retour article original
I have just returned from a trip to USA. It matters not why I had to go, it simply suffices to say it was not my choice and it will in all probability be my last journey west baring an emergency that requires my presence. I am getting old and such long journeys are pretty hard in regards to the time and strain of so many hours in flight.
My first impression of Miami Airport was not particularly favorable. Every few minutes there was an announcement in English and Spanish of the penalties for doing this, that or the other thing, half of which seemed to concern smoking on Airport grounds. From my visual and audio observations roughly 95 % of the Airport workers spoke in Spanish to each other, in English to those of us who spoke same. TSA was different, marginally so. As I walked past the various food and goods kiosks and small shops in Airport I noticed the prices. 9 dollars for a cup, as in small coffee cup size, of ordinary beer and 5 dollars for a hotdog.
After collecting my bag I hailed a cab and was promptly told I could not do that. I had to go to a particular area to get one. I did so, got a cab and told him where to take me. $24.00 for a roughly 1 mile trip. Cab was clean as a whistle and the driver was polite although not particularly skillful. He was from Pakistan and had been in US for 6 years with his wife and very extended family.
Arrived at hotel. Before I could rent a room there was a problem involving a credit card. I don’t have one and Hotel could not understand that concept. In the end I offered to leave a substantial deposit for any damages to the room and assured them I would be leaving before noon on the morrow. They relented and charged no security deposit after I showed them my Russian passport, which they found exotic and made a copy of. Once in the room I cleaned up from the long flights and then went downstairs in a quest for food. I asked the front desk of restaurants in the general area and also where I could purchase a lighter since I smoke. I was instantly informed that smoking was forbidden on Hotel grounds except at the far end of the building in the middle of the small parking lot in a smoking area with no seats or roof and smoking anywhere else would get me evicted on the spot with no refund of payment for the room and my belongings would be brought to me at the entrance gate and guard post. I mentioned that she had not answered my questions. Lighters were available at the benzine station adjacent to the hotel compound and numerous Cuban and Mexican restaurants were located. I don’t particularly like Mexican or Cuban and said so and the charming young lady said she thought the in house restaurant had a hamburger on their menu. I went out, purchased a lighter ($2.50, sextuple what I pay for the identical Bic in Russia), enjoyed a smoke outside the compound and then went back in, went to my room and changed shirts, donning a genuine Black Sea Fleet tee shirt. By this time I was not particularly caring of whom I might offend.
I went down to the rather nice but not palatial restaurant, sat at the bar and asked for a beer and a menu. The barmaid asked if the shirt was in Greek. I told her no, it was Russian. She asked where I bought it. She’d never seen a Russian shirt. So I told her it was purchased at the Russian Navy Uniform Store in Sevastopol. She asked where Sevastopol was. The beer was 5 dollars but at least it was a liter, not a 6 ounce cup. Since it was early in the evening, actually very late afternoon, we ended up chatting for a while as the bar was not crowded. This young lady was American, college educated, a liberal arts degree, and she was quite gleeful that she was making-far more as a barmaid in a good hotel than many of her friends who were struggling away in just about any vocation except what they were trained for. She had an out of wedlock child that her grandmother cared for while she was working and hoped to eventually buy a house in Miami although she said she could not buy anything without help from her grandmother.
She had several tattoos that were visible on her lower arms, one of which was a large marijuana leaf. She is clever, she saw me glance at the body art, smiled and pulled both her sleeves up to expose her shoulders. She had solid body art as far as I could see. She then pulled her shirt collar aside just a little to expose the fact that her upper chest and shoulders were covered with "artwork". I asked her why, if she supposedly wanted to buy a house, did she spend giant money on body art plus a very expensive I pad or whatever plus a very expensive cell phone. She replied that she liked body art and the electronics were demanded if she wanted to keep in touch with her friends. I ordered a $15 hamburger with fries. The burger came with a lot of different items stacked on it according to the menu, so I told the barmaid I wanted it plain, just the meat, the bun, the fries and catsup, salt and pepper. She told me salt and meat are bad for me.
By this time the after work crowd was arriving in dribs and drabs. I was alone at the bar at that time and a well dressed lady entered the bar area and sat beside me. Within 5 minutes I knew she was divorced with three children, her oldest having killed himself last year, she hated her ex husband, she worked for a large PR firm based in Texas where she lived and she hated President Obama, plus she was here without her boyfriend. She asked why I have two wedding bands, one on each hand, so she learned a tiny bit about marriage in Russia.
