The United States is on fire – both figuratively and literally. Political and social divisions have torn the country apart, we’re in the midst of a record hurricane season and the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of abating.
But things could always get worse. It’s still only September, after all.
The “big one” – the long-forecast, much-overdue earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or greater – could strike, sending much of the US West Coast plummeting into the Pacific Ocean. The virus could morph into a more lethal form, just in time for Christmas, or – horror of all horrors – Donald Trump could get reelected.
Locked down for months this spring at my Mom’s place in Auburn, Alabama, there were entire months when I did not leave the neighborhood.
Silver lining: I’ve never gotten so much reading done.
In an effort to try and salvage something of the year, my gaze turned to the Pacific Northwest. There were trails there, a variety of other outdoor activities, and you could safely socially distance because those were sensible people who didn’t yell the word “socialism!” at you if you looked at them fearfully because they weren’t wearing a mask.
Out of the frying pan
Alaska Airlines’ website stated that they were leaving middle seats unoccupied and capping the plane’s capacity at 60%. The price was $200 more than the competition, but what’s $200 when it comes to limiting your exposure to a potentially lethal illness, right?
We were packed in like sardines. The guy in the seat immediately in front of me – a big, bald fellow with a long, red beard and a wrestler’s physique – exchanged fighting words with the flight attendant.
“You tell us we have to socially distance, how can we socially distance if we’re all packed in here like livestock at a slaughterhouse?!”
“What about the middle seats?” I chimed in.
“Oh no,” she told me, clearly tired of addressing that question. “That policy ended today.”
“The middle seat policy ended today,” she then announced over the in-flight intercom, presumably so people would stop asking.
So we sat. And waited.
The airline was trying to squeeze some additional passengers on from a canceled flight. They succeeded.
The plane’s wheels left the tarmac about an hour later than scheduled.
It would take around four hours to fly from Atlanta to Seattle.
During that time, Redbeard, who I’d initially taken as a sensible sort, told the person next to him how he actually thought the whole mask thing was ridiculous – “Obviously a socialist conspiracy” – and to prove his point, he refused to wear a mask during the rest of the flight.
“Trump knows this whole mask thing is bull!” Redbeard yelled at one point.
As if to signal her agreement, the girl across the aisle from me took her mask off to loudly blow her nose.
When we arrived in Seattle, there was another plane at our gate. So we sat. And waited.
45 more minutes went by.
Perhaps we were test subjects in some sort of COVID lab experiment. How long can a plane full of people sit on board before everyone is infected?
When we finally stepped off the plane in Seattle, I made a beeline for the Alaska Airlines help desk.
“The only reason for choosing Alaska Airlines in the first place,” I told the lady at the desk, “was because on its website the airline promised that middle seats would be kept open and that airline capacity would be limited.”
The lady, who I must say was very, very apologetic, looked positively bewildered when I told her of our flight experience.
“No,” she said. “Those policies are in place until the end of next month.”
How could the flight attendant have gotten that one so wrong?
The next morning, I called the number the lady had given me and was told the same thing – that was the airline’s policy until the end of the following month.
For the emotional distress and elevated risk of contracting a deadly disease, my baggage fees were refunded and they promised that the issue would be thoroughly “investigated.”
But hey, at least now we were in the Pacific Northwest! A different place with a different political leaning would hopefully be like living in another, happier year. How silly.
This is 2020 in Trump’s America. “Crazy” is well represented in all 50 states.
As I think about how to conclude this article, I look up to gaze out the window. Normally, I’d be able to see a few rows of trees, a house on a hill a few hundred feet away, a pond in the front yard.
I can just barely make out the first row of trees, but everything else is engulfed in smoke. My weather app dings to alert me that the quality of the air outside is “very unhealthy.”
I read an article about how Trump supporters in fire evacuation zones in Oregon are refusing to leave their homes because they’ve “heard” that Antifa supporters are going around looting.
CNN blares the headline, “California’s largest single wildfire spawned two massive firenados.”
Staying inside a burning house to own the libs?
Have we reached peak 2020 yet?
This Voices story was written by Brendan Monroe. Brendan is now based in Washington State, US.
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