And the fact is, it’s going to take a pretty big government, as well, to provide the leadership and incentive structure to fix the shattered economy. Our vision is that the only real future we have is a green future. We can grow our way out of this mess with green technology. That is our only real hope.
Walkin’ — A contingent from the University of Arkansas at Monticello walks in The Big Apple over Spring Break.
** Editor’s Note: Through the generosity of an unidentified donor and the New York Times’ American Democracy Project, five students from the University of Arkansas at Monticello made a trip to New York City for Media Pro Workshops and the College Media Adviser’s annual spring conference. Four of the five had never ventured north of Missouri; one had never flown. Here’s her story for your late Spring reading.
Photo by Ron Sitton
Lady Liberty — Linna Jones poses in front of the Statue of Liberty. Her trip marked many firsts in her life.
By Linna Jones
Many thoughts ran through my head, while packing for what would be the first plane ride of my life. I took this first flight to New York City and the upper part of the East Coast. I took my first trip to the airport as the passenger and a first of many new experiences. I feared the airline would lose my luggage or I might get motion sickness as I sometime do when traveling by car. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I would react to the plane and I didn’t know what world was behind those nylon dividers at the top of the stairs, where people checked their ticket to go through to board at the Little Rock National Airport. I watched people going into the nylon maze before, but I never passed that point. I knew everything would be a surprise.
Before the Airport
I started packing in the afternoon of March 11 for the trip; I selected my clothing carefully knowing I might meet many people in the world of journalism.
In the big black rolling nylon suitcase on the floor, I placed the sorted clothing items into the bag starting with my slacks and blue jeans. They filled a narrow rectangular section of the bag, with empty space in the shape of an L around them. Next, I placed my shirts in the L folded neatly as possible to fill the empty space. I folded my black-hooded fleece sweater and placed it in the left corner of the suitcase where the lid opened to expose the inside space.
I then packed my white New Balances wrapped in a Wal-Mart sack to keep them from getting dirt all over the clothes. I placed my toiletries or anything else that would cause a mess if the contents leaked in gallon freezer bags. As always, I packed two Ace bandages just in case I twisted my ankles. In another Wal-Mart sack, I placed three books; two for my literary journalism class and one just to read, if I wanted to.
After I packed all that I thought I needed, I still had a little room in the suitcase so I put a pillow in there, too. I heard that items in suitcases may be displaced during travel and handling, so I shook it to see what would happen inside the suitcase. The contents shifted out of place without the pillow. The pillow steadied the contents and filled-up the empty space.
Just in case, I packed a carry-on with a change of clothes, a pair of shoes I could walk in, a scarf and hat (in case it was cold when we arrived) and my homework that needed to be done.
The next morning, I checked out of my dorm room and went to weigh my suitcase. I parked my car behind the Baptist Collegiate Ministry building on the day of the Wellness Fair. Vehicles packed the parking lot of the John F. Gibson University Center. Jeff Peebles, a Public Safety officer, pulled up by that time in his squad car; he guessed the weight of my suitcase, after picking it up, to be 38 pounds. Peebles overestimated the weight by three pounds; it weighed 35.
I returned to find my Buick Roadmaster blocked in by another car and I tried every possible way to get it out. Eventually Beth Dillard, a resident in my dorm, offered to move the red truck on the right side of the car. I feared I would hit the car behind me by not having help in backing up. Another member of the BCM walked up and he backed it up for me while I watched how close he got to the car. Finally, he backed it out and I thanked him for his help and started on my way to Star City to meet my mother.
I arrived at the Star City Nursing Center 30 minutes later and met my mother and fellow church member Janice Mizell, who rode along to drive my car back home. I entered through the double glass doors and turned down the right wing of the nursing home to visit my grandmother in her room of white cement blocks, white Venetian blinds and tan divider curtains. This time, she didn’t know I was, but I talked to her anyway. “Who are you?” she asked. “I am you ornery old granddaughter,” I said. She looked at the ceiling never turning her head. She often kept her eyes closed, because she is blind. I told her I was going on a trip. She still didn’t know me and at times, decided not to talk. I told her I loved her and I left. I walked down the hall to visit another resident and then I left.
