Sunday, February 21, 2016

Robert Lewis Gives Me The Eye On A United Flight

I waited only 5 minutes for my Uber to the airport. It was some sort of new model Jeep driven by Joseph. The thing about the Uber system is that it is exactly real time on your screen so usually the cab is right on top of you although the app shows it a minute away. Well, this morning, Joseph blew past my front door like he was at the Indie 500. Holy smokes man, doesn’t your Uber-furnished GPS ding dong say, “The address is 10 feet ahead on your right?”

Anyway, he did a three point turn, a-la driving manual, but failed to observe the solid double yellow line running down the middle of the road. Somehow I think even Stevie Wonder would have seen those solid lines. I open the back door and he asks me whether I want to put my gigantic suitcase in the trunk. Well, of course dude, it won’t fit in the back seat!

He exits the driver side and opens up the trunk, holy crapperoo, Batman!! This guy has a gigantic woofer/bass/speaker system occupying half the blasted trunk. And it’s all layered in Perspex! Is this guy operating a mobile disco? Well, after much grunting and groaning, we were able to jam that big boy into the precious few inches left in the trunk. 

Arriving at Newark airport, there doesn’t seem to be anything much happening at terminals A or B - must be a slow day. Up ahead in the distance, United Airlines Terminal C looms as well as a sea of red. Brake lights, damnit! And lots of them. What in tarnation could be causing such a mess at 7:15 A.M.? Five minutes later, we pull up to the curb and I bail out. I’m not missing my flight today! 

Rolling into the terminal with my now-squeezed yet still new suitcase, camera tripod, camera bag, and laptop bag, it is pure chaos! No clearly defined lines, just people...a lot of people! It was a damn free for all it seemed at first. Lord Jesus, don’t tell me they’ve adopted the same system as Air Canada! Well, my brief apprehension was confirmed - there were check-in kiosks all over the terminal floor. Big people, small people, grannies, whiny kids, people of every shape, size, and state of wakefulness. I finally get to Marly who is attending one of the kiosks. (I had quickly scanned her name tag while she was attending to the person in front of me).  “Good morning Marly,” I said cheerily. She looked up and asked where I was traveling to. “Saint Lucia,” I replied.  “Have you ever been there Marly?” I asked. “No, not yet,” was her reply. “Please put your suitcase on the scale,” she instructed. “Overweight – Overweight – 53.5 pounds,” the scale display flashed. 

“You’re overweight Mr. Williams,” she said. “But it’s only 3.5 pounds,” I whimpered. What the hell, United, three and a half friggin pounds!! Marly then proceeded to instruct me that overweight was only allowed up to half a pound; anything more would be $200! What! Oh hellz no, Miss Marly! You’re not even related to Bob.
I must admit she did have lovely brown eyes and nice lips with just the right amount of lip gloss. But not today missie; you’re not buttering me with those looks. I protested but she said there was nothing that could be done as they were ordered to strictly enforce those weight limits. “But you can remove some items and place them in your carry on, Norbert.”  She called me by my first name! Now I know she must like me and just putting on the squeeze so she can be nice later on and let me go along with my three and a half pounds. You know, the good cop, bad cop trick, but this time all rolled into one person.

I moved some items into my carry-on bag and tackled the scale again. “Overweight – Overweight – 51.5 pounds,” it flashed this time!  “Sorry Mr. Williams. Can’t you remove a pair of shoes?” I looked up at her, already sweating from all this early morning work, and her brown eyes and lovely lips disappeared. I was confronted by the devil! Marly had now, for whatever reason, suddenly transformed into a horned woman in a skin fitting leather suit with a friggin’ stiff leather whip looming over me. Her eyes were blazing red, smoke and fire spewed out from her nostrils as she said in the most fiendish and devilish voice I have ever heard, “Twooooo huuuundreeeddd doooollaaaarrsssss!”  Luckily that only lasted a few seconds. A fresh attempt at the scale and I was within the United decreed half pound limit above fifty.

After sending in my bag, the line to Jericho was the length of the terminal building. Winding around those tensa barriers like some human snake, the multitudes of early morning travelers finally made it through the sniffer dogs and surly TSA officers.
Walking towards my gate, the usual overpriced airport stores and boutiques lined the terminal area. As I passed what appeared to be a tech store with speakers and other small tech gadgets, playing on one of the systems within was Bob Marley’s “Now you Get What You Want (Do You Want More).” Oh Marly, you little devil. 

