Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Same Story - A Different Interpretation"

An episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show entitled “Ted’s Change of Heart”, written by Earl Pomerantz:

Narcissist extraordinaire Ted Baxter has suffered a mild heart attack.  Convalescing at home reading a newspaper, he experiences a personal epiphany.

Ted notices and begins watching a nearby spider, weaving its web – patiently, carefully, relentlessly – and he realizes for the first time that life is short and you have to live for today.

“Ted,” explains an exasperated Mary, “that’s not a ‘Live for today’ story.  That’s a ‘Perseverance’ story.”

“It was a ‘Perseverance’ story, Mary,” replies Baxter. “But it became a ‘Live for today’ story when I smacked that damn spider with my newspaper!
One story which, upon further evaluation, becomes a different story.

That appears to be this one.  Which I believed was a “brave” story, but, upon a subsequent revisiting, became unmistakably something else.

We are on a photographic safari in Africa, visiting, specifically, a handful of game parks in Kenya.  (You have to visit more than one of them because varying game park topographies allow for an expanded range of animal sightings.)

Friends who had experienced this excursion the year before had advised us to fly from one game park to the other rather than drive, flying being the less dangerous alternative.  (We were required to drive during a portion of our journey and when I asked our driver Patrick about the numerous black circles painted conspicuously on the highway, he replied, “Those are the locations of recent traffic fatalities.”)

It was definitely “sky-tripping” for us.

“Us”, in this case, being Dr. M and myself, plus the pilot.  Three people in tiny aircraft.

That’s brave, isn’t it?  (Following up my recent exploration of “brave”?)

At least have always thought it was brave.  As did a confirming Dr. M., who is generally considerably braver than I am.  This time, however, she was detectably anxious up there, whereas I on the other hand looked obliviously out the window, trying to remember the theme song to Sky King.  (A Saturday morning kids’ series featuring a small-plane called the “Song Bird”, piloted by a coincidentally-named “Skyler King.”  I continue to draw a blank on the theme song.  But part marks for pulling up the name of the airplane.)

We have been flying for more than a half an hour, our destination only a few minutes away.  I catch sight of the pilot, reaching for his onboard radio microphone and relaying pertinent information to what I assume is the tower of the airport where we are about to land.

There is no response from the tower.  Though this registers in a segment of my consciousness as disturbing, I remain generally oblivious, reveling in the audacity of our soaring adventure in a miniscule airplane.  

A couple minutes later, the pilot repeats the action, again relaying the pertinent information, but this time it appears, with somewhat heightened intensity.

Triggering a heightened intensity of my own.

What exactly is going on?   Why isn’t the tower responding to his calls?

I instruct myself to relax.  This is entirely routine, a standard aerial jaunt between game parks, flown by an experienced pilot in whom I have total confidence. 
Though I have no idea if it is actually his first day on the job.  And the man in whom we have entrusted our lives is a complete stranger. 

‘Nothing to worry about” I remind myself.  Everything’s going to be okay.

And then he radios a third time.  And once again, there is a silent response.


The traditional “nightmare scenario” in small-plane travel is the “fiery inferno.”  I am thinking perhaps Fate has a more imaginative plan in mind.  My rich and fertile imagination conjures visions of a team of heavily armed insurgents, commandeering the airport, massacring the tower personnel, awaiting the impending new arrivals, appropriating their aircraft for the revolution, adding pilot and passengers to the bloodbath.

Is what I am conjuring. 

No longer entirely courageous.

This was not the first time on this trip that I had feared for our existence.  A morning earlier, breakfasting at our Nairobi hotel, I had been confronted by a giant headline in the local newspaper, reading:


The headline was immediately upsetting.  It appeared that our lamentably timed photographic safari had dropped us in the middle of a war zone.

Only later did I discover that I was reading the back page of the newspaper and that they were talking about soccer.

Okay, I was mistaken about the danger that time.

But why weren’t they answering!?!

We finally touch down at the airport.  And we get out of the plane.

There are no rebel insurgents; in fact, there are no people whatsoever.  And no tower, for that matter.  It turns out, it was not “technically” an airport.  It was a rudimentary landing strip, adjacent to the game park. 

I am now terribly confused.

“Who were you trying to contact?”  I inquire of our pilot.

“I was alerting nearby aircraft as to our whereabouts,” he replies.  Then clarifyingly adding, “And apparently there weren’t any.” 

The End.

It had started out as a “brave” story.  But upon further evaluation, it had become something different. 

Involving presuppositions about Africa.

I mean, if we had been flying between National Parks in Utah and there was no response from the tower…

I would have, at worst, thought they were asleep.


Canda said...

Might it have been easier to ask the pilot, "Why is no one responding to you"?

We often don't do things like that, probably because we want to appear calmer than we are. I might have
done the same thing you did...nothing.

JED said...

I think I would have responded the same way as Earl. My first thought would be that maybe the other person (Dr. M in this case) hadn't noticed so I shouldn't bring it to their attention and alarm them. My second thought would be to not bother the pilot in case he was thinking through his emergency procedures. My third thought would be that I can't help so what difference would it make? Know that we were in trouble is like looking at the needle as the nurse gives me an injection - it's better not to know.

I recently read about the Instinctive Drowning Response where it is pointed out that the drowning person does not act like you would expect. Most people about to drown do so with little thrashing about and no shouting for help. Their whole purpose right then is keeping their mouth above water and trying to gulp air. There's no time or energy for anything else.

When I used to be beaten up by older or larger kids, I wouldn't fight back because I was afraid I'd make them madder and they'd hurt me even more. I hoped they'd get bored and go away.

Also interesting in Earl's story was how he was sure that the pilot called with "heightened intensity" the second time. Isn't it amazing how we read things into a situation when we've already made our mind up?

Pat said...

Did you ask for a parachute? An AK-47? A priest? Try to cover all the bases!

How bout those Jays? At least their front office is making an effort. Full and Price, a very good start. Unlike my hometown team, which has apparently hung out the do not disturb sign.

Pat said...

My Kindle changed Tulo to Full, and I was not watching!