Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Racism: A Love Story

My poor, neglected blog. I really haven't used this thing for it's intended purpose. Well, maybe I have. I wanted to use it to get in contact with my fans and share little insights into what goes on in my world. Unfortunately, my life isn't all that exciting. Well, maybe it is, but from my perspective it's just business as usual. More and more I feel like I should shift the focus of the blog away from me and what I'm doing, and perhaps use it to share my perspectives about different topics that people find interesting. Either way, I really do intend to make more use of this thing, so expect the format to kind of meander around, plodding if you will, like a dog who is aimlessly searching for a place to lie down.

For the moment, though, I'm going to tell a story. A story I've been telling for years. I told it again the other day and the person I told the story to suggested I write a book. Apparently my (mis)adventures are entertaining. Since lately I haven't even had time to sit down and watch a movie, much less write a book, I'll just start by blogging this story. If I ever write a book, this story will definitely get a chapter.

Racism: A Love Story


Way back in 2007 I flew to Norway to play a show. In fact, up to now, it's the only Norwegian gig I've ever done. This was years before Tim Van Horn, I was living in Berlin at the time and my buddy Andre was playing keyboards for me. We went up to Trondheim and played our little, intimate show. The show itself had its own slew of mishaps, but in the end we sorted them out. All went well, all had fun, and all got drunk. The next morning, our friends brought us to Trondheim airport and waved goodbye. I had expressed to them I was worried about our flight getting cancelled because it was Winter and snowing pretty heavily. They shrugged it off and said something to the effect of "this is Norway, we know how to deal with snow." That answer was good enough for me, and off we went.

Now, I'm not a great flier. In fact, I am terrified of flying. So much so, that to get me onto a plane without throwing a fit you have to either drug me, or get me extremely drunk. This being the case, after heading through security, I headed directly to the airport bar. At the bar, Andre and I knocked back a few drinks, and as time pressed on, the shitty weather got even shittier. Halfway through my 4th or 5th beer, the status of every flight on the departure screen changed from "on time" to "delayed". When our scheduled departure time came and went without any new information, we decided not to panic and ride it out at the bar.

A couple hours passed when finally an announcement regarding our flight came over the PA. As it turned out, our plane that was supposed to land in Trondheim and take us back to Berlin, had been rerouted to a military base in Northern Norway. The snowy conditions in Trondheim were so bad the plane couldn't land. We were instructed to exit the airport and get into buses that would escort us to the military base 45 minutes away. Andre and I shrugged our shoulders, pounded our beers and followed the other passengers to the idling buses outside.

After cramming ourselves into one of the three buses we were on our way. At the beginning, we really kind of enjoyed the drive. The snowy mountains of the Norwegian countryside are quite beautiful indeed. So along the winding mountain roads we plowed, not for 45 minutes, but for over an hour and a half, after which we didn't arrive at the military base, but came to an abrupt stop when the bus hit a snow bank and got hopelessly stuck! Apparently no one thought to put chains on the bus we were riding in, so there we stood, knee deep in snow, waiting for them to dig the poor bus out. Around two hours later we were on our way again, with the assurance that we'd be arriving soon.

Our 2nd stop came about an hour later. Had we arrived at the military base? No! It was the ferry that was supposed to take us across the fjord! Funny no one mentioned that when describing this allegedly 45 minute ride to us. No matter. Andre and I took it in stride. We figured that at least we'd get to sit on the deck of a Norwegian ferry boat and soak in the scenery. Which is exactly what we did, for the 1 hour long trip.

By the time the boat docked on the other side of the fjord, we had been traveling for 5 or 6 hours. The sun was beginning to set, and everyone was showing signs of fatigue. The people working for the airline assured us we were almost there, and began briefing us on the what exactly would be happening at the military base. There wasn't much in the way of security, they said. Just two guards and one metal detector, so we should be prepared for delays. As they finished their spiel, through the window in the fading light, we could make out the faint outline of a jet airplane, and beside it, just a tiny, wooden hut. That was our airport, our military "base".

We exited the buses and lined up single file outside the hut. It was well below freezing outside, and me, being the genius that I am, was totally unprepared. Converse sneakers, thin pants and a hoodie, typical California attire, not too useful in the middle of fucking Norway in the dead of fucking Winter. Somehow I avoided hypothermia and made it into the tiny 10x10 ft hut. We went through their security screening and headed towards the plane, which, from up close, had pretty obviously been sitting there all day, because it was covered in a layer of snow about 1 ft thick.

When we entered the plane, there weren't any free seats next to one another, so Andre and I went our separate ways. Since I hate sitting at the window, I plopped down in the first available aisle seat. To my shock and horror, sitting next to me was a very Arabic looking Muslim guy. Now, anyone who knows me, knows I HATE religion, and the last thing I wanted to do was have some asshole lecture me about God and how I'm going to hell (Which happens way too often when I fly). But I had other things on my mind, specifically the snow covered plane and runway. Did I mention I'm not a good flier?