Gate C127 was waiting for me with open arms as almost everyone had already boarded. Stepping onboard the 737-800 the first class section did look impressive; nice wide leather seats with lots of leg room. Passing into Economy I noticed a face looking up at me, somewhere around seat 8A. In an instant I made out the face, it was Robert Lewis, our Minister of Education. Shit! Why was he looking at me like that?  “Good morning, Mr. Lewis,” I said, and reached out to shake his hand. He nodded with a little smile and shook my hand. 

How did he know me to make the I-know-you eye contact in the first place? Oh damn, maybe he knows I wrote about him in my blog! Damnit – well, he’s gonna try and get me off this flight. I was almost sure of it. But isn’t it Saturday, and isn’t Robert Lewis a Seventh Day Adventist? Isn’t the end of his Sabbath still a few hours away? Are Seventh Day Adventists not supposed to travel, party, consume alcohol, and all those other things on the Sabbath?  Ooooohhhh, I caught you Mr. Minister.

Anyway, we pulled away from the gate and I was certain then that whatever he wanted to try would have to wait until Saint Lucia. You get your boys Robert, and I’ll get mine. Let’s see how you roll then! But since when that’s your role anyway?

After takeoff, I dozed for what must have been an hour only to be awakened by the smell of ham and eggs, and fresh baked bread. It seems United has engaged the services of some psychological marketing and sales guru. Unlike previous flights when you were only informed that sandwiches were available for sale, they now found it fitting to let you smell what you were missing. No more peanuts and juice to take the edge off your rumbling innards. Oh no! Hell no! You’re going to be tortured before you get the freebies. “Would you like a ham and cheese sandwich sandwich?” “Tuna?”

And of course those little bottles of alcohol being brandished surely tortured some poor souls who were only dry since they boarded.  It seemed like flight attendants were now street vendors hawking the United wares. Soon I expect to see t-shirts and other merchandise on those carts rolling down the aisle. What's next? Perhaps fresh popped popcorn and a fee for trash removal for those people who think they can beat the system by carrying on their own food. They’re gonna get you.

The flight was uneventful past that point and we landed at Hewanorra International Airport fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The Boeing 737 taxied  to the furthest gate near the highway, and after what seemed like an eternity the doors were opened to allow the cooped up passengers to into the blazing hot sunshine on the newly surfaced apron...heat in your tail! The walk through the far reaches of the cattle pen to the arrivals area was enough to prepare any athlete for the Olympics.

Thankfully the previously arrived flights were mostly foreigners so the residents line was smooth sailing. 

Off to the side I see Robert Lewis breezing through Immigration. No difference in clearing the authorities for you today Mr. Minister because the locals are few and far between. Now what good was that diplomatic passport for you, I almost beat you past the lone Immigration officer.

Walking into the baggage claim area I again saw Robert Lewis, this time he was waiting for his bags. I cut eyes for him and he flashed me a look from behind some tourists. "What's it gonna be Robert, you wanna take it to the back of the hall?" I challenged. "All I see right here is space and opportunity Robert! It's Robert vs Norbert! What you gonna do now...huh, huh?"

He quickly grabbed his bags and made a quick diplomat exit.

I'm home for independence!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What do St. Lucia Government Press Secretaries have in common with Al Bundy?

Imagine my surprise last week at the big brouhaha over Clinton Reynolds' question about the qualifications of the new press secretary to the prime minister, Jade Brown. Let me state for the record that I was not goo goo gah gah over Jadia Jn. Pierre (the PM's former press secretary) and neither have I been for any former press secretary, as their position, in my estimation, was one of service and not celebrity. Unfortunately that celebrity which has slowly crept into the persona of the press secretary has more to do with partisan politics rather than the calibre of information dissemination. 

Clinton Reynolds' question, whether we like it or not, was valid and is what should be expected of any candidate or appointee who serves the prime minister of Saint Lucia. Whether a political or public/civil service appointment, the qualifications of any individual obviously is of importance. From the lowliest clerk to highest grade position qualifications and experience are discerning factors for consideration of one's services. It must also be realized that the post of press secretary is, in fact, not simply beholden to the prime minister, but rather to the Office of the Prime Minister. By extension this means being accountable to people of Saint Lucia as well. 