She asked my vocation and I told her I was retired and now I write. She asked what I write, I told her my first book, a novel, had been published on Kindle back in June and this winter it would be translated to Russian for the home market. She asked the name, I told her, she pulled out her Ipad and in seconds she had the Kindle info in front of her. She quickly read part of the preview on Kindle and bought the book. I was a bit surprised. She said she was going to Bermuda in two days for a week of holiday and would read the book there and she also asked me what the general story line was. I told her and also told her that the tome was written in an English version of how we speak in my home city. She said the part of the first chapter she had quickly read the language used was very formal and polite with proper rank and titles used in normal conversation and was that how we actually talked. I told her that is, indeed, the way we talk. She stated that such formality was foolish and not needed.
During our conversations two Navy officers, fliers, walked in and sat on the other side of her at the bar. We ended up chatting for the next couple hours after taking a table, where we were joined by two other Navy fliers, officers also and staying in hotel with the first pair.
The officers were very polite in our conversations and asked nothing of me that could not be construed as public knowledge. The officers were quite knowledgeable of the current situations in Syria and the general area but knew only what west media tells them about Novorossiya and EU, the lady also knew of the assistance of Russia to Syria. All five were well educated in the formal sense and the lady was quite strong in her comments about President Obama and how inept he is in her opinion. While the officers offered no opinion on Mr. Obama they showed no discomfort while the lady denigrated the president. We also spoke of the conditions of the-American citizens and all were of the opinion that the current economic situation was not good and all offered anecdotes of friends or relatives who are no longer doing well economically and saw no redress in the near future. We also spoke of the continuing passage of ever more repressive laws concerning what American citizens can or may do and say. Each, now that we had a couple beers in us, again offered anecdotes of the repressions of free speech in normal conversations and the restrictions that were placed on everyone as to how their children would be raised, especially in the Armed Forces. The oldest officer, who looked to be mid 40’s, mentioned that his two sons in University were afraid to say anything that would offend their classmates,generally concerning anything that could be construed as being conservative, racist, negative concerning those of the alternative life style, negative concerning the floods of immigrants coming to USA, and one had made the comment that if he said anything against the overriding liberal mantra of his university that ‘they will destroy me and I will have to change schools’. Another officer said the same had been happening to his three grade school children, he said it was almost as if they were being brainwashed daily. He said it had gotten so bad that his wife went back to work so they could put their children in a conservative private school. I asked if the situation had improved and he said yes, to a remarkable extent but at the cost of his wife having to go back to work to pay for the school and not being home to raise the children while her husband served.
Next morning I was up early and set about taking care of the main reason I returned, obtaining a new passport. Having set that process in motion I went back to hotel, checked out and their shuttle took me back to aerodrome. I arranged a round trip flight to Orlando where my friends would pick me up. $400 for that early afternoon flight. On arrival in Orlando it was again continuous announcements over the intercom of the penalties for doing this, that and the other. I had forgotten about my lighter in my pocket and handed it to Miami TSA going through security.The TSA man said not to worry about the lighter, I could carry it with me. Interesting.
My friend’s wife picked me up and off we went for the hour or so drive back to the coast. The roads were full and as usual the main road was in excellent condition. Everyone was doing exactly the speed limit and I noticed a good number of patrol cars on the road, not only on that trip but everywhere I went in my almost three week stay.
My friends live in a gated and affluent community on the water. By gated I mean it was just that, two ways in or out, gate houses with guards and electric gate and 2.5 meter walls around the entire community with security patrols all night. I had spent a couple days at a time with them last year when I was in USA, this time that is where I stayed for the duration. The entire roughly 10 hectare community within a community is spotlessly clean and orderly. The houses are not mansions but surely not poor. Service workers are in there every day during the day but not a sound is heard before 09:00 or after 16:00. Each service vehicle had a windshield tag stating their company. Not a single child living in that community goes to public school.
After setting to my second important task on the first full day of staying with my hosts I took part in the early evening tradition of gathering with neighbors and talking. One, living on the west side of my host, was an up and coming mid level designer for a well known air frame -company. The one on the east side was a serving 05, the one directly across the street was a serving 04, both having married well. All three had grade school or younger age children, the children out with the adults but quiet, properly dressed and very well behaved. My hosts had told the neighbors and security that I would be visiting for a period of time but not much else. One of the first questions was of course where I was from. When I said Sevastopol, one wife stated she had been to Sevastopol in Wisconsin and it was nice. I gently corrected her and told her I was from the other Sevastopol, the one on the Black Sea.