We loaded the car and started on our journey to the airport, but we stopped at my father’s work place to pick him up. My mother drove right by it saying she sometimes missed it and we turned around and turned onto a dusty gravel road. She turned left on another gravel road, out the window we passed barren fields not yet planted for the year. We finally turned in the shop yard, where tractors were parked under open-air tin-roofed sheds and parked in front of the shop with a concrete floor and particleboard walls on the inside. My mother took out the overalls and dress shirt she gathered for my father and he changed. While he changed, I placed my toothbrush and other items I forgot to put in my luggage, out of my black leather carry-on and into my suitcase.
Soon we traveled on our way to Little Rock. Anxious and excited, I looked out on the road and at familiar scenery of empty fields, railroad tracks paralleling the highway and the beginnings signs of Pine Bluff passing by my window. We passed by Pine Bluff and traveled to the Wal-Mart to eat at a Burger King near it. From there, we traveled on to Little Rock and to the airport.
Little Rock National Airport
We arrived at the airport an hour and a half earlier than the 3:30 p.m. meeting time. Mizell and I carried in my carry-on, heavy coat and big black suitcase into the airport. We stopped by a seat where we entered and sat down. My mother and father came in after they parked the van. We sat near the baggage check area for the airlines and watched as families with small children, men and women in business suits and other travelers walked by carrying or rolling their luggage. We sat in front of Delta Airlines check in and I tried to remember which flight our group was scheduled to fly on. I forgot to bring my flight itinerary and it set on my desk in my dorm.
I went and asked about where to check my luggage at Delta Airlines and the attendant ask my name and for my identification. She told me the flight was with Northwest Airlines. I decided to wait for everyone else to arrive before I printed my ticket and checked my luggage.
I kept a close eye on my luggage. I heard of unattended luggage being stolen, even if left for a minute. I sat with my mother, father and Mizell and talked while we waited.
At one point I left them, I felt the need to move, and walked up steps to the gift show on the second floor. I walked in the brightly lit space filled with books, reading materials, candy and snacks, post cards, Razorback memorabilia and other items. While there, I talked to a staff member of an airline. I asked him questions about flying, one of them being, where can I get my wings? “It all depends on the airline and you have to ask the flight attendant,” the man said. We spoke for a little longer and parted. Before I left, I bought two packages of peanut butter and crackers for the plane in case I needed them. I waited to buy water until I was on the other side of the nylon maze. I descended the stairs and again joined my party and continued waiting.
Soon after, everyone arrived and we checked our bags. We walked down to the end of the room to the Northwest Airlines’ counter. I waited in line and showed my ID to the attendant and he even didn’t weigh my bag. He lifted and said it weighed below 50 pounds. “How can you tell?” I asked. “I deal with bags all day, I know,” he said. I didn’t question him and then tried to print out my tickets, and didn’t have a clue about what to do.
After I asked what to do, I slid my debit card in the machine and with help found my way through screen taps I printed my ticket. I collected one and walked off thinking I had all of them. I didn’t and a woman called my name and said I left my ticket. I thanked her and put the tickets into an envelope and safely into my purse.
I then stood in line to have my luggage scanned, which was by the ticket machines and divided lanes of the Northwest counter. They took my luggage. Ronald Sitton, the journalism adviser, collected numbers from the parents of the students just in case something happened.
Pretty soon, the time arrived to go and I handed my keys over to my mother. It felt strange not to have them hanging from my belt loop, but I decided not to take the chance and lose them. “Have fun and be careful,” mom said. “I love you.” I hugged my mother, father and Mizell and walked off with the group to get ready to board the plane.
Photo by Latoya Shelton
St. Paul’s Chapel — Flanked by Danielle Thomas and adviser Ronald Sitton, Linna listens intently to UAM alumnus Chester Johnson describe St. Paul’s Chapel’s role in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and Ground Zero.
