Friday, September 17, 2010

8/28 Rally, Part II, Playing the Tourist Role

When going to a place like Washington, D.C., one almost feels morally obligated to hit as many of the popular tourist attractions as possible. This is true no matter the fact that, concerning one’s own home town, with plenty of tourist attractions of its own, one remains almost totally ignorant. In my own case, I’ve never visited Seven Falls, or the Cave of the Winds, or even driven up the Pikes Peak Highway, and may never. They’re too close to home, and too easy to go see to rate a visit, I guess. 

So, even though we had been to DC several times in the somewhat distant past, we managed some time at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Museum of American History on Friday, before the Rally, and Sunday, after the Rally.

At the Air and Space Museum I felt the pang of regret that I feel whenever I see an airplane on display. I learned to fly before I graduated from high school and, especially as I grow older, there is something in me that hates to see an airplane in a museum. Several of the planes that were there were ones that were flying, I could even say, still flying, as I was growing up. Two particular examples, the Stagger-Wing Beech and the DC 3.

I understand that, given the hazards of regular use, examples of these old airplanes might be lost for future generations to see. Keeping them on display can give those open to such thoughts a perspective on just how far and how fast technology has progressed during the last hundred years or so. Just as an example of technological progress, in the picture with the X-15 in the foreground, you can see the Spirit of St Louis and Virgin’s Spaceship 1, the first private venture into space. The technology here spans the time from 1927 into the early 21st century, a remarkable display. Still, they were made to fly and I always feel a twinge of sadness to see them hanging from the ceiling in a building in Washington.

At the Smithsonian Museum of American History, actually an annex thereof, there was a wide variety of subjects covered in the displays, from early electrical generators to chemical research to transportation. As we were going through the displays something struck me, beauty. Even the very early designs for commercial electrical generators we designed, very obviously, with an eye to beauty. It was readily apparent that great attention had been paid to every detail and that functionality was not the prime consideration. The gears and other parts and pieces were really pleasing to look at. Even locomotives were built with careful attention to detail. Quality was evident everywhere I looked.
The desire for beauty and finding beauty in everyday life is a very Benedictine notion. Looking beyond mere functionality and doing things well is, I think, part of living the Rule and I couldn’t help but think of that as we continued through the museum. It’s, like much else in Benedictine spirituality, a natural part of human life; we’re drawn, almost in spite of ourselves, to beauty as a reflection of God’s love in our lives. As I thought about it, it dawned on me that that’s part of the reason I hate to see airplanes in museums. In many cases, they were beautifully designed to do what they do. It was a very welcome reminder of the truth and importance of Benedict’s Rule, written so long ago.

As for most of Friday, we spent that at the American’s for Prosperity Summit in Washington. What can you say about political meetings with lots of political speeches? It seems they are all the same and it was no different at the AFP meetings we attended. We did hear speeches from several bona fide celebrities, including Dick Morris, Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. There were two, however, that stood out. One from Herman Cain and the other from George Will.

Herman Cain is a radio talk show host and Fox News contributor. His speech was, like the others mostly political, but in the last 10 minutes or so he spoke of his fight to survive stage 4 cancer (cancer in two or more organs). When his doctor told him of the diagnosis, he asked her what that meant. She told him, “That’s as bad as it gets.” He said he decided to get a second opinion. At this point, he began to take on the persona of a black preacher and really put his heart into his talk. The second doctor he went to also told him, “It’s as bad as it gets.” But this doctor wasn’t ready to give up; he suggested a course of treatment. Mr. Cain said that after this, he began to see signs from God, the first of which was that the second doctor’s name was Lord. As he went on and gave the details of his treatment and survival, he told a story of real trust in God and love for God. It was very moving and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, please go. You won’t be sorry.

The other speaker was the Keynote address that evening by the columnist, George Will. Will was a professor, I’m guessing of history, before he was a columnist and his speaking style is very much that of a scholarly, intellectual, history professor. I’m always up for that. Will, however, is also a baseball enthusiast, and he told several humorous stories about baseball to make the political points that were also very much part of his speech. I’ll share one with you.

It seems there was a rookie pitcher who faced the immortal Rogers Hornsby toward the end of Hornsby’s career. The pitcher threw three pitches, each of which, in truth, caught the outside of the plate. The umpire, however, called each one a ball. The rookie protested, “Mr. Umpire, those pitches were strikes.” The umpire answered, “Son, if any of those pitches had been strikes, Mr. Hornsby would have let you know.” Hornsby had established himself as a true professional who would not slack off, even when facing the rawest rookie challenger.

