Monthly Archives: May 2016

Notes From a Broad: In case of emergency, grab your seat

This morning we are up before daybreak to catch an early morning flight to Los Angeles. We are attending a wedding in Pasadena and I will be introduced to, and inspected by, Dr Nick’s surrogate family in the US. ‘Don’t worry, they know all about you’ he says cheerfully, as if that will help.

Prescott’s Municipal Airport is tiny. The staff multi-task, especially today as their electronic system has gone down, so everything has to be checked manually. Our little plane is basic, no frills. We are advised in the departure lounge that there is no toilet on board ‘So now would be a good time to go.’ You don’t get that kind of personal care advice at Heathrow. Security checks are comprehensive; with no air crew but for the two pilots, you don’t want to take any unnecessary risks. The man in front of us is frisked extensively. His driver’s license is taken to a supervisor and examined with a magnifying glass. ‘They’re worse than the Stasi’ mutters my fiancé, grumpily. Our passports (yes, we are only flying from Arizona to California, but this is America) are scanned with a light pen. The security guy does a double-take at my eight-year-old passport photo ‘You cut your hair,’ he observes. ‘I’m older, too,’ I reply. He says he didn’t notice, which I take as a compliment, especially this early on a Saturday morning.

Our plane appears to be piloted by two highly-efficient fifteen year olds. It is strange and refreshing in this day and age to be able to see into the cockpit and watch the teenagers perform their pre-flight checks. The screens which divide the flight deck from the passengers, when closed for take-off, form an arch, a triptych before an altar of blinking instruments. As we have two pilots I am reassured that Dr Nick, a qualified pilot, will probably not be required to step in should there be an emergency. This plane is small, a nineteen-seater, but it is still bigger than anything he has flown.

I am filled with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, with a touch of nervousness due to the flight. I don’t bother to read the safety notice in the pocket in front of my seat. This plane is so small that, in an emergency we would all, as my beloved would say, be toast. The emergency exit seats are occupied by two Japanese lads in hoodies and baseball caps and an elderly, well-dressed gent with a watery cough which he is generously sharing with his fellow passengers. Despite being required to provide a verbal response to the co-pilot’s instructions to operate the exits in any unforeseen circumstance, I don’t hold them in great confidence. The Japanese lads grunt and the old man coughs in reply, both of which are taken for a ‘yes’ by our co-pilot. I guess he’s had worse. Suddenly we are in the air, banking sharply to the right. I look down and all I can see is desert. Mile after mile of rock, sand and scrub. I hadn’t realized how remote Prescott is; a true oasis. There is a lake of low-lying fog to our left, and we fly just above the cloud line, bumping our way upward.

A freezing cold breeze blows continuously around my bare legs. I am seriously under-dressed for an early morning flight. Dr Nick has come well-prepared. Warm clothing, earplugs, neck cushion. Lack of caffeine and sleep means he is volatile and grumpy, so I let him snooze. We fly low enough that I can see highways criss-crossing the desert, like the Nazca lines in Peru.

The Beech 1900 is a very basic plane. Our seating is comprised of hard, thin plastic seats which double as flotation devices should we land on water. Someone has thoughtfully provided guidance notes in case this should happen, even though we are in the middle of the desert. I examine the FAA safety guide which pictures a lady floating calmly in the sea, ankles delicately crossed, skirt modestly arranged, hair just-so and both shoes still on, despite them obviously being slip-on loafers. She is hugging her plastic seat cushion in an apparently karmic, dream-like state of bliss. I happen to know from bitter experience that if I should fall into a large body of water fully dressed, I would not look like the lady in the picture.

Halfway through our flight, and the landscape below is beginning to change. I see a few isolated farms. Fields appear in grid patterns, bisected by long, long roads like so many tray-bakes left to cool.  As we fly into daylight the sky turns ice-blue. We fly over mountains, their craggy surfaces a deep iron-ore red. Lazy pink sunlight strokes the wings, slowly warming what promises to be a beautiful morning, despite yesterday’s thunderstorms.