The Nylon Maze
The second floor of the Little Rock National Airport hosts a gift shop, a restaurant and the entrance to the terminal. Looking at it, the nylon strips and the poles extended from the beginning of the little room to the scanning machine. The strips and poles reminded me of a maze. I looked at this barrier before as a person merely dropping someone off, but I never walked into it, only away. It seemed like a mystery, a portal into another world. I walked up with three other members of my group and waited in line to get our tickets checked.
As I waited I watched the man checking tickets; he looked like he enjoyed his job. He laughed and joked with the passengers as he looked at the tickets. When I finally reached him, he greeted me with cheerful tone and expression. He looked at my ID and asked, “Did you know your license was about to expire?” I said I knew, but I didn’t have time to renew it. I also knew I would be back in the state of Arkansas before it expired. We spoke for a few more moments and I walked through the maze of nylon bands
The room where they scanned seemed blank with only white, black and grey as the color scheme. I approached where they scanned the luggage and other personal items; I watched a man remove his shoes and contents from his pocket and place them in a grey plastic container. A woman working with the TSA, the security for the airport, repeatedly shouted a warning “Remove all liquids and gels from you carry-on. If you don’t you will hold up people behind you,” the woman said. Danielle Kloap, a fellow classmate, dug into her bag and pulled out a bottle of water. The woman told her to throw it away. Kloap looked unhappy about this, but she threw it away. She removed her shoes and placed them in the plastic bin with the contents of her pockets her purse and her gels and liquids.
When a free space opened up on the counter, I picked up a bin. I removed my shoes and placed them in the bin along with my purse and coat. I guided the bin and my carry-on to the scanning machine and put it on the conveyor belt when they told me. I walked through the metal detectors, and collected my things on the other side.
I picked up my carry-on, coat, cell phone, purse and other items from the bin and put on my black loafers. I almost stopped for a minute, surprised by a long room with multiple sitting areas for the flight gates and restaurant for people to eat. I followed Kloap, Michael Thomas and Michael Ford, because I did not want to be left behind or lost. They stopped at Quiznos. I bought a bottle and I paid $2.62. For some reason the price didn’t shock me; I somehow expected it to be high. I placed the water in my purse and walked to keep up with the group to get to our flight gate.
The time soon arrived to board, each passenger showed the flight personnel their ticket and they scanned it. The group and I walked down this long tunnel, which connected to the door of the plane. I carefully stepped into the plane and a room that looked like a long tube met my eyes. Blue seats three wide lined the sides of the plane creating a narrow aisle. Passengers found their seats and put their luggage in the overhead compartments.
I sat between Latoya Shelton and Kloap and it looked like we were close to the wing. Shelton sat down first and then I clumsily sat down and then placed my luggage underneath the seat in front of me. Shelton looked at me “You’ve never flown before have you?” she asked. “No,” I said. I soon found my seat belt and put it on. I remember staring ahead looking at the interior of the plane and it felt like the plane was moving, creeping at a slow pace. I looked out the window and saw the ground moving like a movie, except I was the one moving. I watched the ground and the people or objects move out of the window as they taxied the plane onto the runway.
When it reached the runway, I heard the engine power up and felt the plane slowly gain speed and rise. Each time the plane ascended, my stomach felt like a gymnast doing back flips. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths to ease the queasy feeling in my stomach. My head felt like it was about to explode from the pressure, but the gum I chewed helped. The plane soon leveled off and I pulled out my journal to write down some notes and occasionally I looked out the window.
The plane passed over fields and waterways. The view reminded me of the satellite view on Google Maps or a patchwork quilt of greens, browns, blues and whites sewn together with turn rows, and drainage ditches. I looked at one of the fields as we passed and it had water furrows, wavy lines, like a rice field.
