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Circumnavigating an Insane Planet

 article about Circumnavigating an Insane Planet
2013-12-20 04:59:03
Say what you will about traveling light, it is a sound theory, and one which I usually adhere to, but if you happen to be on an around the world journey, traveling lets say, from Perth on the West Coast of Australia to the United Kingdom up into northern Scotland, then flying across the Atlantic to Toronto and from there down to San Francisco, over to Sydney and finally back home to Perth again, as my wife and I did last year, you will no doubt find that the notion of traveling light is simply not a feasible plan.

An UMBRO athletic bag or a ROOTS knapsack just will not cut it if one is trying to transport all of one's accumulated souvenirs: the tablecloths, the commemorative ornamental plates, the collectible spoons and God-knows-what-else acquired in every port of call back to their home to be given away to relatives and friends who really don't want that kind of junk in the first place.

I don't believe it is humanly possible for someone to leave home for any prolonged period of time and return carrying less than they had when they set out, with the possible exception of an individual who has gone off to fight in a foreign war and finds himself coming home somewhat diminished in the appendage department. When we unpacked upon arriving home, I was like a child on Christmas morning, rediscovering this and that, items that I had forgotten about almost immediately after cramming them into my tattered and torn oversized black suitcase. I feel I must be blunt about this: My suitcase is pretty much useless now. It didn't cost very much and it hasn't even given me a year of service. The handle is now affixed to the main part of it with an elastic band and a twist-tie, a necessary spur of the moment repair job made soon after I discovered the handle hanging off to the side as my shabby suitcase limped and hiccupped along the mechanized moving luggage carousel at Pearson International Airport.

My black bag is frayed and worn at its corners and doesn't quite stand upright without assistance. I am ashamed of my suitcase. When claiming my luggage, I usually stand in front of the baggage carousels, as close as I can get to it after shoving my way past fifteen hundred fellow travelers with less patience than me (and I am the most impatient man on Earth) who for some reason feel the compelling need to occupy precisely the same spot that I am trying to occupy at the same time. So there I stand, shifting my body weight from one leg to the other, enviously eyeing the expensive bags that tumble past on the belt as I await my own with apprehension, dreading the state it may now be in. It is easy to spot expensive luggage. These are the only pieces of baggage that are not ripped or torn, that don't have dirty laundry hanging out of the unzipped sides of them, or that don't have massive big wet stains where the sixty ounce bottles of over-proof rum that people spent hours carefully wrapping to ensure that they would not shatter and leak out all over their newly bought clothes have done precisely that -shattered and leaked out all over their newly bought clothes.

The expensive luggage seems impervious to such indignities, seemingly never causing its owner any undue shame or embarrassment at all. Expensive luggage is sturdy and firm, with zippers that zip properly and buckles that fasten tightly, not needing such frivolous newfangled doo-dads like Velcro handle wraps and pocket snaps.

"
I sometimes amuse myself while awaiting my luggage by playing a little game.
I will pick out a particular piece of expensive luggage as it goes by and then I will scan the faces in the crowd, and attempt to match the bag correctly with its owner, trying to do this before the owner claims it and hauls it away from the heap of inferior baggage surrounding it. More often than not, expensive luggage will almost always appear to have nothing or next to nothing inside, seemingly weightless as it is plucked from the rotating baggage belt by its owner who expends a minimum of effort.

Everywhere my wife and I traveled to on this particular journey, we noticed evidence of wealth and affluence, but having pots of money does not necessarily go hand in hand with having good manners.. People have designer bags but attitudes to match. We witnessed a deplorable display of indifference to the rules of politeness and common courtesy on the part of many of the human beings we encountered during our travels. Nobody seems to be concerned with being polite anymore. Good manners no longer seem to be fashionable. No one smiles and says "please ", " thank you" or "excuse me" at all nowadays. I am not only referring to our fellow travelers here but even those employed in occupations wherein such niceties ought to be commonplace, like shop sales staff or individuals in information kiosks.

When we disembarked at Toronto's airport and started on the three mile hike from the airplane to the baggage pick up area, the aggression and hostility hung in the air like an invisible fog all over the place; the tension almost palpable. I decided later that this was probably due to the populace of Toronto being gripped in a state of fear, and after reading the local newspapers I discovered why. There had been nearly fifteen handgun murders so far in the city in that month alone. One unfortunate fellow was randomly shot in the head and killed by bullets fired from a passing automobile not two blocks from where we were staying as he walked along minding his own business on the first night we were in town. So much for Michael Moore's cinematic depiction of Toronto "the good" as a metropolis where it is safe to walk the streets and even leave the front door to your home open without fear. The only "door" the Canadians have been foolish enough to leave open is their borders. All manner of riff-raff are coming across the invisible line that serves as the largest unprotected boundary on the planet, and they are bringing the heavy artillery with them.

The savagery and stupidity of gang violence seems to have spilled north from American urban jungles like Detroit and Chicago, with a youth "culture" infected and warped by the twisted values and the perverted code of honour of the "gangsta" or "thug" lifestyle. Toronto is now home to a generation of sneering, homicidal morons who wear their clothes several sizes too large, wear their baseball-caps backwards and decorate themselves like Christmas-trees with gaudy costume jewelry known as "bling", which very often will have a cheap gold medallion in the shape of a handgun hanging on a chain around their necks right alongside an oversized crucifix.. I may be wrong but I lay the lion's share of the blame for this frightening phenomenon on the glorification of the "hip hop" or "rap" lifestyle. The city I once called home now has a subspecies of psychopathic young maniacs who are perhaps embittered by the fact they seem to be incapable of finding a suitable number of words that will rhyme with the necessary key word "mother******" in order to complete the "song" they have been toiling over, and they are taking their artistic frustrations out by speeding throughout the town in stolen SUVs and murdering defenseless civilians by using them for target practice on the streets. Why not?

