Jet Blue to Heart of Darkness


Steven Hunley

© Copyright 2012 by Steven Hunley


Photo of a Jet Blue jet at the loading gate.

Running, sprinting, rushing like a madman to the counter for a boarding pass. The flight leaves at nine and it’s a quarter ‘till.

“Here you go,” the competent uniformed lady says. “But I can’t guarantee that you’ll make it…”

I don’t hear the rest, as I’m already on the escalator. Then I hop on the tram, and when I get to security, there are fifty people in front of me, maybe more. It looks like a sale day at Macy’s when Lucy Ricardo shopped there. Uh-oh. I turn around and make my way, slowly and downhearted and blue mind you, back to the tram, then down the escalator past the air-diving rabbit to the counter. Nobody is there, and for good reason. The next flight to Long Beach from Sacramento doesn’t leave until five tonight. My woman, my lover, is on the freeway right now, winding her way back up the hill. I really liked the pine woods in Grass Valley. So did Conrad, whose book I intended to read on the way up, but never finished.

The woods were unmoved, like a mask---heavy, like a closed door of a prison—they looked with their air of hidden knowledge, of patient expectation, of unapproachable silence.’

I’m stuck. Like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth, I’m stuck in Sacramento International Airport. What’s so international about it I can’t figure. But I’ll have plenty of time to find out. My pocket has enough change for coffee. My carry-on bag has something to read. So that’s it. Time to make another reverse, go through security and on to terminal B gate ten. Time to settle down and relax, find a hidden corner somewhere and people-watch. That’s what I’ll do. Read, write, drink coffee and people-watch like crazy.

Oh broddah. ‘Dem changes be tuff.

Here I was, in a mountain cabin, hidden in a green valley, with tons of quiet, aesthetic view, clean air, looking forward to each minute as it unfolded and trusting that the future would be even more gorgeous than the past, due to the fact a beautiful woman was at my side. I trusted her to guide me through life, much as Sir Edmund Hillary trusted Tensing Norgay to get him to the top of Everest and back. And like Tensing, she was damn good.

Now I’m here in a crowded airport, heading to a big city, a Metropolis so dark, so smelly, polluted, over-populated and full of crime, that I dread the future with every fiber of my inadequate being. Alone, with no guide, facing corruption, rot and danger, that’s what I’m up against. It was a nightmare.

‘Ah, but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares.’

I’m so early that the only other person even near gate ten is a Japanese origami girl, folded up on a chair across from me, head on one armrest and feet on another, taking a snooze. I give it a try but no go. Caucasians are too damn tall for such oriental gymnastics.

Two message technicians with nothing to do are busy massaging each other. They figure with enough appropriate sighs and groans they’ll drum up business. That’s showbiz.

Out the windows you see accordion companion ways, parked planes, everywhere tarmac and trees way off in the distance. Inside, scores of humans stroll by, apparently talking to themselves like psychotic men and women until they get closer and you see wires hanging from their ears. Technology pisses me off. Makes me wanna strangle myself with an I-pod wire.

Then several hours drift by with absolutely nothing to do. So yes, I was late, I admit it. It’s a weakness I have and I own it. And the only thing I have to read is Conrad. Totally unplanned it is. Heart of Darkness it is. I can easily see examples of contrast between the clean air and civilized manner of the landed gentry here and the pollution and waste and savage actions of people in the big city. So Apocalypse Now it is, in the Sacramento airport, terminal B, gate ten. The only thing missing is Kurtz. As he waited on the Thames to enter the sea, Marlow scribbled:

‘The only thing for it was to come and wait for the turn of the tide.

Or in my case,

“The only thing for it was to come and wait eight hours for the plane to depart.”

So for me, the terminal, far from the fate the word implies, is not the end. It’s just the beginning. Naturally then I look around and write:

A woman holding a bouquet of flowers wrapped up in white shiny paper sits next to a man deftly peeling a banana. Another one wipes her I-phone against her tight Levis and uses its reflection to paint on her lipstick. Everything is true, even the lies.

A teenager, striped-hoody-topped and skinny-jeaned-bottomed and leather-booted-footed fumbles with wires on her noggin. Her board-stick is in her hand. She’s a skater and there’s a skull proclaiming it on the back of her hoody. Her hair is screaming-hot pink on one side and ultra-cool blue on the other.

‘… These heads are the heads of rebels. I shocked him excessively by laughing. Rebels! What would be the next definition I was to hear? Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to me on their sticks.’

A young man with fuzzy hair, muscular arms and useless legs rolling by in a wheelchair has more magic in his face than ten thousand magicians.

A powder-puff girl-child under the watchful eyes of her mother tugs her pink Disney Princess luggage across the black and white terrazzo floor. That’s the bright side of the terminal.

The Heart of Darkness side is when the public address system’s announces something that reeks of nine-eleven innuendoes. You can hear it echoing all over the place. Conrad heard it too.

A cry arose whose shrillness pierced the still air like a sharp arrow flying straight to the very heart of the land.’

“Attention, attention. Do not leave your luggage or suspicious packages in the terminal.”

‘…and, as if by enchantment, streams of human beings—of naked human beings-with spears in their hands, with bows, with shields, with wild glances and savage movements, were poured into the clearing by the dark-faced pensive forest.’

It was true, it was getting more crowded. Two bespectacled generations of straight men wearing black suits and blue shirts and patterned ties like savage well-dressed shysters, shouted back and forth across their yellow sheets of lined legal paper,

“Then the adrenaline’s just not there.”