For the next two and a half weeks the neighbors met several evenings a week to talk, some bringing friends to see the exotic visitor from The East. These people are not foolish, they are all very well educated, upper, very upper, middle class, with vast information at their fingertips but none had ever met a "Russian". The conversations were erudite and interesting, intelligent questions were asked by them and by me. No one was standing there with an I pad or talking on a cell phone as is so extant in America now, all paid attention to each other and to the conversations. I answered all questions honestly and completely, the answers often leading to other questions. I don’t know how many times I went over the sequence of events in Sevastopol before, during and after the journey back to Mother with new visitors, our work with the evacuees and refugees summer and fall last year, our duties at Battery amongst other places and so forth. Of great interest was the day to day life in our humble city, how people live, shopping, services, just about everything. Again, all questions were answered honestly, good and bad told.
One of my tasks was to speak to the locals and not so locals, the "ordinary" people who did not live in gated communities, ergo I did not attend the get together in my host’s community every evening, I spent about half the evenings at local pubs and restaurants speaking to not only locals but the "snow birds" who were just beginning to come down from up north for the winter, aka Yankees. Many of the conversations were quite interesting. I chose pubs and restaurants that seemed to cater to the people I wanted to speak with.
The conversations with people were quite interesting and, regardless of education level, often every bit as erudite as with the gated community residents. I found many to be struggling to maintain the level of lifestyle they had grown accustomed to over the last two or three decades and there were often laments that things had changed, work was much more difficult and time consuming with a steadily decreasing level of payment not taking in to account the inflation and often large price increases of basic necessities.
Most of these people were either self employed or in trades and services with a few mid level office workers and managers. Most gave me chapter and verse what has changed in the last two or three decades, laying out the ever increasing government rules and regulations involving everything from taxes to employee benefits to on the job safety to access and non discrimination towards just about anyone. More than one mentioned the almost fear in some offices and large companies now of saying anything that could be construed as being derogatory toward anyone or anything. Over the course of almost three weeks in one pub we actually got a sort of little group-going were we met every few evenings to chat on many subjects from microscopic local to the world situations.
Since I had a bit of a list of things to obtain from my charming bride plus I had to some odds and ends for one of my tasks I had the opportunity to speak to a fair number of store workers. I tend to shop early in the day, not particularly liking crowds. As seems to be the norm in any store or shop I visited, I was always asked for an address and phone number. I of course told them my address and number was useless for their records as I don’t live in US and this statement much more often than not led to a friendly discussion as the shops in the mornings are not crowded.
The conversations generally did not last long, often less than 10 minutes in the large stores, once for 30 minutes in a small shop. It is amazing what one can learn of someone in 10 minutes. The clerks were almost always women except in the hardware stores, running the gamut in age from just out of school to retirement age. The first question was invariably where to I live, from there it was quite easy to turn the conversation to them.
It seems that few, if any, made enough money to live on from their shop clerk vocation. In general any woman under 30 had a child, almost invariably out of wedlock. Most had a live in man but were not married. The women over 30 were generally married, some with children,some not, but a good number of the small numbers I spoke to were divorced.
All complained one way or another of the steadily increasing work loads put on them, the decreasing number of floor workers and the lack of any meaningful increase in wages. Those with out of wedlock children were invariably on some kind of government assistance and were very careful to keep their work remunerations low enough to stay on the assistance. The over 30 women generally complained of the younger workers and how hard it was to motivate them to work as they should and all complained of the ever increasing restrictions on what they could and could not say in conversations either amongst themselves or with customers. All had at least one anecdote of someone being terminated from employment for saying something that did not meet current company policy. More than one also complained of the ever increasing numbers of mandatory employee meetings that they were required to attend.
Their general appearance and education seemed to be of two worlds, the over 30 women being able to speak correctly and knowledgeably, the under 30 women not so much and their English, for all being their native language, was laced with mistakes and mispronunciations. Obviously the larger stores have dress codes to one extent or another but it was interesting to see the interpretations of the code by generation. The older the women were, the better dressed, not expensively dressed, they were. The under 30 women were much more casual in their approach to work dress and I don’t remember seeing a single female shop clerk under 30 in a skirt or dress,all were in trousers of one sort or another. As an aside, almost all of the under 30 women had some sort of body art visible.
