On Ordinary People: Essay for November 19, 2011

With almost 40 years of travel experience under my belt I have become something of a subject matter expert in the field. Name the mode and I have experience in it. By sea, by rail, by motor coach and automobile, I’ve done it. And in each class of service, too. Two years ago I received my updated frequent flyer card from American Airlines. It designates me as a million-miler. Now I get to check my bags for free.

There once was a certain romance about travel. I started my career on ocean going ships that plied the seven seas. The British coined the term posh in the days of the Raj to describe first class travel to India before the days of air conditioning. Port Outbound, Starboard Home accommodations would keep you on the shady side of the ship during the long hot voyage. My wife’s grandfather was a frequent flyer back in the 1940’s. Allegheny Airlines even featured him in a print ad. Then there is travel by rail. People would spend days and nights traveling by train. Arlo Guthrie’s depiction of rail travel was an endless card game punctuated with cigarettes in the parlor car.

When I wrote this, I was sitting in South Station waiting for my son to arrive by bus. Hollywood was never very kind to busses. They were depicted as dank and cold on the inside, stopping along some dusty road deep in the south to pick up a drifter, bus travel was the domain of common folk. It still is. Today’s busses are comfortable and feature movies, the internet and power outlets in every seat. And by common I mean ordinary people: those who have places to go and people to see without crazy amounts of money to spend on planes or time to waste in an airport with the ramp delays and weather.

As I looked around the terminal I saw a reflection of America that appealed to me. There were a thousand people with a thousand different stories. I saw their industry in quickened steps; I saw determination on their faces. They were of many races and colors and backgrounds yet they shared the common purpose of moving onward towards their next endeavor.
Bus terminals are not the domain of the elite but they ought to be. When those of the corporate jet set are without their planes, they are unlikely to be on the Megabus from New York but they should try it now and again. We can learn a lot from the denizens who partake of this most egalitarian of transit modes. In fact, we can all take a lesson from those ordinary people with extraordinary talents who make our world run. They make courageous calls every day on how to make ends meet and how to balance the demands of raising a family under expectations that continue to diminish.

Our elected officials ought to join us in the bus terminal, as well. Limousines and NetJets are no way to commune with the common man. You won’t find the ordinary man at Occupy Wall Street, either. When our elected officials hob-nob with the elite to exchange access for money on one end, then pause for the photo op at Dewey Square at the other end, one thing is clear: there is no ordinary man in sight.

The ordinary people of our country are caught in a vice. The political elite are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while our ship of state founders. These elite are fat, dumb and happy engaging in turf wars while our futures are at stake. The ultimate example of abrogation of responsibility is the Super Committee in Congress who is charged with making unpleasant decisions that neither chamber of Congress would make last summer when raising the debt ceiling became a crisis. In Washington, a crisis postponed is as good as a crisis solved. With their backs against the wall the big question is whether they can come to a courageous compromise just like ordinary people do every day. The problem is that they have not yet demonstrated that they have the courage that ordinary people display every day to solve that problem. Funny thing is the last word they would use to describe themselves is ordinary.
In that I concur. Maybe they need to take a Greyhound.

Press on.

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