travel

Back from our trip to the Schwarzwald…

And I have spent all day writing about it on my travel blog, so I need to take a day to come up with something to write about on this blog. I may be back later today, but I suspect I’ll just write tomorrow, when I’m nice and fresh. There’s a lot I could write about… everything from Afghanistan to the guy who is suing Nirvana over his baby picture being used on the cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I could also write about manipulative behavior, of which I have a lot of experience combatting.

But… the truth is, I just don’t feel like it today. The proverbial well is dry, and it’s about time to feed the dogs their evening victuals. So come back tomorrow… or stop by the travel blog if you want to. The link is at the top of the page.

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complaints, healthcare, mental health, transportation, travel

Mental health crises are health crises, too…

A few days ago, I read an article about a green haired woman who disrupted an American Airlines flight, trying to open the doors while the plane was en route from Texas to North Carolina. She wound up being duct taped to her seat after she attacked the flight attendants trying to calm her down. Someone uploaded a TikTok video of the woman, still bound to her seat, hands behind her back and chest and mouth taped, as people got off the plane. The woman was rocking back and forth, screaming “You! You! You!” on the July 6th trip from Dallas to Charlotte.

I don’t fault the flight attendants for restraining the woman. She was obviously putting people in danger, and something drastic needed to be done. What I do take issue with is the unkind comments people made about this woman, who is clearly having some kind of a mental health breakdown. I read so many comments from unsympathetic people assuming the woman was in control of her behavior. They were calling for her to be jailed, fined, or banned from flying for the rest of her life.

A video about this situation. Apparently, this person was on the plane when this happened.

I watched the video and it’s clear to me that that the woman on the American Airlines flight was having a mental health crisis. We don’t fault people who have seizures, heart attacks, miscarriages, or strokes while flying on airplanes. Those people tend to get compassion and support, rather than derision and cruelty. Why would a crisis involving someone’s mental health be any different? This lady is clearly not rational. She needs medical help from a licensed physician. It’s the same as anyone having a medical emergency on a plane. Her situation just involves her mind, rather than her heart, lungs, or brain.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

These freaks need to be fined, spend time in a cell, and be blacklisted from public transportation for all eternity.
They’re nut jobs without a clue or a prayer. You know they’re all Republicans, too, I should add.
(I don’t know too many Republicans with green hair, but I suppose it’s possible.)

I don’t understand why this continues to be tolerated. A minimum 20-year sentence, six figure fine and lifetime inclusion on the no fly/no bus/no train/no cruise list should put the brakes on it. (Seriously? Does this person really think the woman in that video has a clue about a threatened ban?)

Is this a problem? Would have voted to duct tape her & toss her off the airliner….mid- flight. (And that would probably result in your being sucked out along with her…)

Act like a lunatic on a plane –> join the No Fly List, permanently. (Could she help it? Can you help it when you have medical emergencies?)

Agree these people should Never be allowed to fly any airline Ever !Create a No Fly List . Simple (Is that what you would like to happen to you, should you ever have the misfortune of having a mental breakdown in public?)

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. I’m sure the entire plane was tired of her verbal vitriol. (What kind of stupid games?)

I keep thinking of that Airplane scene of the nun slapping the hysterical woman… (Ha ha, very funny, motherfucker.)

A couple of anti-mask types were on my last flight. Their anti-vax T shirts and their refusal to wear masks at the gate, as well as their arrogant, spoiling for a fight, defiant and entitled attitudes worried the rest of us. Luckily they behaved in the air, but why should anyone have to worry about this stuff? (But this lady wasn’t an “anti-mask type”. She has a mental illness and needs medical help.)

To be clear, I did not read that this woman had been belligerent, high, or drunk. I didn’t hear that she was refusing to cooperate with pandemic rules by wearing a face mask. Instead, I read that she was nervous and panicky from the beginning of the flight. She said she was claustrophobic and that, in an of itself, would indicate that she suffers from anxiety. I don’t know why she was flying, or if, for some reason, she didn’t take any meds she might have been on. The point is, she is clearly not mentally well.

