Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Zen what happened?

If I am going to live in a police sate – at least give me dancing girls

One thing I learned in Indonesia this time around was to smile. The indigenous folk may give you a wary eye walking down the street, but a quick flash of the pearly zoobies from you and the person instantaneously returns the gesture with gusto. The state of the teeth flashing back at you seems to come in only two varieties – glaringly white and straight as an arrow across (especially in Bali where tooth filing is practiced) or barely hanging in there like a row of stalactites that have been brushed against by too many oily hands of weekend spelunkers. But, nonetheless, a smile is echoed.

Try this in immigration hall at LAX international airport in Los Angeles and the response one gets ranges from quizzical to downright disdain. Almost three hours it took to pick up bags and exit customs. And this was without any kind of luggage search or anything out of what should have been ordinary – nope this was just plain good old American ineptness. Seems this batch of neo-cons is expert at outsourcing the TSA contracts to their cronies so that they can "run lean" amassing nice profits allowing them to jet privately around and avoid the insanity that is our first front against terrorism while the rest of us Joe Slobos sweat over missed connecting flights.

Similar to the inability of some to organize a two car parade – the crew at LAX was unable to create a couple of lines around the baggage carousels. Instead the influx of bags mixed with folks hoping to form some semblance of a procession leading somewhere, people cutting to get ahead into what they thought was a line only to be told by one blue jacketed lackey that this particular queue was not real. "But the person in the blue jacket over there sent us here…" Complete and utter confusion and I say this after experiencing rush hour in Jakarta.

Allow me to digress:

Traffic moves in Jakarta at a slow boil, like a pot of some spicy gumbo, bits and chunks of all the ingredients rolling over each other taking turns rubbing and gently careening about in the bubbling gelatinous broth. In order to merge one must simply and patiently insert one's automobile into this frothing olio of trucks, cars, busses, vans, three wheeled becaks all which are minimally separated by motor bikes flowing in between like water droplets coursing along the grout of steamy shower tiles. Lanes are nonexistent although in a rudimentary sense Indonesians do drive on the opposite side of the road than we in the states compounding the confusion of it all in my mind. Vehicles pack the road like a biology class video of red blood corpuscles microscopically filmed to fill the screen.

It is the utter lack of rhyme and reason that makes this non-system work. I saw no road rage – only folks determinedly moving across four imaginary lanes of bumper to bumper as carefully as one walks against the current of a stream flowing over algae covered slate – young men stepping into and stopping traffic like the sole soul in front of the tanks at Tiananmen and then collecting a nickel from a grateful driver backing into the commuter slurry – motorbikes taking to the sidewalk when four wheeled traffic wheezed to a congested standstill. Out of this unqualified chaos rose an almost Zen state of order, snatch the pebble grasshopper – become part of the current.

This is exactly what DIDN'T happen at LAX. For all the braying and mewing about American individuality we sure are enamored with rules as of late. The lack of clear cut instruction, neat median strips, and right turn lanes etc. etc. short circuited the vast majority of golf club toting, beer bellied middle managers and their parrot festooned straw hatted spouses. Pandemonium – but no underlining order to be found.

My stage asides of of "God bless the Republicans.", "Do you feel any safer?" and "Three cheers for privatization!" were met with blank stares of total unrecognition and unmitigated derision. "Who let Che in to ruin my vaction?", they were thinking.

These fleshy Coppertoned all inclusive resort denizens were clueless when faced with the task of merging eight squid like tentacles of meandering baggage carts into one lane.

So everything stopped.

I coached a sister duet of middle aged Latinas in front of me to just calmly continue moving in the general direction of the exit, forget about the folks you think are cutting in front of you in line (mostly southeast Asians who undoubtedly figured everything was moving along swell) and just go with the flow. I talked them down convinced them that is was okay to move within the imaginary twelve inch barrier they wanted as a comfort zone explaining that the gap was an invitation for merging from the flanks. Eventually, we got out handing our declaration slips to the customs agent, "No I do not have a rabid squirrel monkey in my duffel bag" and the two senoras thanked me as if I had just guided them through an infra red laser protected vault to the best shoe sale of their lives.

Welcome home I thought, please form an orderly line to the left.

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