Editors' BlogDecember 3, 2008

Holiday rant

In "reasons I love the sport of golf," I'm considering "quiet" as reason No. 1. Take yesterday. In the afternoon, my friend Alan and I walked East Lake near Atlanta in three hours, alongside a personable caddie named John, who seemed to know every inch of the place. You've seen the course on television. It's hard, but not like you can't play it. It's very playable and sensible and right there where you can see what it's up to. It's just tough; but we had a ball. We didn't talk all that much, walked and hit quickly, hiked it, really, and accomplished our second annual first-week-of-December round "with alacrity," as a teacher of mine was fond of saying. We played a match not decided until the 18th hole when Alan made a spectacular 3-wood shot to 15 feet to makea par 3 and square the match--the perfect ending.

You hear that "brown is beautiful a lot these days, but I've never believed that in my heart until yesterday, when we played along perfect fairways of dormant Bermuda, almost the color of the hot chocolate we sipped, to muted-green putting surfaces that rolled at 11.4 (according to John), and were as firm as snare drums. (They're young, built in June). We played through trees brown, yellow, red and orange in turn, and the thought occurred to me that courses, like people, have more than one set of clothes. This was a course in its earth-colored, fall wardrobe, stylish, right at home in Vogue for Foliage. Captivated, we paused at the 13th green to look back at the skyline of Atlanta and thought, as you do on these fall golf days: Ah, this is it!

And then, oops, that was that. Half an hour after the final putt we were at the Atlanta airport, and the world had turned. There were tons of cars and loads of crowds, but it was the noise that got to you. Have you noticed that in our diligence to make citizens security-conscious, safe and adequately informed about everything, and, OK, to cover our asses legally, we've decided to badger the hell out of them with sound? How many announcements do you need that say baggage left unattended or cars left unattended or children left unattended will be towed or confiscated or adopted . . . at the owner/operator's expense! Gates change. Three announcements every 30 seconds. Old people on a cart try to make a flight. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Not little beeps, either; big beeps. Then the unattended baggage again. Then more gates. (At least at Hartsfield, every announcement wasn't proceeded, as they are at the White Plains airport, by a tri-part screeching sound meant to alert you to the fact that an announcement is coming. And what is that announcement? A reminder the security level remains at orange. Thank God.)

As usual, every third person is on a cell phone saying, "I'm sitting in the airport. Not haircut! Airport. I'm in the Atlanta airport. I'm about to get on a flight. What? Oh, I don't know. They say 5:48, but you know the East Coast ... " You think: Oh, shut up! JUST. SHUT. UP. You think this over and over. Another announcement says, "We're going to load by zones". (Something new.) Nine zones, nine announcements.

As I arrive at my seat listening to more cell-phone conversation ("She really said that? How could she!!! What did you say? No, we're just getting on . . . the plane. We're at the airport getting on a plane . . . ") feeling great about having traded a middle seat for an aisle, a woman arrives to take the middle seat next to me. She is, estimating conservatively and I really am, 350 pounds. She is not tall. She manages to sink all the way into the seat--amazing--takes out a book and extends her elbows (she can't help it) halfway across the seats of the female passenger now pinned against the window and, well, me. I struggle to find a position that is not claustrophobic and am bumped by at least 12 people or pieces of luggage. The people all say sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. (The voice inside again.) And then, as I'm making peace with this, being adult about it, breathing in and breathing out, thinking about people who have lost their jobs or are ill and are so much worse off, the male flight attendant who likes making announcements makes the first of, oh, 20 that he'll do throughout the flight which come out through a panel above us at a decibel level meant to raise comatose patients. Yesterday, he announced 1) the snacks: "We have both peanuts and our special cookies" and lists the juices--do we need to know this?; 2) the fact that he had forgotten to announce that other snacks were for sale, but they are for cash or credit card; 3) the seat-belt buckle thing; 4) the approved-devices thing; 5) the seat-belt-when-you're-seated-even-if-the-light-is off thing . . . all the way down to the New York-based crew wants to welcome you to New York. WHO! CARES! If Mayor Bloomberg were on the flight and wanted to welcome us to New York, my vote would be no. No welcome.

At various times we're told by him and then by "the captain" that we are late but will arrive on time, 9:06; that there might be turbulence when we land, but perhaps not; that we're starting to descend and that we will arrive at 9; that we've touched down and that it's 9:10. We are reminded to remain seated until parked at the gate! Then, after the Flight of a Thousand Announcements, the last: "Have a lovely time in New York if this is your final destination, but if it's not, please have a lovely time making your connection and then have a wonderful time when you get to the final destination, thanks so much for flying with us, we appreciate your business and have a nice day, thanks." (A radio man who died yesterday made his name with this philosophy: If you're going to say nothing anyway, say it in as few words as possible.)

Can you see now what's happened? Remember me standing on 13 looking back at the Atlanta skyline, more grounded and centered than ever, almost enlightened? Now look what I've become. Squashed, furious, homicidal! I'LL GIVE YOU YOUR FINAL DESTINATION! Of course, there will be plenty of time to decompress, waiting 30 minutes at the baggage claim, where as a warning to us that the belt is at last going to move the red flashing light is not sufficient, no, there has to be the grating sound that is the noise you would make if you dragged a heavy steel shovel alongside your car, lifted it, then dragged it again and repeated this for three minutes . . .People just take it, little by little going deaf.

The finale is the short-term parking lot where cars are honking because only one of two egress lanes is open. Feeling at least un-constricted, I politely ask a worker standing in the lot why the other lane is not open, and he says that they are re-working it, and I ask when will they finish re-working, and he says they are hoping Christmas, and I say that's a month away, and he smiles and says, yes, they work slowly. So this is what you're up against if you're not playing golf these days. Play East Lake if you can. And if you have one of those touch phones that you can program so that every time you touch it, it makes a sound, don't.

--Bob Carney

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