Please understand that I speak and write in a manner that to some will seem archaic. I am not politically correct and I tend to use older terms that clearly state what I want to say but in today’s America would be construed by some as being mildly derogatory. This is not my intent, I simply want to convey what I observed and heard clearly with no confusion as to what I mean.
In general there has been a sea change in the attitudes of American citizens in the year since my last visit. I found that the attitudes, hopes and aspirations of the citizenry in general were to a large extent delineated by social and economic class. Nowhere did I find anyone who was totally hopeless concerning their futures, but I did not speak to anyone who was not in an either work or social environment, in other words I did not go to "the other side of the tracks" and speak to people on the street.
The first group I talked to that first afternoon and evening in Miami, I would say they are well educated and relatively well off. I got the impression from talking to them that they didn’t quite know or understand what has and is happening to America and had no way to affect what they perceived as a continuing decline in American culture, education and business. I also have the impression that if I had gotten to know them better all five would have been far more open about their thoughts but that was not to be.
The strongest impression I got this time was the attitudes at Airport and Hotel Staff, basically "do what we tell you to do or else". The thing that really stuck out in my mind was Hotel telling me that if I smoked anywhere but that tiny designated area in the far parking lot I would be escorted to the gate, put out with no refund and my possessions brought to me at the gate. I guaranty you that if I was to put my Rota around that hotel and lock it down, then fluid and hair test every living thing in it down to the stray cats, 50 % minimum would fail, having imbibed some illegal herb or spice recently enough for traces to show up.
Prices for goods of almost any type have increased dramatically over the last few years. This was not only obvious from observation but was also the subject of constant discussion. Everyone I talked to in any environment would eventually complain about rising prices and stagnant or defacto decreasing income for many. It is senseless to compare goods and services between USA and RF, it is two different worlds, cultures and economies. However, even I, one who shops rarely and who buys only what he needs, noticed when I was filling my wife’s list that prices are noticeably higher in the twelve months between my visits.
Cases in point. I was instructed to purchase two more pairs of jeans. I did, exactly the same old and well known manufacturer, style and size from the same retailer, Bealls. Last year the cost not including sales tax was $36.00 per pair, this year the price is $43.00. That is a 19.5 % increase for the same jeans, made in Mexico. Exterior brass round knob door locks, pairs, keyed together. Roughly the same increase, 20 %,from the same retailer, Home Depot.
3 mm socket head pointed set screws, 6 mm length, anodized black finish, per 25. 12 % increase per 25 and difficult to find the 25 unit packs, most were in 10 unit packs at double the price.
Cigarettes, L&M, standard. I smoke but I bring enough with me to last the duration, I buy a couple packs as gifts for a friend at Battery. Last year, Jacksonville, Florida, $4.50 a pack. This year, Broward County, Florida, $7.20 per pack.
My observations of prices for anything I needed to purchase or pay for were the same, in general a 20 % price increase over last year, excluding petrol which had gone down marginally. I discussed the prices for services with my hosts and both stated that the cost of lawn service, for instance, had gone up about 15 % for the same crew. They now pay $95 per month for mowing and trimming weekly. Their lawn is not large, two men can mow and trim it in its entirety in 15 minutes or less, I timed them. The crew of two men did four houses adjacent to each other at the same time and it took them from 45 to 50 minutes from drive up to load up to do the four houses.
As an aside, I was in The South. While there my bride mentioned that she wanted a Confederate Flag since it is so similar to the Novorossiya battle flag. At that time the news was full of actions against that flag and as a result I could not find a one anywhere. I went to several shops who should have had them, all said their stock of flags was removed from their stores and they had no idea where to obtain one. One went so far as to tell me not to be so open about what I wanted, that times are changing. Not a problem for my bride, when informed of the negative result in the quest for the flag she promptly started to make one, she being quite the seamstress and embroiderer.
In summation, none of the clerks I talked to were particularly happy nor particularly unhappy with their work. They worked because they had to, not because they particularly wanted to. All were polite and smiling, the older ones more genuinely so. I don’t see any revolutions starting in the stores and shops but on the other hand I doubt that one of the clerks I talked to would be very helpful to their superiors if such a thing happened.
It is here that we see a more open difference between the classes.