“The justice department doesn’t give a shit about that.”

“You have my notes.”

“Your notes are not enough.”

‘…and why?’

‘Because the method is unsound.’

‘Do you, call it ‘unsound method?’

“Without a doubt,” he exclaimed, ‘…No method at all.’

The two shysters consider falling on the floor and settling the case with fisticuffs, but then reconsider. Brawling in a public place would rumple their ninety-nine dollar suits and be bad for business. End up on U-tube and bad for the whole legal system.

A small blond girl darts away from her mother. A security guy passes by in hurry, takes a card from a lanyard and pushes it into a hidden recess in the wall. The lanyard makes him feel all official, like an English officer with his Webley. Like Dracula’s castle, a secret door opens silently and he disappears like smoke, or maybe a bat.

Comes a voice from the other side of a chair.

“I’m arriving at 8:30 in Long Beach---Goodbye.”

“Arriving 8:30.”

“Arriving 8:30.”

“Arriving 8:30, goodbye.”

A tall skinny Kabuki-style girl with an Edo face clip-clops by wearing high-heels, then hesitates and makes a U-turn into the ladies’ room to apply layers of white rice makeup on her face carved by Kobo Daishi out of ichi wood to make her even more inscrutable.

Unidentifiable men and women troop past wheeling indistinct luggage. Writers with time on their hands scribble notes in Basic Composition books with Precise V7 rolling ball pens, and they love it.

Peter Hollingsted please board your flight to Los Angeles on B17.

Ancient hippies sporting George Clooney salt and peppered pony-tailed hair wear paisley ties and corduroy coats with leather patches on the sleeves. They check their cosmic watches to see if they’re on schedule for business meetings on natural products. Their Cadillac bumpers sport dead-head stickers. They seem lost in thought or maybe just stoned, each one is as self-absorbed as a natural sea sponge.

A woman strolls by holding a three-year-old by the hand, pushing a two-year-old in a stroller, with a three-month-old in a sack hanging near her bosom. I’d like to give her a medal.

And speaking of medals, a private first class marches by wearing his boots and camouflaged fatigues. I see him anyway. For some reason he stops and stands at parade rest outside the lady’s room. Then his short-hair-in-a-bun girlfriend comrade-in-arms appears dressed like his camouflaged twin and they march off in close-order holding hands. I forgot they had chicks in the Army. They’re experts at torture and getting information. At least their ways always work on me.

Then it’s various bags slung over various shoulders, sunglasses and hurried looks, tennies, blue jeans, and ubiquitous cups of coffee. Old Navy, Aero Postale, Hollister, shoot by me like unidentified details.

‘Curious, this feeling that came over me that such details would be more intolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s windows. After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that has a right to exist—obviously—in the sunshine.’

Right about now I was going at writing full-steam and drunk on the stimulant of my Arabica beans, and totally caught up in my words. No mistakes or re-writes.

It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence—of words—of burning noble words.’

A dopy man parades past wearing reindeer horns on his head even though Christmas was two weeks ago. Another girl-child rolls past with two bags of luggage, Betty Boop, Princess and Barbie. A black-coated crew roll their baggage by and then wait while their captain uses the men’s room, circling their baggage like pioneers circling their wagons and discuss aeronautic trivia. When their wing-wearing wagon-master returns they proceed on foot and continue their journey to “ground transport” or “Transporte Terrestre” for you who speak Swahili.

Alaska Airlines-crew of five, same dark uniforms roll by in the opposite direction and pass by a sign reading “Flight 256 departing for Portland at 5:55.”

Finally our sign changes. “Flight 265 Jet Blue Airways to Long Beach scheduled to depart 7:15 PM. Status: “On Time.”

A roar rises up from the crowd. There are a few minutes left, but only a few. Time to drink coffee, stuff food, as a fat couple are doing, hurriedly shoving chocolate-covered strawberries across a paper plate with plastic forks like cannibals at a long-pig feast.

‘Fine fellows—cannibals---in their place. They were men you could work with, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo meat which went rotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils. Phoo! I can sniff it now.’

Also time to smoke a quick cigarette, some people reckon. Voice from behind me says,

“Do any of you ladies smoke cigarettes?”

“No,” comes the answer, “Just marijuana.”

Laugher, loud merry laughter ensues from all quarters.

“I have a prescription!”

From the far corner comes the reply,

“Sure you do, Honey.”

Then cracking again across the terminal comes,

“Do not leave your luggage in the terminal and report any suspicious packages.”

Then, “Flight 265 leaving for Long Beach boarding now.”

They ask me do I want an upgrade.

“Hell yes,” I answer with a smile, “I wanna upgrade! I feel like Tom Hanks in that movie where the guy lives at the airport! I’ve been here since 9:10!”

At 7:38, we jet. A full moon reflects in the Sacramento River.

‘They were a great comfort to look at.’

Right then I felt…exalted. But the flight was short and it was not to last. We started to descend into the maelstrom of Long Beach. All too soon,

I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts.’

Marlow and I had something in common. He was me and I was him. My seat was in a jet near the squat cabin window, and he was also seated, but on the deck of a steamer waiting for the turn of the tide to start his journey, whereupon mine was ending.

‘Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first of the ebb,” said the director, suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.’

My immense darkness was not the Thames, but only the dregs of the Los Angles River, narrow and slow-moving, diminished by three million parched fame-seeking souls. Their tears of rejection could never hope to replenish its grandeur, even as they ran in torrents down narrow gutters to a pacific but uncaring sea.

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