My hands just would not let go! For 30 seconds they remained attached to my lovely AVENTURA even though I was already standing in the launcha ready to head off on the first leg of a long trip back to the so-called “real world.” Finally, the boatman said, “Ramon, are you okay?” This shook me out of my trepidation trance and I replied, “Sorry, Ignacio, vamanos – let’s go!”
I have now returned from that journey - and my hands were right. Each reunion with “normalcy” staggers me so brutally that I wonder whether I can ever go back again. For a sea gypsy like me, who experiences it only every few years, the modern world looks like low-grade lunacy.
· The frantic yet fruitless frenzy of the car culture – accelerating up to sixty mph even though the next gridlock stoppage is clearly visible 100 yards ahead.
· The sad and tragic disconnection of those who believe that they are so “connected.”
· The cultural mean-spiritedness that worships competition and power and ridicules co-operation and sensitivity.
· The Everywhereness of Television. In this NSA version of our Cowardly New World of 1984 Plus 30, it is even more troubling knowing that The Screen is probably watching us as much as we are watching it.
· The ever-increasing incompetence and unpleasantness of the bureaucracies that are utterly inescapable in the modern world.
Admittedly, for those marooned in this society, they have become so gradually acclimated to it, that the insanity of it is barely noticed. It is the old dilemma of asking a fish about water. The tuna is so immersed in it, that it cannot perceive it. Here are a couple of examples of the absurdities that I experienced first-hand.
I always buy a little $10 cell phone when I arrive in Key West so that my friends will be able to conveniently contact me during my visit. Obviously, I do not also buy a 2 year contract but opt for the purchase of a modest amount of minutes. When my $10 worth of time was running low, I called to buy some more minutes using my debit card. I spent the requisite 5 minutes maneuvering through the non-human phone tree. They required all of my normal info such as card number, expiration date, the 3 numbers on the back, but now they also want the phone # for when the debit card was first activated. Since that was many years ago it was also many phone numbers ago. After another 5 minutes of telephone bumper cars, I finally made it through to an actual breathing human being. However, this person who was presumably addressing me from somewhere on the Indian sub-continent, was totally indecipherable. I couldn’t even unravel whether it was a male or female voice.
So I attempted to purchase some more minutes via the internet. I went to the website and typed in my new phone #. It asked for a password. Nobody had provided me a password. But alas, if I clicked a link it would text me a password on my new phone. Presto! It did so quite swiftly. I typed it into the appropriate box and retyped it again for verification. I expected to then be quickly shifted to the page where I could buy some more minutes. But instead, it informed me that without my CURRENT password it could not assign me a new one. Perhaps it is just me, but that seems to beg the question: “If I knew my current password, why the hell would I be requesting a new one?” And so, I hopped on my bicycle and pedaled 3 miles back to the “cell phone provider” and purchased some more minutes from an actual human.
A more ominous encounter with Bureaucracy Nation was my attempt to obtain a new passport. When getting my picture taken at a place that specializes in passport photos, I was told that they would have to do it over again. When I inquired why that was, she said because I had smiled. I assumed that she was joking, but in fact it is now a law that you cannot be smiling on an official passport photo. It felt like the ghost of Kafka was now writing the passport regulations.
The Miami passport office was horrible the last time I renewed mine about ten years ago; but this time it was a veritable daytime nightmare. When I arrived at the door it was locked but there was a large blue arrow pointing down the block. I proceeded in that direction but found no office. The Miami Design College was there for the next 4 doorways or so. Eventually their doors ended and there was an entrance to a parking garage under the building. Assuming that couldn’t be it, I retraced the 70 yards back to the original large blue arrow. There I discovered in very small print that the office entrance was now…in the parking garage.
So back I went at least feeling comfortable that I had pre-arranged an appointment over the phone. But apparently I was not alone in this regard. There were 54 people in line ahead of me. We all stood there in this grim concrete garage inhaling auto fumes with the line not moving at all. Forty minutes later the queue still hadn’t budged and yet nobody provided us any explanation for the delay. There was no drinking water and no bathrooms. Eventually, I just walked away from such blatant indignity and decided to try my luck with a U.S. Embassy overseas.