Instead of realizing that she’s not well and needs medical assistance, apparently many people think she should go to jail. Some of them claim the woman “deserves” to be taped to her seat. I would submit that it was necessary to duct tape her for the safety of everyone on board. She didn’t “deserve” it, though. Saying she “deserves it” implies that she had control over herself and the situation. She obviously did not.

Over the past sixteen months of the COVID-19 nightmare, I have read a lot of lamenting from people about how “entitled”, “babyish”, “rude”, “inconsiderate”, “defiant”, and “stupid” people are for not wearing face masks or getting vaccinated. I’ve read many lectures about how wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is the “compassionate” thing to do for one’s fellow man. And yet, many of the same people who are lecturing others about being “kind” and “compassionate” by cooperatively wearing face masks and getting vaccinated are also calling for zero tolerance policies in situations like the one on the American Airlines flight. It seems to me that “zero tolerance” and “compassion and cooperation” are concepts that don’t blend well.

Instead of stopping to think about the reality of this situation and the fact that this woman was not in control of herself, some of these folks think she should just be tossed out of society. Many of them seem to think that no amount of jail time is enough. They have a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality. Or, they make these kinds of statements and then forget about what they would actually mean.

I have no doubt in my mind that if the green-haired lady gets appropriate medical care for her mental illness, she’ll be alright. I’m sure she didn’t get on that plane with a solid plan to freak out and panic. It’s true that she was biting, spitting, and being violent. Some people say that counts as being “belligerent”. But all you have to do to explain that behavior is think about what happens to animals when they are scared or in pain. Instinct takes over. Even the nicest and most loving pet dog will lash out if he or she is in severe pain or terrified. The same thing happens with human beings who are in a fight or flight mode. Adrenaline kicks in, vision tunnels, and people will kick, scratch, bite, and spit in order to escape. We’re not talking about being “rational” in that state of being. That situation defies rationality.

I wish that people– especially the ones bitching about how unkind and lacking in compassion the “rule breakers” are– would stop and consider that sometimes people who break the rules are in an emergency situation. They aren’t being “rude and inconsiderate” to you when they’re having a mental health breakdown or any other medical crisis. They need competent help, kindness, and understanding. I’m sure that most people would hope and expect for the same, should they ever need medical assistance. Respect, decency, empathy, and compassion go both ways. If you expect it from other people, you should also be willing to give it to others yourself.

I hope the woman from the flight is alright now. I also hope the flight attendants who had to deal with her are alright. I’m grateful that the flight attendants were able to subdue the woman and everyone made it to Charlotte safely. They are to be commended. This story, along with the terrible responses to it, is just one more reason why I’m going to hold off on unnecessary flights for the time being. People are awful.

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memories, nostalgia, travel

Virtual Cascade Steps online! Will we be jamming like it’s 1995? We’ll see…

Thanks to Wikipedia user Gerd Eichmann, who has made today’s featured photo of Yerevan’s Cascade Steps available for public use. I actually have my own photos of the Cascade Steps that date from the 1990s, but they’re currently in a storage garage in Texas, where they’ve been since 2014. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever see my stuff again. As usual, the future is a mystery.

Today’s featured photo is a lovely shot of The Cascade Steps in Yerevan, Armenia. That photo does not show the steps the way I remember them. The last time I saw the Cascades (as we Peace Corps Volunteers referred to them), they still weren’t quite finished. According to Wikipedia, construction on the Cascades began when I was still in utero, back in 1971. They were completed in 1980, when the Soviet Union was still very much in charge in Yerevan. However, even though the steps were technically “done” in 1980, there were still renovations going on in 1995, when I first laid eyes on this massive staircase up a hillside. They are a lot prettier now than they were in those days.

Yerevan’s monument celebrating fifty years of Soviet rule. This is basically how it looks beyond the top of the steps. I think they’re still working on connecting the monuments in a more attractive way.

In 1995, there were no bushes on the steps. The fountains didn’t work, mostly because there wasn’t much electricity or running water in the 90s. At the very top of the steps, there was another, metal staircase that led to the very top of the hill, where a monument to fifty years of Soviet rule was erected. But to get to that staircase, you had to walk through a construction zone.

