THE FALL OF AMERICAN CIVILIZATION – WHEN DID IT START DOWNHILL?

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 There Once Were Peaches

I used to pick firm peaches, and they were good ones too.
They looked and smelled like peaches, tasted like peaches do.
Fruit trees then were greener; soil sweetened by the dew –
that was back in Georgia, when I was ten and two.

I found a sort of Georgia peach on Safeway’s sawdust floor –
it kinda looked like they once did, in nineteen forty-four.
I cleaned it up and polished it, and held it in both hands,
Like plastic bags and Styrofoam, it will forever stand.

– Charles Brady

    My wife is fond of an observation by someone whom neither she nor I can remember who once said, “If you live long enough, things will have changed so much that you won’t mind the going.” I think this is another way of saying that we should recognize that much of what we older ones criticize about the youth of today is really saying, “Things are not as good as they used to be.”

I confess to a little of that thinking and complaining, and recognized long ago that much of it was old fogy thinking.  However, I simply have to say that  in SOME ways the world that I have lived in has not lived up to its end of the bargain, and so I am going to say that it – NOT I – is at fault!

The moment when the Fall of American Civilization began? I don’t know for certain. Maybe it was the instant Trader Joe started selling apples by the “Each” – at seventy-nine cents!

Maybe it was when the most vulgar of vulgar words began appearing in everyday usage on Facebook and in our daily newspapers and even on TV!

It could have been the year some idiot decided that we would prefer sitting in tiny pods with four wheels and allow it to “drive” us from place to place.  Or it could have been the instant everyone decided to say nothing about free-flying, multi-rotored Amazon.com devices flying over the cities and countryside.

I think I know when it became evident to be, in a way that I could not ignore. Some Background:

Not so many years ago, when I wanted or needed to fly somewhere, I would go to an Airline OFFICE manned by HUMAN BEINGS. It was conveniently located on O’Farrell, between Macy’s and Market Street.  I was greeted by a gracious employee who seemed to be delighted that I happened along and who WORKED WITH ME to arrange my flight – all aspects of the flight, whether I was flying to LA or Paris. She would then sell me a real ticket!

It gets better.  When I arrived at SFO, I would check in – IN PERSON – by talking to a PERSON behind A COUNTER.  He or she would inspect my ticket, give me a boarding pass, accept and check my baggage, at no additional cost, and give me a baggage check. Not always, but USUALLY, this was all done in a cheerful atmosphere.

At the boarding gate, a nice PERSON took my ticket. Another one or two were standing at the doorway to greet me and take my hanging suit bag and hang it in a place designed for the purpose.

I would enter the airplane, walk down a generously wide aisle, place my overhead bag and sit in a COMFORTABLE seat, which was WIDE ENOUGH for my entire body, with LEG ROOM and…. you get the picture.

In the air, the flight attendants would provide SERVICE, even in the coach section.  Imagine that! They served hot meals on trays at appropriate times.
And do you know what? These attendants were dressed up to serve me; they did not look like they had dressed for the second shift at the lumber yard!

Then, somehow, somewhere and some time in the rather recent past, all that kindness and service went the way of the DO DO Birds.  It simply vanished without a trace!  Seemingly overnight, service was replaced by a sneering, profit-only, get-your-butts-here, check yourselves in, pay for these cashews and anything else which is edible, don’t bother us, we don’t owe you a thing, we will do it our way and you can TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT reality!

I could go on and repeat the obvious.  Airlines adopted the pack-em-in-like sardines approach for the average (my group) traveler and floated charges to the moon for Business and First Class travel. If you are younger and if you travel in “steerage” (Coach Class), you cannot remember that once, airline seats in coach were fairly comfortable.  They were wide enough for your full body, and there was enough room for your legs and there was an overall atmosphere of “Let’s treat these PAYING people as nice as we can for the time they are with us, because we want them to come back!”

I have finally revolted against these unacceptable changes by refusing to fly ever again – in this or future lifetimes!  I will not fly again except for a family death and even then, I will refuse to pay extra for a bag to accompany me or to reserve an aisle seat or to receive a cup of lukewarm coffee. I will not pay extra to be huddled in that maze called the “Business Class Section” where space is jig-sawed to maximize extra inches to rent!

Yes, there was a down side.  Although it is hard to believe today, smoking was allowed, and drifting smoke harassed the non-smoker for too many years after the effects of smoke in confined spaces was known.

Oh, and they had no WI-FI and no TV or play-stations immediately in front of you.   When movies finally arrived on flights, it was an arrangement of actual 16mm Projectors, projecting on pull-down screens with sound transmitted through rented headphones.

Also, the movie chosen by the airline was always THEIR choice.  Take it or leave it. All in all though, airline travel was a lot more relaxing.  I could actually SLEEP in those airline seats!

So, while I was not paying attention, everything just went “to hell in a hand basket,” as a great aunt used to say.

But let me tell you that even in those darkest of days, there was ONE ray of sunshine!  There is one entity that will still guarantee you sufficient space, free baggage check, decent meals at each mealtime, and an overall rather pleasant journey.  There is a small caveat. A group of airlines IS today providing most of the service I praise above, with flights to every corner of the world. Here it is:

I’d like to recommend to you the United States Department of Defense and the airlines offering “Military Charter Flights.”  Airlines wishing to fly military charters to Vietnam, let’s say, had to agree to a long list of requirements.  Included were minimum requirements to guarantee all the services once routinely provided by civilian airlines. Military officers actually boarded these aircraft from time to time, with measuring tapes and with nutrition experts and health inspectors to make sure that there was appropriate seat and leg room, ventilation, good and nutritious food and enough airline personnel to handle emergencies.

I was lucky enough to have this excellent service thrust upon me many times. The last few times Involved flights from Travis Air Force Base to Saigon and back – three times. The service was extraordinary and made the outgoing trips a tiny bit better for a lot of Service men and women.

The airplanes were older Boeing 707s and the like, but they were comfortable and quiet enough and the charter pilots and cabin personnel first rate.  I later talked with an ex-TWA Flight Attendant who said he always enjoyed the military charter flights and that he and his buddies always went overboard to provide the best service to the military personnel.

See where I’m going?  TODAY, nobody employed by the airline wants anything to do with you personally.  They want you to remain invisible, handle everything yourself, get to the airport two hours early and check yourself in, obey all the written instructions about prohibited material…..get yourself to the right gate and then, when YOUR batch of numbers is called to sneak yourself in quietly, handle your overhead baggage (and there is never enough room for everyone) and sit down and shut up!

On second thought, maybe it started going to hell when TV cable companies decided they could force us to accept and pay for all those 24 hour commercial stations.

Or, perhaps it started downhill when the city government decided that the sidewalks the city had poured decades ago was now YOUR responsibility and you had to replace every section which was slightly marred, cracked or unsightly, AT YOUR EXPENSE!

Perhaps it was when the City Supervisors had their Eureka moment and said:  “OH, Know what? it worked with the sidewalks. Let’s have home owners also pay to maintain those trees we planted, and have them responsible if the tree hurts someone….Oh, hot diggity dog!”

Well, the Romans did their big fall, and they left some stone walls and aqueducts, some buildings with columns and a few arenas where they  showed off some lions and they slew each other.  

Looks like we may leave a trail of popcorn and pretzels and a heck of a lot of cell phones, styrofoam coffee cups and plastic bags. It’s all just gone to hell!

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