This group is very intelligent and very well educated, quite aware of the world in regards to how it will or will not affect their children and the legacy they are working so hard to accumulate for their children, be it educational or monetary or both. They had very interesting questions and they were not asking the questions for conversation, they were genuinely interested in the answers and often asked additional questions during the questions and replies, often commenting on the total difference between two cultures. All in all I was impressed with the breadth of their knowledge and their willingness to ask and discuss things they did not understand. Although several of the men asked, when the women were not within hearing, what is was really like during the troubles, not a one of them has ever served in combat although a good number are or were serving. They have not a clue of the violence extant in our warring world so I pulled the punches and simply told them that it was an interesting time, that my wife and I had been on the barricades day and night for the first few days, how cold it was and such.
That being said, in general they have not a clue of life. Their world is insulated from the real world. Most of them are children of parents in the same economic class. They of course have vast information and technology at their beck and call but not a one truly understands the very dangerous situations extant in our world. On the other hand, they don’t need a "clue". They have their own well insulated lives to live, they will raise their children well, most are religious, some deeply so but the religion is not worn on their sleeves. In the end most will prosper, some will not. Many of them are 30, some even 40 years younger than I am. I do not envy them what they will see by the time they are my age.
It has been two weeks since I returned to our bucolic little valley. In that time the war in Syria has dramatically increased in tempo, the war in Novorossiya is slowly increasing in violence, the war in Yemen is just as brutal and violent as when I left on my journey, Africa is Africa, war there will never end. European Union is reaping what they have so diligently sown for the last 4 decades and economically EU is in the toilet and someone is reaching for the chain.
I have had a goodly amount of time to contemplate what I have seen and heard in USA in that three weeks. I will lay the blame on no one for the current state of affairs in my country.
The United States of America is slowly drowning in hubris, economic downturn, disaffection of her citizens, ever growing and repressive regulation, tax levels approaching, for some, confiscatory, arbitrary court decisions, a rampant and steadily growing law enforcement community who more and more equate themselves as a quasi military unit, oppressive laws and regulations for the majority to protect the rights of infinitesimal minorities, arbitrary seizure of citizen’s private property and wealth and a public education system that has totally broken down and has forgotten what it’s primary task is.
Culturally, America is falling apart. I won’t even begin to speak of Hollywood or the mainstream and not so main stream media. All one has to do is look, not only look but SEE. The numbers of people walking around glued to their I pads or whatever you call them is huge. Going in to average restaurants one sees tables with two and four and six adults, all glued to their little hand portable computers and not conversing with each other. Every single lady whom I spoke to who was not married had a child out of wedlock. Who is raising these children, what will they be as the grow to maturity ? It seems that for the majority of families except the gated community both husband and wife work full time. What about their children, who is raising them, who is instilling the cultural values of America in them ? I can answer that question for you. No one. Children, teenagers and young adults are walking around looking like either street bums or something from a Mad Max movie, either that or tattooed like some South Seas islander.
The Armed Forces of the United States of America are also declining. I had the opportunity to speak to more than a few serving members in my time there. Gone is the pervasive bravado of but a decade ago, the "we can lick anyone" attitude. To a man they all lamented the changes in the Armed Forces of the last 10 and more years, the forced integration of the deteriorating culture into the Armed Forces has led to noticeable numbers of the company and lower field grade officers leaving service, some of their own volition, a not small number invited to leave. Senior Sergeants, the backbone of any army, are also leaving in droves. Where in times past man would stay in for 25 or even 30 years, now it seems that most senior sergeants leave the day after they get their 20 in. Training and doctrine seem to have taken a distant second place to political correctness, not only in word but in deed. Women are being forcibly integrated in to combat units and will be expected to serve in the lines with the men. Many serving women have children, many out of wedlock, ergo deployment for them will be difficult if not impossible, plus it is an established fact that when deployment is on the horizon a not small number of women turn up expectant and can not be deployed with their units. All well and fine, you may say, but the reality is these women have been trained at great expense with their units for many months and sometimes for years. Taking them out and replacing them with another soldier right before deployment who does not know his fire team or O Group comrades, does not know the subtle differences in the way they conduct operations, leads to soldiers being killed, pure and simple. This for Political Correctness ? It’s not worth it.
Actually, I will blame someone. I blame myself, me. I was too busy enjoying the fruits of the labors of my father and grandfathers and furthering my career rather than make sure The United States of America remained true to itself and strong.
I have failed.