The landscaping in front of the Cascade steps wasn’t completed, so there were no flowers or shrubs, benches, or any other decoration. There weren’t even many streetlights. The lamps that were there didn’t always work, again, because there wasn’t much electricity. There were escalators to the left of the steps, and I want to say it cost 20 drams or so to use them to get to the top of the steps rather than climbing them. For reference, in 1995, one US dollar was equal to about 425 drams. 20 drams was also how much it cost to ride the metro (subway), and they used plastic tokens. I’ve heard that the tokens have since been retired, and I’m sure it’s now a lot more expensive to ride the metro.

The Cascades have changed a lot since 1995. They look very nice now, with the landscaping and fountains, but I have fond memories of the way they were in 1995, especially during the summer. The summer of 1995 was when A3– that is, my Peace Corps group– arrived in Yerevan for training. In those days, Yerevan was dealing with some pretty tough times. There was no 24/7 electricity, and some people didn’t have running water. There was no hot water. I had to heat up my bath water in a metal bucket, either with an immersion heater or by placing the bucket on a propane stove or kerosene heater. I’d then put the bucket in the bathtub and use a smaller container to pour water over myself. A shower, the way most of us enjoy them, was a true luxury. I even remember paying for the privilege a couple of times.

During training, I lived with a rather well heeled host family. The mom was an ear, nose, and throat doctor named Nelly. The father was an architect named Gevork. He worked at the airport. I remember liking Gevork. He liked to sing and had a nice voice. Nelly was very money oriented and concerned about the $7 a day she was getting to host me. I lost a lot of weight during Peace Corps training. I don’t know exactly how much, but I would guess about 25 pounds or so. You can see by the photos… I remember actually being able to pull on my jeans without unbuttoning them. I remember Nelly didn’t like that I’m a bit of a slob. I’m not a “dirty slob”– but I don’t keep things organized and tidy. I never have been one for being neat. She also expressed concern because she said I didn’t eat much. It was true that during training, I didn’t eat a lot. I remember eating fried Iranian pasta for breakfast, which wasn’t very appetizing. Sometimes, she even gave me fish! I didn’t mind the fish so much, but I couldn’t stomach Armenian beef or lamb. The lamb would pretty much make me want to throw up and, to this day, I can’t eat it.

After that sudden weight loss, I got sick, and it took me forever to get over the bug. The weight came back when I moved into my own apartment. That was a shame. I lost a lot of weight again when I waited tables. I probably never should have given up that gig, although I don’t have the best personality for it. I’d probably be better as a bartender. 😉

On Friday nights, many of the Peace Corps trainees would gather at the Cascades, where we would sit on the steps and play music. Three people in my group played guitar, and I, of course, would join in with singing. I remember we’d drink beer and sing Tom Petty and Bob Dylan songs. Locals would gather around and watch us. Sometimes, they’d join in. Other times, they might harass us a bit. It was a lot of fun, although I remember coming back extra late one night and getting bawled out by my “host dad”, Gevork. Using my new Armenian skills, I apologized and said, “Yes hooligan em.” (I am a hooligan.) Gevork laughed, and asked me if I was hungry.

Sadly, once training was over, so were our Friday night hootenannies at the Cascade Steps. My colleagues and I spread out all over the country. In 1995, Yerevan was still rough enough that several of us were placed there. I was among those who stayed in Yerevan. I really missed not being able to hang out with them on the steps on Fridays.

For about three months after I finished Peace Corps training, I lived pretty close to the top of the Cascades. I used to walk up and down those steps, often in very hot weather, to get around in Yerevan. It took me a long time to start using buses. I moved after three months because that living situation involved living with an Armenian woman who worked at my school. She and her much younger brother were nice enough, but I never felt like I could relax in that environment. We had incompatible lifestyles, plus her brother had an annoying habit of raiding my stuff when I wasn’t there. Once I moved, I didn’t need to climb up and down the steps so much. I didn’t mind stopping the stair climbing, although my fitness level took a hit.