"
The entertainment industry seems to have no ethical dilemma over making millions of dollars every year promoting "talent" whose contributions to popular culture for youth are nothing more than choreographed hate.


The television is contaminated by music videos extolling the virtues of the mistreatment and denigration of women; of the attractive lure of a criminal lifestyle, fueled with drug abuse and the worship of the firearm; of a disrespect of law enforcement officials and authority figures. Less than sixty years ago, Elvis Presley appeared on television filmed from the waist up, because his hip gyrations were considered too sexually provocative. These days one would be hard pressed to find a music video that did not contain scantily clad women simulating assorted sex acts, or shaking their "booties" for the performer who scowls at her and calls her his "biatch".

The new cult of celebrity has deified the criminal. Snoop Doggy Dog (real name Calvin Broadus) waltzed onto the stage to accept a Grammy award scarcely hours after being involved in a drive by shooting where a man lost his life. The image of the late rapper and actor, Tupac Shakur (murdered in a rap-rivalry shootout in Las Vegas that, conveniently, there were no witnesses to) glares down from posters in teenage bedrooms all across North America. He is depicted as Christ-like in the posters; a martyr for some ridiculous cause. Perhaps, like Jesus Christ, Tupac Shakur did indeed die for our sins. We as a society have committed the irredeemable sin of allowing this madness to get this far and we shall inevitably suffer further for allowing it to continue. One newspaper article I read proclaimed that in Toronto it has now become easier for a young person to obtain a hand gun than it is for he or she to secure a student loan. It occurs to me that the type of individual willing to empty a revolver into someone's body simply because they might be wearing the wrong colours while in the
wrong neighbourhood, or perhaps listening to a form of so-called "music" from the wrong coast, is not likely to be the type of young person interested in gaining a post secondary education anyway.. Senseless and cowardly gang violence is globally pandemic.

Make no mistake. It is not a white or black issue. This hideousness is not about race. The ridiculous notion that rape, murder and doing jail time is some kind of noble pursuit is being adopted by blonde, blue-eyed disenchanted youths as far from the black populated housing projects in Compton, California as Copenhagen, Denmark . The baggy pants, prison hand gestures and scowling young faces full of hate are as common on the streets of Hamburg, Germany as they are in Harlem, New York City. In San Francisco I found myself in an unenviable and inescapable situation. I was mugged. A tall young black fellow (who could just as easily been a tall young WHITE fellow in any given city across the globe) confronted me and demanded all of my money. He relieved me of the contents of my jacket and trouser pockets which consisted of a ten dollar note and half a pack of cigarettes. I made no attempt of debating the issue with him. He demanded that I hand over my money and my cigarettes, and with Toronto's newspaper headlines still fresh in my mind, I cheerfully complied.

To my amazement, he actually thanked me and did not run, but rather, WALKED leisurely away. I shook my head in disbelief. Perhaps Bay area criminals do not flee in haste from the scene of their crimes because making a hasty getaway usually involves them having to run up hills nine times out of ten. Criminal activity and the very real, or even perceived, threat of it touching our lives surrounds us all, wherever we may happen to live or visit. It has probably always been this way, only now this violence seems to be closer to home and the likelihood of it affecting us personally is stronger than ever. My son was mugged recently in Toronto and had his laptop computer taken from him by four punks as he got off a bus on his way home from college. He was lucky to escape alive and unscathed. What has gone wrong with the world? I have no answers, I am but an observer. Our planet is apparently in a state of anarchy. The lunatics are now running the asylum and nobody cares.

One blatant larceny my wife and I both encountered on our around the world journey was the payment we forked over to stay in the San Francisco hotel room we had booked using an internet service only the day before our arrival . The service we use usually enables us to secure full sized hotel rooms at half the price. Unfortunately, when we booked for our stay in San Francisco, we got half a room at the full price. This room was so small it could barely accommodate our luggage. I had to leave the room to change my mind. You could have raised veal in there. And there was nobody on hand in the gaudy lobby to assist with our considerable baggage, either.

After unloading it by myself from the trunk of the airport taxi and loading it onto the hotel's four wheeled brass cart, it took all of my strength to get it from the curb and into the hotel lobby without losing control of it on the steep hill and re-enacting the chase scene from the classic Steve McQueen film, "Bullitt". Gone are the days of the fresh-faced, strapping bellhop in red tunic and white gloves who rushes to assist you the instant you appear in the driveway of the hotel. Gone are the days of the quaint old steamer trunks that told the story of their owner's journeys by the amount of stickers on them.

Travelling around the world is no longer the romantic adventure it seemed to be not so many years ago. So many individuals are criss-crossing this planet at every hour of every day of the year, it seems, that the importance of your journey means very little to the person sitting next to you on the plane, should you make attempts at conversation, and means even less to the customs officials, baggage handlers and taxi drivers whose job it is to assist you in getting where you are going. Everywhere you go people are likely to be rude and nasty to you and either trying to kill you or steal all of your money. The only thing that today's long distance traveler has in common with the travelers of days gone by I think, is the joy and relief they feel upon arriving back home where it is safe and secure, where they can sit down, put their feet up and watch some entertaining music videos on television.




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Say what you will about traveling light, it is a sound theory, and one which I usually adhere to, but if you happen to be on an around the world journey, traveling lets say, from Perth on the West Coast of Australia to the United Kingdom up into northern Scotland, then flying across the Atlantic to Toronto and from there down to San Francisco, over to Sydney and finally back home to Perth again, as my wife and I did last year, you will no doubt find that the notion of traveling light is simply not a feasible plan.

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