Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tower, This is Ghost Rider Requesting a Flyby UPDATED

"Sorry, Goose. It's time to buzz the tower."*

I admit to age. I grow occasionally weary attempting even passive feats. I am gray, and an easily-consumed Enchiladas Delmar at the Rio Grande (one margarita, too) requires several sessions in the gym to neutralize. I have recently been called "Old Man" in a chance encounter at work. I grew up in the shadow of the World War II generation, and their legends. Consequently, the recent events surrounding the grounding and partial sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy are astounding.

Reading material is awash with descriptions of the facts. A modern, three thousand passenger cruise ship, her captain apparently deviating from the prescribed course for frivolous reasons (passing within 450 feet of shore to honk the horn at someone), struck a submerged object. Fatal damage occurred to her port side and she partially capsized before beaching within sight of shore. At least a dozen people perished. The captain and many members of the crew preceded the majority of passengers into the lifeboats.

Big picture writer Mark Steyn has made the point that modern society has turned its collective backs on the kinds of behavior in the face of peril that defines courage. He writes:

In fact, “women and children first” can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship’s cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. As Kipling wrote:
We’re most of us liars, we’re ’arf of us thieves, an’ the rest of us rank as can be, But once in a while we can finish in style (which I ’ope it won’t ’appen to me).
I leave for others the inevitable discussion of the "women and children" concept as either shamefully chauvinistic or rooted in the Darwinian notion that our species' survival rests on preserving the vessels of procreation or its result. As a man, I feel personally responsible for my family. I cannot explain it - only report it.

Titanic references abound, with the best of them "Dude, Where's my Lifeboat." It seems piling onto this tragedy has become every blogger's preoccupation. I have a smaller point to make.

A flyby? Really?

Would John Wayne have buzzed the tower in The High and the Mighty? Humphrey Bogart skim the beach to wave at Lauren Bacall in Key Largo? Okay, by that time he'd been shot, but go with me on this. Even Captain Oveur, extolling the virtues of gladiator movies, kept his airliner on the straight and narrow while Kareem ranted about his struggles on the court. Why?

Because they were grown ups. They weren't "Hey, somebody hold my beer" types one sees fracturing themselves (or worse) on YouTube. I envision seasoned, veteran men and women at the helm of craft I've boarded, professionals for whom the predictable unfolding of yet another mundane day at work is preferred. I expect this:

Not this:

I have every right to.
We have a saying in law enforcement - sometimes it sucks to be you. The month-old corpse, the drunk who has "shat" himself, the below-zero perimeter post, we accept that eventually those will be our lot in life. For those who can't, there's always a job at the flower store.

The same is true for conveyances such as cruise ships. Travel, benefits.... All of the things available to the crew are the perks, the goodies. They are responsible for the lives in their care, even a captain so clumsy he "falls" into a lifeboat and can't get up. When the ship breaks, they are compelled to make sure passengers' needs are met before their own. Why?

It's their job. At least, it should be. Nothing as romantic as top hat and tails, wine in hand, as the water rises up the main Titanic staircase. Not Dakota Meyer, disregarding instructions, rescuing fellow Marines under fire. Just the obligations of men and women who enjoy the upsides of an occupation and accept the responsibilities that come with unanticipated adversity. Nothing more, nothing less.

Would society accept firefighters who fled at the first whisp of smoke? Soldiers who surrendered upon the first angry shot? Police officers too timid to leave the donut shop? No. That's not the social compact.

Dirty Harry once said "If you want to play lumberjack, you have to learn to carry your end of the log." Captain Francesco Schettino's end of the log was to demonstrate leadership and courage as he rallied his crew for one last show of professionalism - getting their passengers to safety. His coming virtual evisceration (and possible incarceration) should become a cautionary tale to those who would play at any of the service professions.

Society expects you to be grown ups. Is that too much to ask?

UPDATED - and now we find out they don't really know who was aboard? Reminds me of the old Blues Image song Ride, Captain, Ride - "Be amazed at the friends you have here on your trip." What the... Foxtrot?

UPDATE: An amazing video is available here at Cruise, an examination of the path taken by Costa. It looks more like a sixteen year old driving daddy's car on ice for the first time, waving at his girlfriend while the radio blares.

*Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise), Top Gun, 1986


  1. It's astounding, isn't it? But I think it goes beyond that. I've seen young men, and women, standing while an elderly person obviously unstable on their feet is left without a seat. I've seen grown men and women sitting when a very pregnant woman is left standing or a woman holding a baby is standing. What happened to taking care of each other? Looking beyond self? I think people are very egocentric nowadays. As a result, everyone suffers.

  2. I completely agree, Marci. They were once called "Old World" manners but, growing up, if I had let the door slam in someone's face my dad would have tuned me up. I hold the door for my wife - not because she's fragile...she's not - but because I was taught it was polite. I think we can all agree that a passenger ship captain ought to take the last lifeboat ashore. Maybe we can all start there.

  3. There are times you and I may not see eye to eye (but I usually appreciate your point of view even if not the same as mine). On this one, however, I agree with you whole-heartedly!! Not only am I frustrated by those who have no manners or common decency (let alone ANYTHING resembling courage), but I am also tired of those who act if they are insulted by those who show some manners or expect "them" to do so! We all know there are still heros put there (in fact I'm sure we all personally KNOW one or more), but it sure seems they are becoming fewer and further between!!

  4. And you're such a nice guy that I've been wracking my brain to remember the last time we differed. Okay, there was the motorcycle thing.... Nevertheless, I've watched you take a deep breath and get the job done (to quote Kennedy) not because it was easy, but because it was hard, and it was your job. Keeping the passengers safe, and getting them off the ship was the captain's job and he didn't do it.