The philosopher in me could not help but question what all of this is about. Why are we so bludgeoned in the so-called advanced world by these bureaucratic SNAFUs that seem purposely designed to degrade us? Why must my passport photo look like a criminal mug shot? Why are automated phone trees - that rob people of their jobs - not even efficient? Why must I show my passport to a TSA guard and then show it again to another one 6 feet later? Why is it that almost all bureaucracies seem to have forgotten what basic human decency means? Why…oh why…oh why?
But these were just personal nuisances and aggravations. However, while back in the U.S. I noticed two items in the alternative media that were extremely foreboding on a societal level. Our ruling class – oops, I mean our government – is stealthily attempting to further reduce Freedom of the Press by having federal observers in newspaper, radio and television news rooms. They will monitor what they term “Critical Information Needs.” A cynic might suggest that they will be there to insure that information that is critical for supporting the government’s position on any particular issue is the “need” that these neutral observers will be tracking. Is it too big a stretch to imagine them also compiling lists of journalistic troublemakers who are not willing to toe the government line?
Presumably, the ruling class – oops, I mean duly elected representatives of the Multi-National Corporations, Too Big To Fail Banks and the Military Industrial Surveillance Prison Complex - believe that this latest insult to a free society will not be greeted with pitchforks and torches. But just in case one of their actions eventually does nudge the citizens beyond the “can’t take any more” tipping point, there was another extremely disturbing revelation in the non-mainstream media.
The Pentagon has built a 300 acre “fake city” in Virginia complete with a bank, a mock subway station, and a sports stadium in order to train troops in advanced urban combat techniques. If this has you wondering whether this is designed for overseas operations or for responding to domestic violence, you are not alone. It certainly seems like the army is being trained for homeland police duties even though that is strictly forbidden by the Posse Comitatus Act which has restrained the military ever since 1878.
So, my recent journey convinced me that corporate and governmental bureaucracies have become even more ludicrous and soul-sapping than ever. And then combine that with two more examples of the U.S. steadily sliding from freedom towards tyranny, and I gained even greater clarity about the value of my sea gypsy path.
My wanderings on the Wide Waters have been driven by two main motivations. The first is the sheer enjoyment of it. And the second is the fact that an ocean-ready sailboat is probably the ideal survival platform should the world face a severe emergency. Here are some of the joyous aspects of this life choice that make it so wondrous:
· As a sea gypsy I don’t visit Nature - I live cocooned in it. My days are not spent in a world of concrete, asphalt and steel. Creatures of the Sea and the Sky are not rare visitors - they are my neighbors.
· My life is slo-mo. At warp speed my boat barely achieves 7 mph. Back in the real world, its frantic pace genuinely unnerves me.
· The freedom to “just sail away to somewhere else” is a powerful elixir. If a situation deteriorates, it is pretty intoxicating to be able to pull up my anchor and head for greener pastures or bluer waters.
· There is much more community in the sailboat cruising world than in suburbia. There are frequent pot lucks, swap meets, beach volleyball games, etc. And neighborly helpfulness is the norm rather than the exception.
These are some of the wonderful characteristics of my life aboard and abroad. The second aspect of my sea gypsy existence that is very reassuring is the fact that should there be any sort of large-scale emergency of a societal or environmental or political or economic nature, my AVENTURA is an ideal survival platform. And she offers the prospect of not just making it through the black swan storm clouds, but of actually flourishing after the calamity has occurred. My carefully considered thinking in this regard is detailed in my 4 “Sea Gypsy Tribe” essays that are available here on my blog.
So now that I have returned from my latest visit to Insaneistan, I have another reason for embracing my sea gypsy path – ESCAPE! Rather than passively surrendering to an Un-Culture that is mean-spirited and numbing and that grinds a person down, I have actively abandoned it for a better way of living. I have voluntarily rejected its insipid artificiality – its Reality Television and Celebrity Worship and Shopping Mall Nirvana. I have sailed away from a United States that is so different from that of my youth – a nation that is now widely scorned because it has become a global bully and a police-surveillance state.
Arriving back aboard AVENTURA, I opened all the hatches and portholes to let her air out. A sailboat can get pretty musty when battened down for 3 weeks. Then I went on deck and eased myself down into my dinghy. And just as I had done 3 weeks earlier when trepidation was sweeping over me, I held onto her.
Many of my friends insist that AVENTURA is a dream machine that dooms me to a life of fantasy. Well, I have just returned from the Real World - and I find it unacceptable. And to me the great mystery remains … why do so many people surrender to it?