In about an hour, the plane reached Memphis, Tenn. I looked through the window and at the earth to see the city, which looked like a mini city built by a child from Lego blocks. I saw a silver pyramid out the window and as the plane turned in the sky, I saw it from multiple angles. When the plane was finally cleared to land the details of the landscape, houses, cars and even the side of a FedEx truck became more readable.
We arrived at Memphis International Airport around 5 p.m., but a delayed flight kept us there for two hours.
To New York
The plane soon arrived to carry us to LaGuardia and the island of Manhattan. The passengers boarded the plane and the plane allowed passengers a little room to move. Kloap and I moved to different rows than the number on our tickets read and I sat comfortably with three seats to myself. The nauseating feelings I felt the first time didn’t happen this time. I sat by the window watching the ground move beneath the plane.
During the two-hour trip, I attempted to do a little homework and completed some of it.
I looked out of the window, when the plane approached New York City. I looked at the glow of the lights and saw patterns among the buildings, street lamps and other illuminating devices. As we flew around the island of Manhattan, I saw the tall buildings, and the lady liberty herself. I took pictures of the lights from the view out of my window and prayed the pictures would turn out all right; they didn’t.
As the plane flew lower to the ground my head felt like a balloon with too much air. I popped one of my ears, but I couldn’t pop the other one. The captain came on the intercom announcing our arrival and said the weather was about 30-40 degrees, colder than when we left Tennessee. The plane finally landed and we exited the plane and went to collect our luggage. After finding all of it, we rented a SuperShuttle van to take us to The Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue at 45th Street.
In New York
My view of New York City came somewhat from the movies and television shows I watched. I expected it to be cleaner; I don’t know why. The height of the buildings amazed me for the first few days and then the older buildings fascinated me more with their architecture and style.
The buildings made me feel small, but it was the people I met and some of the things I experienced that really stood out in my mind. St. Paul’s Chapel stood out among all of the tall buildings. From the outside, the chapel looked small among the high rises around it, but the inside made some of the biggest churches I’ve seen look tiny. I felt like I was walking with the forefathers of our great nation and the volunteers and firefighters of Sept. 11. Chester Johnson explained what happened during the attacked on the World Trade Centers and how St. Paul’s Chapel helped when they were needed most.
For the longest time, I wanted to see a Broadway play. I got my chance to see one the night of March 15 and proved to myself that I could walk New York City by myself. I knew “Mary Poppins” might be playing in New York from a friend who saw it in London told me it was coming to the United States. By this time, I walked with others to Times Square enough to know where I was going, but I was still unsure. I wanted to see the show and after a nap, I bought a map and asked for the best way to get there. A bellhop at The Roosevelt Hotel showed me on the map and I began my walk to the discount ticket booth, where I thought I needed to buy my ticket. I passed the familiar sights on my way to my destination. When I arrived, I found out I needed to purchase the ticket at the theater. When I asked where it was he told me it and then I asked what was near it. He told me to look for “Champs.”
I started my walk and asked a couple of times if I was going in the right direction. I soon saw the word “Champs” in red lights and turned right. I saw the New Amsterdam Theatre and to my surprise a McDonald’s I saw on the Food Channel one day. It looked like a theater, too, all-lit up in lights. I remembered the cable program saying they changed a large amount of light bulbs to keep the thing lit.
I walked up to the theater and up to the ticket booths and asked the cost of tickets for Saturday and Sunday nights. The man quoted a Sunday ticket being $120, and then he said there was a ticket for $80 in the mezzanine section that night. I said I would take it. I pulled out a $100 bill and paid for the ticket. I looked at my watch; it read 7:30 p.m. and the show started at 8 p.m. I went next door and bought a chicken club sandwich. The inside of the restaurant looked like the backstage of a theater, just like the program described. I soon returned to the New Amsterdam Theatre. I rode the elevator to the mezzanine section of the theater and found my seat. I waited for the show to start.
Two women and a man from Spain sat in my row. I tried to talk to a woman beside me and found out she didn’t speak English. The young woman with an accent explained that her mother didn’t speak English and the daughter often translated for me. I tried to speak to her in what Spanish I remembered, but I used broken Spanish and probably slang.