Since it was deemed necessary and relevant to state that Jade Brown "hails from the community of Canaries, and serves as the Chairperson of the Canaries Carnival Community" isn't it prudent and logical that one would also be curious of her academic qualifications? Is it such an insult to ask what they are?

When any member of the press poses a question it ultimately serves the purpose of informing the public; which is what their job is supposed to be. Jade Brown's current role as the prime minister's press secretary places her front and center before the cameras and microphones as opposed to being behind them and asking the questions. And since she has accepted that role it is expected that she be capable and accountable from her first day on the job. I was rather disappointed that so many felt it was needed to coddle Jade Brown on her first day simply because of a question on her qualifications.

Over the years, I have observed an increasing arrogance from the press secretaries regardless of administration. They have become entities unto themselves and have been allowed to run roughshod over those whom they deem to be asking questions unfavourable to the sitting administration. All of this to the amusement and applause of those who favour what is seen as protectionist behaviour. It seems they have been allowed such liberty since the utterances and actions fit a particular agenda and would be seen as politically incorrect had they been performed by those who are at the helm.

Press secretaries must realize this role places them in the limelight, and thus under great scrutiny, causing their every word, press release, and explanation to be shredded for any meaning; intended or unintended. The injection of political barbs and unwarranted jabs at the opposition diminishes the credibility of that office since it is seen as nothing less than political opportunism for the sake of scoring cheap political points. Somewhere in the mix of it all the dissemination of information has apparently taken a secondary role to politicking.

With the position of press secretary comes the inadvertent encroachment on private life which is to be expected in such a high reaching and delicate position. When a press secretary posts on social media in their capacity as a private person and also in their official capacity and discussing the same issues, it becomes very difficult to differentiate private and professional positions; it can be expected there will be spillovers from one to the next. Just as the prime minister, they must be seen to represent all the people in a respectful manner with the sole purpose of serving. Instead, what we too often see is a condescending and almost contemptuous treatment of those who disagree or question the government's position or policies.
Whether as tall as George Foreman, as demented as a washed-up revolutionary, fading away in dim light, strutting like a bantam cock, or  sugar in the teeth, all are guilty (language is  wonderful isn't it?). We must depoliticize an office which does not serve the vested interests of Saint Lucia by being politicized. 

So where does Al Bundy fit into all of this?

Lead actor in the much acclaimed sitcom 'Married with Children' Ed O'Neil (Al Bundy) suffered from what is referred to in the film industry as being typecast. This simply means that because he had been associated for so long with the goofy persona attributed to him during the eight seasons of the show audiences anticipated his subsequent roles to be of a similar nature. Appearing in different roles, occasional beer commercials, and other bit roles did not meet the same celebrity since the 'Al Bundy' persona is what remained dear to their hearts and as such limited his marketability for any meaningfully paying roles. Although he has been able to work in the industry he will be forever labeled as Al Bundy the goofy dad actor.

Ed O'Neil on being typecast

Press secretaries seem to take one of two paths once out of office. Either remaining in the political sphere trying to maintain their public visibility, or fading away into obscurity in nondescript jobs. It seems they crave the once-had public image and prominence and from time to time inject themselves into national issues in an apparent attempt to bask in the limelight once again, but for a brief moment. Because of too much venom and politicking they have become toxic and their lingering 'attack dog' image makes them forever etched in the minds of all who were exposed to their presence.

Don't get me wrong, I believe every one of our (yes I said our) press secretaries is loved by family and friends, but sadly their time in office has seriously tainted all credibility because of the manner in which they performed. Maybe it's time for a better analysis of this paralysis which locks them into a mindset which ultimately does a disservice to their futures.

Jade Brown, you have an ideal opportunity to go against that grain and change the press secretary's image forever. Let your tenure be one of poise and grace; beauty and substance, professionalism and example. The past is the past and the trail that was blazed was not yours. Nonetheless it was blazed and got you to this juncture. Don't be giddy by the lights or the cameras.

Whatever you do, know that the people will be watching.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
They'll be watching you

Every Step You Take