Is there a lesson from all this? I’d say the big impression on me was the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd. They were fired up to say the least. When telling points against the other side were made, standing ovations almost always followed. It was as if the crowd believed that, simply by making those points, the speakers were vanquishing the forces of darkness and ushering in a regime that would reestablish the primacy of truth, justice and the American way. I think that remains to be seen, but the excitement and energy of the crowd was hugely impressive. By the time the evening was over, I was wondering what the morrow would bring.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

8/28 Diary, Part I, On the Road to Washington

[Note: My wife and I attended Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally in D.C. this past weekend and I thought it important to provide some notes from the experience. ]

I first heard about the Restoring Honor Rally Glenn Beck planned for 8/28 probably in April. My first thought was, good grief, Washington, D.C. in August? He’s gotta be kidding! But then, my wife got wind of it. We talked it over for a good month or so and finally decided it was important that there be a good crowd for this, so we made reservations to go.

Why did we go? During to countdown to the Rally, all four months of it, we had little idea of what to expect, Beck didn’t release many details in advance. We did know the program was themed around his understanding of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity and that he vowed it wouldn’t be political; it would be about returning the country to it’s traditional values. And that’s why we went. We felt it important to stand in favor of such things; it was a tremendous gamble on Beck’s part to put the thing on; if it failed, if few people showed up, the so called elites running the country could claim a real victory for their progressive agenda. That would be terrible. We were a little afraid, in fact, that many people would not make the trip, given the time and the condition of the economy. We decided we could go, thanks to a bank of air miles, and so we would; we would try to do our part to make sure it didn’t fail.

So, we waited four months for the day of departure to arrive.

On the Road – We made our reservations to fly out on Thursday, 8/26 on the United direct flight from COS to Washington, Dulles Airport. The eve of the big day came, we set the alarms early, packed and went to bed. We got up, got breakfast and until 6:00 AM everything went strictly to plan. We were congratulating ourselves that we were better prepared and things were going more smoothly than any trip we had ever taken. Then the lights went out. I finished my shower and shaved in darkness. I wondered if this was an omen. Anyway, we got the bags out to the car and headed to the airport, thinking the power would come on soon and everything would be fine.

We got there, a parking lot shuttle followed us from our arrival in the Long Term Parking area and picked us right up. Seemed we were back on track. We got through security with no issue and got to the gate quickly.

It’s hard to describe time spent in a modern airport. There is the unrelenting sameness about airports these days that seems at times both welcome and oppressive. It’s welcome because you feel like you are entering familiar territory in the sometimes over whelming experience that is travel these days. It’s oppressive because it’s easy to forget just exactly what town you are in; except in matters of scale, one airport looks almost exactly like another airport, no matter the city or state. It’s also hard for an old-timer like myself not to remember that it didn’t use to be like that; airports in different cities each had their own character and were part of the landscape to which they belonged. They reflected the area around them. Now, due mostly I guess, to changes in technology and the regulatory quest to try to guarantee absolute safety, no matter the cost, entering an airport is like entering some sort of isolation capsule where you are completely cut off, once past security screening, from anything or any influence from the outside. Is this a good thing? I don’t know.

It’s hard not to notice, too, that even the cast of characters at most airports is nearly identical. At the screening area, there is the inevitable poor soul, usually some middle aged, infrequent traveler from Milwaukee, who tries to pack all sorts of liquids and gel into his/her carry-on baggage, resulting in the full force of the TSA coming down on their heads in the never-ending effort to trap terrorists and confiscate any possible explosive contraband. There is the elderly couple overwhelmed by the whole experience, wearing the famous deer in the headlights expressions. I can’t help but feel for them. There is the jaded, withdrawn teenager or college student, completely absorbed with their iPod, smart phone, or what ever the gadget of the moment is. And there is the business traveler, the one who makes their living doing this, week in and week out, checking email or writing important memos on laptops plugged into the wall. They were all there this morning too. As for me, I pulled out my most recent discovery, my Kindle, and opened a book by Richard O’Kane, The Patrols of the American Submarine, Wahoo.

I always try to bring a book of military history with me when I have to take an airplane some where. They aren’t heavy reading, but still serve as a periodic reminder that human beings, maybe especially Americans, are capable of great courage and self-sacrifice in the pursuit of what is right and good. O’Kane’s book fit the bill perfectly. The Kindle makes it possible to carry many books, both for the flight and for reading after arrival, without weighing down your carry on bag to at or beyond my declining physical limits. It’s a god send as I hate to be without a selection of books to read.  My Kindle will spoil me.

The flight itself, even though it was roughly three hours on a small commuter jet, wasn’t uncomfortable. It was, in fact, bearable. What else can be said, or even wished for these days? I congratulate United Airlines for being a rather customer oriented air carrier and doing their best to provide a pleasant experience under difficult circumstances.

On arrival, we headed for baggage claim, collected our bags and headed for the advertised shuttle which would take us to the West Falls Church Metro stop where we could catch a train and, we hoped, land reasonably close to our hotel at a reasonable hour. This worked out close to plan.

So, here we were in Washington, D.C., awaiting the big day.

[To be continued]