The play soon began and color met my eyes and the beautiful music and talent met my ears as I watched and listened to the performance. I remembered some of the scenes from the collector’s program I saw over a year ago and looked at my own. At times, I sang along with the actors and other times I just soaked all of the color and song I could in my mind.
After the night of the play, New York City poured out new sites. I watched another play: “Chicago.” I met a woman and other volunteers who collected money for the homeless and an elderly woman who watched the crowd carefully to cross the street in safety. I walked across with her. I looked upon the face of the Statue of Liberty and felt short standing beside a bronze replica of her face. I only came up to the wide part of her nose.
I even tried a little white wine, only two sips though, but I will save that story for another time.
Have you ever wondered why so many movies depicting the South also contain an underlying crazy theme?
I guess that’s what they think of us in New York and LA.
One of my favorites is Crazy in Alabama, featured on HBO recently. It’s a comedy-drama released in 1999 written by Mark Childress, based on his own 1993 novel of the same name. It stars Melanie Griffith as an abused wife who flees small town life in the South for California to become a movie star – with her dead husband Chester’s head in a hat box.
Meanwhile back in Alabama, her nephew, the story’s narrator, has to contend with a racially-motivated murder involving a corrupt sheriff during the Civil Rights Era.
It’s an interesting model for any would-be Southern writer thinking of trying to get New York editors interested in stories that will also play well on the big screen.
I’ve been mining the movie field of late thinking of stories to tell myself.
One of my favorite books written by a Southern author and then made into a movie is The Prince of Tides, based on a 1986 novel by Pat Conroy.
It tells the story of the narrator’s struggle to overcome the psychological damage inflicted by his dysfunctional childhood in South Carolina and stars Nick Nolte as a football coach and Barbra Streisand as a New York psychiatrist. While changes to the film upset some Conroy purists, it was a box office smash and put Streisand on the map as a director. It was also recently featured on HBO.
Conroy is probably the premier Southern author of the late 20th century whose work has been both financially successful and also acclaimed in literary circles, unlike John Grisham’s work, which is relegated to the legal thriller genre. In spite of the film’s flaws, The Prince of Tides does capture both the character of the South and New York in the introspective times of the 1980s, making it an irresistible tale that will last – like Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men.
But neither of those movies is what draws me to the keyboard tonight.
I doubt if it qualifies for the National Film Registry, but another innocent little tale caught my attention today. Sometimes when the cable offerings are weak, it’s worth stopping on the story of Doc Hollywood, or Dr. Ben Stone, played by Michael J. Fox, not my favorite actor by a long-shot.
My first column mug shot: Hotter than MJF?
But in this one, which reminds me of a story from my own life, he plays a hotshot young doctor who longs to leave the drudgery of the emergency room and finally leaps at his chance at more money and less work on the West Coast. But along the way he gets off the Interstate and smashes his 1956 Porsche Roadster into a judge’s fence and is forced into community service at the small town of Grady, South Carolina’s general hospital.
There he meets and falls in love with an ambulance driver named Viloula but called “Lou,” sexy and smart and played by Julie Warner, who has in incredible nude scene emerging from one of Grady’s famous fishing lakes. The town is also known for its squash, which the mayor uses to explain a slice of life in his attempt to lure the doc to stay in town – as he bets him $10 that he will not score with Lou.
The story is perhaps just a bit too cute for serious movie critics. But it reminds me of a time when I was 23-years-old and just out of college working in a small town at my first professional newspaper reporting job.
It was 1984. The town was Bay Minette, Alabama. The paper was The Baldwin Times.
Upon graduating from the University of Alabama in Bear Bryant’s last year, I had lofty goals of one day working for a great newspaper like the New York Times. But in those days, the mobility of college students was far more limited than it is today.