Nowadays, they don’t put any Volunteers in Yerevan, even when they are in training. Looking back on it, I kind of wish I hadn’t stayed there myself, although staying there did afford me some unique opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, particularly given my affinity for music. For instance, I got to rehearse with the Yerevan Opera Choir. I also got to take some voice lessons at the Yerevan Conservatory… and on a few occasions, I would go to jazz clubs and sing with the band. These are all precious memories to me. I often miss those days, although I’m not sure I miss the tough living.

It’s funny to see the newer photos of the Cascades. They are so much nicer looking now. In 1995, they were kind of shabby, like much of the rest of Yerevan was. I do remember they were starting to be worked on as I was leaving in 1997. I recall one night, there was a night club opened in one of the levels. I had never been “inside” the steps before. They had always been closed, and a bit trashed looking. But someone did open a club where there was dancing. I distinctly remember hearing a truly wretched dance version of Olivia Newton-John’s song, “Have You Never Been Mellow”. Dolly Parton’s song, “Jolene”, was also made into a bizarre cover of dance music. I can’t find the 90s era techno version of “Jolene”, which could be a blessing.

I think this was the dance version of Olivia’s hit that I heard in the club. It sucks. You have to be drunk to listen to it.

I remember back in the summer of 1995, it was not uncommon to hear Russian pop songs blaring everywhere, along with music by Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and Sade. To this day, I can’t listen to Sade and not think of Yerevan. Or when I hear “rabiz” music, it reminds me of being in Armenia in the early days after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Weird listening to this… I grew up with anti-Soviet propaganda, and never thought I’d ever see the Soviet Union.
Armenian pop circa 1989.

Tonight– or it will be nighttime where I am, anyway– we are having an online memorial for Matt Jensen, who was tragically killed two months ago in Brooklyn. Matt was in my Peace Corps group, and he was very much a leader. I suspect there will be some reminiscing among us, although I’m not sure how many people will show up. I wouldn’t say our group was particularly close-knit. I did get to know Matt pretty well, especially during our second year, when he came to Yerevan to work. He had previously been in Vanadzor, which is a city up north. It’s been a long time since I last hung with some of the people who will be involved in this reunion. I hope it will be like our Cascade Steps concerts, where we mostly all got along and got together in song on Friday nights, relaxing after another grueling week of training.

I see that now, the Cascades is a focal point in Yerevan. I doubt we could go to the Cascades and jam now, like we did back in the day. Now, even the actor, John Malkovich, has visited there. Funnily enough, back in 2008, we stayed in a tiny B&B in the Piedmont region of Italy where John Malkovich also stayed. In fact, we even stayed in the room where he and his wife, who is from the area, slept. They had come to the Pinasca area to see the wife’s family… Maybe someday, I will actually cross paths with John Malkovich. It wouldn’t be unheard of. After all, two years ago, I ran into Mark Knopfler in a bar after I attended his concert. I have a knack for running into people.

It’ll be interesting to see who I run into tonight… and hope I don’t embarrass myself, the way I sometimes did back in the day. I almost wonder if we shouldn’t have a backdrop of the Cascade Steps as we remember the time… 26 years ago! I can’t believe how long ago 1995 was, and how fast the years have flown by.

On an entirely unrelated note, yesterday, Bill got a lovely birthday card from his younger daughter. She even wrote “Dad” on the envelope. I really think younger daughter is Bill’s kid in so many ways. She looks like him and acts like him, and she loves mushy cards. So does Bill. He is the king of sentimental greetings. It’s so nice to see him being remembered on Father’s Day and his birthday after so many years of no contact.

Yesterday, I happened to see Jon Gosselin on Dr. Oz– the clips were uploaded to YouTube. I listened to what Jon Gosselin has been going through, as he’s been completely estranged from six of his eight children with Kate Gosselin. I never watched their show, but I really feel for him. I think he’s been painted as someone he’s not. Parental alienation is not a joke, and I think he’s definitely a victim. I hope his kids pull their heads out of their butts someday, but as they’re pretty much grown now, that’s really up to them.

Also… I mistakenly booked four nights in Zurich instead of three. I think we’re going to do the extra night, anyway. Bill needs the break. So do I. And it might be the start of a path in a new direction, especially for Bill.

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