American Airlines has become a Third World operation. My neighbor unwraps palm leaves and chows down on a sickly colored stodge lump and the aircraft’s air conditioning is not man enough to deal with the smell. Perhaps it’s been turned down to save fuel – or to keep the cabin temperature up because there are no blankets on the plane. The lady on the other side of me, a Trinidadian grandmother en route home for a family wedding, is shivering.
“I could travel first class,” she tells me confidentially, and without bragging, “but what a waste of money.” She gives me a sly look. “Air miles.” A couple of hundred years ago, travelers spoke equally reverentially about Letters Of Credit, except that an LOC, drawn on the right bank, could be exchanged in any obscure corner of the world, in days when a communication from the cashier to the London bank might take six months, whereas to redeem air miles in the electronic age of instant communication one has to mortgage the yet unborn daughter whose destiny, otherwise, it might be to save the world.
Not that I have anything against American Airlines except that, like many others, it owes its very existence to a suspension of free market rules even while its pilots (in my personal experience at least) hew to a line pretty much east of Ayn Rand. I own you, you miserably rude crew. It’s my taxes that kept you afloat. The least you can do is be pleasant. Or have a blanket for an elderly Trinidadian.
And it’s free market rules that have brought me here, to Trinidad and Tobago – Chaguaramas Bay, more precisely – to crew a Tollycraft power boat to Uruguay. Seems the owner bought the vessel at auction in the US and, if it makes it all the way, Miami-Montevideo, on its own bottom and under the power of its turbo’ed twin Perkins diesels, there may be no taxes to pay …
They nearly killed my journey at the airport, Trinidad and Tobago immigration ruffled by a one way ticket and no Captain’s letter confirming my status. This in an island where crime is rampant. Today’s paper reported three murders and several shootings. One of the killings being of a handyman-vagrant born mute. You might think the law enforcement engine would have more to worry about than me, a fully documented in-and-outer. Perhaps the pervasive tremor that has spread from the once fearless shores of the US has infected every official worldwide who has access to Homeland Security bulletins.
But, here, a clean up is under way for President Obama’s visit: the Fifth Summit of the Americas. Street-livers are being hauled out of sight and riot police flown in from London to teach local law enforcement how to handle rioters. Personally, I’d leave it to the locals. I’ve seen the London riot police at work, up close and personal, and they’re from the same gene pool that guards death camps. Just following orders, m’lud.
Which brings us back to riot consultants from London. Put Austin on the street and no one would dare boo Mr. Obama, let alone heave the first rock.
Negotiating the oil filters through Chagauramas Customs – another exercise in paperwork and makework. Another few TT dollars, some of which seemed to stick to the local official, who had no change. Then again, from his point of view, here comes a foreigner with time to sail a luxury item from his island to God knows where while he’s stuck in a small office with an iron bar gate. If the oil filters earned him a cold beer that night, who’s counting the change? I was planning on a couple of Cuba Libres myself.
TO BE CONTINUED