Flying To Eugene, A Short Story
by Bruce Anderson, September 16, 2010
Chris Jones, now a resident of Eugene, Oregon, says hello to all his friends, and is especially grateful to Morgan Baynham for Morgan's recent letter and gift, both of which I hand-delivered to CJ on a brief visit to Eugene last weekend to see my new goddaughter, Siska, the first born of Yusra, nee Adi, and Ryan Wise. The infant is a child of Irish, Arab, Indonesian extraction and, I must say, seemed a tiny beauty among the hospital's baby bestiary of great pink blobs. Flying hasn't gotten any more pleasant than the last time I was airborne, whenever that was, but at the SFO end of the journey the Homeland Security team at check-in was positively jolly. One of them shouted out, “Anybody angry here today? Fed up with these procedures? Come to me.” Looking around at my fellow travelers, I don't think I could have hand-picked a more un-fanatical-looking fifty people. We all laughed and dutifully removed our shoes and belts and shuffled through the bomb detector and on into the bowels of SF International where, Eugene being a destination attracting small numbers of passengers, we walked down a long covered ramp leading eventually to the interior of a very small plane. I was on an even smaller plane many years ago that put down, without warning, in deep jungle mud. I thought we were landing and suddenly I was up to my armpits in equatorial muck. Another time, I was again in a very small plane, a two engine propeller job, with maybe fifteen other people and their chickens and goats. It, too, slid off a jungle grass strip into a mangrove swamp. The pilot, an Australian and clearly drunk, emerged from the cockpit to say to me, the only English-speaker aboard, “I only had one engine, mate. Probably could have made it, but....” I always think about those adventures when I have to get on one of these flying machines. So, last week my wife and I were halfway down this claustrophobic, chute-like tunnel at SFO as incoming passengers made their way upstream, their luggage giving us outbound travelers a nice pummeling. Botching everything up even more, and delaying our flight a good twenty minutes, were the complicated logistics of getting an enormously fat woman onto our plane. A ground crew had wheeled Yeast Woman onto the tarmac via a kind of forklift, but she was now too wide for the precipitous twenty feet of on-ramp. A dozen uniformed airline people conferred until a take-charge guy appeared with a giant hand truck and two very large baggage handlers. The big guys seemed to knead Yeast Woman onto the handtruck, massaging her bulging body parts into enough balance on the device until, with one big guy pulling, the other big guy pushing, they got her up the ramp and plopped down into several first class seats, first class being no different to my eyes than the sardine-seating me and the missus were assigned to, and I wondered why the ten or so people seated there had paid extra for the purely imaginary luxury of it. The usual half-dozen morons had carried their too-big bags on board but were unable to squeeze them into the overhead bins. They now had to get back to the front of the plane against us, the oncoming foot traffic, banging us as they went, where the lone stewardess, and whatever these women earn it isn't enough, attached green tags to their too-big bags for storage in the cargo area below. The airlines need a big piece of plywood with two holes cut into it, one for luggage that will fit in the overhead, one for luggage that won't fit in the overhead. Prop the sizing board up at the check-in counter for the spatially-challenged so they know, way back at check-in, that their carry-ons either will or will not fit in the overheads. That way the rest of us won't have to play fullback just to get to our seats. At Eugene, darned if Yeast Woman didn't manage to get off the plane and up the tunnel on her own steam. She'd been faking it! Eugene being heavy on donut shops, maybe she kind of stampeded herself on into a dash through the always deserted, over-large terminal beyond which there's a krispy kreme, or facsimile thereof, on every block. Eugene remains Eugene, a liberal enclave of the oppressive type — stingy and scolding —with two Subarus per household and every Subaru sporting an Obama sticker and some awful cliché like, “War Is Not The Answer” or “Who Would Christ Have Bombed?” War, unfortunately, is often the answer, and Christ would have bombed lots of people, beginning with the money changers and several of His disciples if He'd known the kind of lowdown bullshit they'd pull as soon as He was gone. As Eugene slurbs out in every direction over wetlands and major migratory flyways, most residents of the place seem to identify themselves as environmentalists. The town's daily paper, The Register-Guard, is smarter and more liberal in a staid sort of way than the alternative weekly, which is the usual amalgam of correct thinking we find in weeklies everywhere in the land these days, all of it rendered in unsmiling prose, all of it unreadably grim-gray. When I lived in Eugene the weekly paper wondered in a cover story, “What's the best pick-up line?” The cretins editing the thing devoted an entire issue to this lame inquiry, coming up with, “Want to fuck?” as the best answer. Being from Mendocino County I was used to lame and stupid, but there seemed to be a whole new dimension of lame and stupid dominant among the tightly held Eugene libs. The Willamette Weekly is of course owned by a handful of Democrat Party insiders, all of them wealthy, all of them grabbing what they can while they do imaginary good. In a town schizophrenically devoted to equal parts pious political posturing and big time college sports, there wasn't even a sporting events last weekend, the Ducky Wucks being in Tennessee for their first real football game of the season, not that I didn't get big sport out of the new basketball temple, wondering at the university nutballs who build these absurd palaces while they starve their libraries. Left at loose ends for a few hours, I pedaled around town being annoyed. Later in the day, far to the west on a bike path running along a fetid creek, I cycled past a guy stretched out on a concrete slab. I knew at a glance he was dead drunk, but I thought he might also be dead-dead. I circled back. The man, burned purplish-brown by the double death helix of booze and direct exposure to depleted ozone, was still breathing, faintly but regularly. He looked like one of those Brazilian shrunken heads, and he was encased in at least three layers of ancient clothes in 80-degree heat. He was as close to being gone as you could get without being gone. I flagged down the next three cyclists, all middle age males, all togged out in several thousand dollars' worth of bicycles, lycra, and cute little accouterments one ordinarily would assume accompanies childhood, none of whom so much as looked my way. A young woman whizzed past as I called plaintively out to her, “Miss! Miss! You got a cell phone?” The girl, maybe 17, turned around. If she were 27 she, too, would have kept going. It occurred to me that if she didn't stop I would also move along but, doing a quick moral upbraid of myself for thinking selfish thoughts, I stayed. “Would you dare abandon this casualty of drink in exchange for your own evening of gluttony and torpid excess? If you do you'll never get to ride down big rock candy mountain.” Fortunately, the young woman stopped. And she had a cell phone. I explained that the doomed wretch stretched face up before us needed an ambulance. The girl called for one, and one came, and the next day my wife and I got on the southbound plane, fought our way to our seats against only two morons stumbling the other way with oversized luggage, and by six that evening, with the Giants tied for first and the Forty-Niners already hopeless, I was back in Boonville where all the drunks are ambulatory and every single one of us calls an ambulance for every single person who needs one.