I advised students at Loyola New Orleans from 2000-2002 who were able to make the leap to New York, DC and LA. But being poor and from Alabama during Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, and George Wallace’s last term as governor, some of the best opportunities to break into newspapering came working for weeklies in small towns across the South.
The movie about Grady reminds me of those times, not because the stories are totally similar, but because some of the experiences and emotions ring true of being a young person trying to decide whether to make a life in a small town, where the living can be easy but perhaps not so lucrative, or making a break for the big city life and the big time bucks.
I also have to laugh at all the machinations people in small Southern towns will go to trying to lure young professionals to stay. This kind of scene plays out, still, in many towns across the country, as the out migration of the young and educated continues apace today. It is as true of Alabama today as it was in 1984, I’m sure, and can lead to some incredibly funny stories.
There’s not enough space and time here to tell them all. Maybe one day if I get around to writing a memoir.
Let’s just say I had a number of experiences with young women there, like Lou, who either wanted to seduce me to stay in Bay Minette – or to hook up with someone who could get them out.
I’m thinking of one particular young woman now about my age at the time who openly displayed a crush on me. I won’t reveal her name. She may still be there – or maybe she got out.
One night she displayed this crush a little too openly at a Christmas party, held at the Holly Hills Country Club, when, after a few too many glasses of wine, she tripped on the hem of her long dress and fell right into my arms. It was a classic scene of a drunken Southern debutante right out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald or Tom Wolfe novel. As she fell toward me – and I still recall the scene in real-life slow motion, in part probably due to my own inebriation – the top of her bright red dress slipped down off her left breast, fully exposing the nipple for virtually everyone at the party to see.
It bordered on a scandal, since she also happened to be the chamber of commerce president’s daughter, making her the perfect ambassador to try grabbing me for life. Perhaps like Doc Hollywood I should have more actively pursued that road, but there were complications.
Now at 50, do I harbor any regrets about leaving small town life there?
Only one. And it happened many years later.
In 2002, back when it was announced that the Alabama governor’s race results came down to 3,000 votes in Bay Minette, I went back there from New Orleans for The New York Times – to investigate the election.
But when Siegelman conceded, I was pulled out of Bay Minette and sent back to New Orleans.
Knowing what I know now, since the Jill Simpson affidavit came to light, I wish I had stayed and worked my sources. I learned how to cover a courthouse and develop sources there, in that courthouse. It was the best school in the world for getting hands-on experience in that world, in more ways than one. Don’t even ask about the secretaries in those days.
But of course it takes time and money to really work a story like the election, just as it takes time and money to work up a full scale relationship with a fine smart woman – in a small town or anywhere else.
And in the news game, there ain’t never enough time – or money.
Life blogs on…
Now that I think about it, there’s plenty of craziness to go around and write about in this world. And it’s not all in the South.
I’m thinking now of a crazy New York editor, a woman, in part a figment of my imagination.
And I’m also thinking, if I had stayed in Bay Minette, either time, none of this would have ever happened – the good or the bad. Perhaps there is no stopping fate in any event – if there is such a thing.
I’m not convinced.
Life is not like a box of chocolates or cherries. It’s more like a full-blown meal.
How good it turns out to be any given time is complicated and turns on choices and chance, luck and timing.
It can be as scrumptious as the fried green tomatoes in mushroom sauce at Jacquimo’s in New Orleans, or as spare as the BLT at the drugstore in Bay Minette.
And I’m convinced, politics and government do matter – in all kinds of ways many people don’t even seem to fathom, certainly not in a crazy place like Alabama. Maybe you have to be a little crazy to try to break out – or to try making a difference here.
Maybe you have to be a little crazy to try making art – or a living – as a writer in this world, if you didn’t start out in it rich.
I can only wish good luck to the striking writers in New York and LA. I hope they win that fight to get part of the proceeds from sales on the Web Press. One of these days maybe I’ll get a share of my own in that world, after we get rid of George W. Bush.
I understand Childress did it while working a day gig at Southern Living, not exactly a bastion of great journalism.