As usual, a deicing machine was brought out to clear the plane of snow and ice before takeoff. They went through the whole procedure and of course, we all expected to be shortly taking off. I'm always nervous in these situations because I've seen enough episodes of Air Crash Investigation to know that deicing a plane doesn't always work, and human error can often result in a jammed rudder or aviator. Simply put, plane goes down, goes boom. My uneasiness transformed into fear when the Pilot came on the PA to explain to us that the deicing equipment at that airport was a bit dated, and was never intended to be used on a commercial jetliner. He went so far as to describe it as "inadequate". After some deliberating, the Pilot announced that he would go outside, and do it himself. So, we all watched as the Pilot donned a giant Winter coat, stepped out into the blizzard and began to personally deice the plane.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this yet, but I'm not a very good flier. I'm actually pretty scared of flying. And all this business about inadequate deicing equipment made me more than a little tense. I'd also been eying my Muslim neighbor, who seemed to be keeping careful watch on the movements of the flight attendants. By now all of the alcohol had worn off and my heart rate was climbing. The pilot came back from his deicing mission and got into the cockpit.

As we began taxiing to the start of the runway, my Muslim neighbor became increasingly agitated. His gaze constantly seemed to shift between the flight attendants, and his backpack, which he had at his feet. Beads of sweat began forming on his forehead and he fidgeted nonstop. Constantly shifting himself from side to side, watching the flight attendants, watching his bag. This guy was making me nervous. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Not all Muslims are terrorists you racist asshole." Well duh. I know that. The logical side of my brain is fully aware of that fact. But seriously, fuck religion. I watch the news. I know what fucked up psychopathic religious nut jobs do. And it's easy to be logical when you're sitting in the comfort of your own home, reading this story and judging me, but when you're in a situation when you're already terrified, and someone is acting suspicious while fulfilling each and every attribute of your stereotypical terrorist, logic goes out the window.

After a few minutes, we reached the start of the runway. Instead of announcing our takeoff, the Captain returned to the PA to deliver us even more bad news. Apparently, it was so cold that evening, that the deicing fluid that was supposed to prevent ice and snow buildup on the plane, had actually frozen. Our 747 was nothing more than a block of ice. At that point, my brain is going haywire trying to process all of this; the suspected terrorist at my left and the news that I'm sitting inside a plane that's about to take off but probably can't even fly properly. The Captain announces that he is going to run outside again, deice the plane as quickly as possible, then jump back into the plane and try to take off before it freezes again. Sounds like a great plan, whatever could possibly go wrong?

I may have forgotten to mention this, I HATE flying. And when the Captain jumped outside for the second time, the minutes felt like hours as I waited to find out if this story would come to a fiery end. The deicing fluid splashed against the window to my left, my neighbor anxiously chewed at his fingernails, and I continued to sweat bullets. A short time later, the Captain returned, came on the PA and announced "flight attendants, prepare for takeoff." Within moments the cabin doors were shut, the flight attendants hurriedly took their seats and the engines began to roar. I gripped the arm rests of my seat and mentally said goodbye to my loved ones. As we barreled down the runway my Muslim neighbor was grimacing, constantly looking down at the backpack by his feet. I felt the surge of the plane lifting off the ground and a moment later I felt the plane turn. Nothing had frozen in place, everything was working, we would be ok.

My optimism melted away as I came back to reality and remembered my neighbor, the suspected terrorist, sitting at my side, looking nervous and staring at his bag. As the plane continued to climb towards cruising altitude, he continued to sweat profusely. He popped his head up above the seats and scanned the plane. Nervously, but with conviction, he reached for the backpack. At this point in time, I'm beginning to wonder if I should sound an alarm. This Muslim guy is about to go for a gun or a knife or a bomb or whatever he'd been able to sneak through that abortion of airport security. Do I hit him? Do I yell for help? Fuck. All this went through my mind in a matter of milliseconds, but it was too late, I hadn't reacted fast enough. His hand was inside the bag. He looked around one last time, the coast was clear. He pulled it out. A giant bottle of vodka, unscrewed the cap, and began chugging it like there was no tomorrow.

My jaw hit the floor. This guy wasn't a terrorist, he'd spent the whole time pining for his booze! (It's against regulations to drink outside alcohol on airplanes.) After swigging the bottle he looked at me, smiled and said "you want some?" I stared blankly for a moment, trying to process what had just happened. "Uhm... yeah" I managed to reply. From his backpack he produced two plastic cups. This guy had come prepared. While he poured out drinks for us both he noted "You're afraid of flying, too, yes? You looked nervous." I took a sip of the vodka, took a deep breath and relaxed.

The rest of the flight was without incident. Me, my new friend and a bottle of vodka sat and laughed and joked about the day's events. We made the usual small talk that people make on airplanes. He told me about his life in Norway as a Turkish immigrant, he was an IT specialist. He was Muslim, but clearly not any kind of Muslim I had ever encountered. We killed the bottle, landed safely in Berlin and went our separate ways. I don't even remember his name anymore, but I'll always remember that day; my seemingly endless voyage through the Norwegian countryside, braving the ice and snow on a lonely runway, and my new friend, who showed me what a judgmental, racist asshole I can be.