The last time I flew in a plane this small was thirty-five years ago. At the age of nineteen I left home and a disastrous love-affair to work in the Outer Hebrides, a remote group of islands off the west coast of Scotland. The landscape there was very different. A filigree of tiny streams and lochs barely connected by thin strips of peat bog. Brown, just like this landscape, but 90% water, the polar opposite of this desert. Both locations are remote, both breathtakingly beautiful.

We fly low over another small airfield, and I see we are nearing civilization. Swimming pools, sports fields and factories spewing smoke. Over the city now, a long, winding river snaking its way over the mountains to one side. Then into thick cloud, turbulence throwing me against the wall of the plane. You feel everything so much more intensely in a small aircraft. How terrifying and exhilarating the early years of flight must have been, navigating blind and seriously cold. We continue to bump down through the cloud toward LAX, bright blue sky to one side, on the other grey-black cloud. LA sprawls for miles, the freeway below us busy with ant-like vehicles even at this early hour. Suddenly we are flying level with the mountain tops; I see tower blocks and skyscrapers, reservoirs filled with murky, grey water. We pass over ‘Crenshaw Christian Center, Home of the Faith Dome’, its painted sign visible only from the sky, in case God decides to parachute in for an ad hoc visit.

Our pilots (or ‘the kids’ as we fondly refer to them) land the plane with more enthusiasm than finesse, and taxi for what must be a further hundred miles to a far corner of this massive airfield. They take the transfer bus with us, laughing and checking their Facebook profiles on their mobile phones as we bump along to the terminal. I look back over my shoulder: the city goes on forever, and I long for the desert, and northern Arizona.

Trump: a toddler in a kindergarten nation

The USA is in its infancy. Colonised by the English in 1620, it became the United States, an independent nation, in 1776. That’s only 240 years ago. Is it any wonder then, that its people are so naïve when it comes to politics, culture and gun law?

In the UK we marvel at how a sad, dangerous and uncomfortably comedic figure like Donald Trump can possibly be allowed to hold a position of power. Since moving to the USA I’ve been trying to comprehend how such a ridiculous turn of events has come about, and I have been fortunate, in a way, to experience the Trump phenomena from both sides of the Atlantic.

In England, Magna Carta, the Great Charter of the Liberties, or the first written laws, if you like, was signed in 1215, or shortly after lunch. The Declaration of Independence, arguably the American equivalent, was signed in 1776. That puts England roughly 560 years ahead of America in terms of social and political maturity.

560 years ago, in England, we were in the 1450s. Henry VI was King, and we had just lost the Hundred Years’ War to the French. If you believe Wikipedia, the earliest known reference to knitting in England occurs around then, and more memorably someone up north started the Wars of the Roses. We were still fighting battles with longbows; firearms had only recently been introduced as weapons of war. Executing women for ‘practising witchcraft’ was still 200 years in the future. We probably made up the rules as we went along.

Imagine a politician or a soldier from 1450 having access to modern weaponry, the internet, nuclear technology, motor cars. Imagine, if armed with little education, or mindfulness, how dangerous that could be. That’s where the Americans are today. They have all the bravado, enthusiasm and naivety of a new nation, but with none of the hindsight, maturity or lesson-learning that England has gathered in the intervening 500 years. It is a frightening thought, but goes some way to explaining the air of invincibility that the US wears like a suit of armour. Trump blunders around like a petulant teething toddler on the verge of a tantrum because he is a product of this dangerous combination.

Here in Arizona, folks are still living in the Wild West. Gung-ho, gun-toting enthusiasm is rife, privacy laws virtually non-existent. It’s like living in a culture which is a cross between The Virginian and 1950s Britain. Men strut around town wearing Stetsons and holsters. I can’t get a decent radio signal. This part of the state has a pervading small-town mentality. Is it any wonder, then, that when it comes to voting habits, its inhabitants want to be on the side they see as the winning team, with all the accompanying glitz and glamour? Policies really have nothing to do with it. You might as well have a shiny new convertible running for President, or a brand-new washing machine. Small town America just wants to win the Star Prize, regardless of whether or not it breaks down after the first couple of weeks’ use.

 

Marnie Devereux is an English writer living in the south-western United States.