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Riff-Raff Runways

Are riff-raff runways in America’s future?

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Europe has had them for years, at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty plus years ago.

Bolshevik? No really.

I’ve flown through most every major European hub, Heathrow, Gatwick in London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Frankfurt, Munich, DeGaulle in Paris, Vienna…always headed for points east. Each has its own peculiar charm (or lack thereof) and its own ambiance, but clearly the design is intended to keep the more olive-skinned, dressed-down Valdemars and over-painted Ellie Mae’s from rubbing elbows with the blondies from Dusseldorf waiting for a flight to Madrid. After all, no one in Dusseldorf would go to Skopje unless he absolutely had to.

Instead, there is a single terminal for all those points east (read “dark”) while der sonnenkinder traffic arrive and depart in the other terminals amidst their own.

The funny thing is that I don’t think the Europeans even notice it, or would admit it is planned. “Eezz normal” (stress on the second syllable) as they say in Moscow…to separate people by class in this way. Of the bunch, DeGaulle, Gatwick and Vienna stand out most in my memory, but for varying reasons. While every “plane station” has a riff-raff terminal, it’s said deGaulle even has riff-raff runways, although I actually doubt it. But after three hours in a well lit beautiful concourse, inhabited exclusively with dingy-clad east Europeans, feisty Asians and non-francophone Africans (I checked their departures) we are taken down to a bus, which drives around for twenty-thirty minutes and empties us on a parking strip that is visible to the terminal only with binoculars, where our aircraft is parked, and we board like an old DC-3 in 1960, only no Pall Mall to crush out before climbing the stairs. Then we taxi across several perfectly functioning runways to one headed in an entirely different angle than the others, amidst tall trees. I felt like the Mississippi State basketball team trying to sneak out of the state in order to play Loyola in 1963. At least I can now say that I have sneaked out of France at least once, and have checked that off my bucket list.

Gatwick on the other hand, expresses British society to a tee. Its riff-raff terminal is for an entirely different set of Englishmen, sallow east Europeans a mere second thought. It has an enormous concourse, with a great pub upstairs, the tellies running futball and cricket, non-stop. Shops abound, selling carry home boxes of Bells Whiskey, T-shirts, souvenirs like you’d find in Gatlinburg, matching ‘Is and ‘Er bathroom signs, but a congenial atmosphere, with women who look like Andy Capp’s wife Flo, down to the rolled-down stockings and headscarf, who sit around quaffing on a pint and knitting booties while chatting w’ ‘er friend. I am quite certain that on the weekend of cup matches on the Continent, this is where all the revelers, in their club scarves are herded. What a show that must be.

I spent eight hours there once awaiting a flight to Estonia. But on the return flight, headed back to Washington, I was guided into a different great hall where men with bowlers and umbrella’s stood around and pretty young ladies with cleavage and microphones were hawking jewelry and Pimms Cup (a grand drink) and several brands of fine single malt scotch. Across the ceiling wafted the music of Handel and Elgar. I’ve never wanted so badly to light up a huge Cohiba in my life…available in a humidor right next to the brandy stand, which I never entered for fear of running into any one one of a number of your elected officials spending your hard earned tax dollars on twenty dollar shots. It was the sort of place they’d hang out.

But Vienna was always my favorite. And I love Austrian Airlines as well. The riff-raff terminal there is dimly lit, which reminded me of the Kievsky Rail Station in Moscow in the winter of ’91, which in turn reminded me of the railway scene in Zhivago, thousands of people sitting around on their luggage in a grand hall that still bore some of the architectural remnants of the old Tsarist motifs. In DeGaulle they won’t let you sleep in the terminal overnight, and designed the seats to make it impossible anyway, forcing you to take a room about the size of a Best Western toilet for 100 euros. But in Vienna everyone sleeps if they want. Some layovers are twenty hours. So, their seats are designed for supine slumber, cushiony and soft, and at 5 AM the waiting rooms look like someone had piled up old clothes from the attic on the seats. So I’m guessing Austrian Air runs the best low-cost airfares in the east, for even by Bulgarian standards you see a class of men and women in Vienna terminals you rarely see in the other capitols, bent-over old Albanian ladies with bowed backs and head scarves, who look more like they would be scrubbing the steps outside a ministry building than flying “in a chair in the sky”, grey-haired old men with walking sticks and what we used to call “pre-commie tweeds” which once upon a time you could only find at Goodwill in America. (“Can I see something in a seedy?”). This type still exists…and I thank God for it…dignity in hand-me-downs.

Vienna had a 1948 “Third Man” look and feel to it. When I lived in Cincinnati and had a logistics line to my business, I often shipped out of the Greyhound Bus Station, which is why i know how inner city gang-bangers behave when on totally unfamiliar turf. Riff-raff terminals look much like that, no one knowing anyone else in totally foreign surroundings. Of all the airport personnel who have addressed this very frightening “first time flying” adventure for east Europeans, Vienna does it best, so is my favorite.

Why I write this now is to remind you who it is, by their nature, that is race- and class-conscious. Government. Those basketball players in Mississippi had wanted, for years, to be able to play against the nation’s best, including black kids. But they had to sneak, even break the law to do it, against the governor and the state’s politicians. Did I mention they were Democrats?

Like all of you I’ve been to airports all over the United States. Unlike many of you, though, I’ve also been through an awful lot of foreign departure terminals in the US; Atlanta, DC, New York, LA, Chicago and San Fran. Like the Greyhound and Trailways Station of yesteryear when that was the least expensive way to travel for most Americans, and rail stations before them, America’s air terminals have always been classless… and for over a generation now, raceless.

But it’s starting again. In America, the rich have always been able to stay apart from the hoi polloi on their own, with limos and private jets. Only now those limos can shut down everyone else’s access to everyone else. When Michelle decides to go shopping in New York, they shut down blocks of access for ordinary citizens. But she’s government, OK, royalty…sort of. She sure doesn’t mind. Did I mention she is a Democrat and Democrats never mind? The Clintons didn’t either. But the Reagans and Bushes all did mind, and always avoided any imposition on the public for all but the most necessary of public events. Did I mention they were thoughtful Republicans? They kept raising the goal post, the Democrats keeps lowering it.

But when DiCaprio can cause hundreds of ticket holders to miss one of the most historic soccer matches in years, just so his plane can land, things are going a little too far and it is time for us to re-connect the dots. Dicaprio is a g-d limousine liberal Democrat.

OK, I know that was South Africa, the very corruptible South Africa, where Chris Dodd will probably take his final refuge from justice, but the degree of excess in class separation in America is already beginning to be noticeable. Even among impressionable wannabe liberal little people who don’t know yet they’ll have their own Air America some day…soon.

Can what Europe has now actually happen in America? You bet it can. In fact, the ball is rolling, although it will take a bureaucratic half-generation for it all to fall into place.

Start with the FDR model, that it took 8 years, 1933-1941, to convince people that 17% unemployment wasn’t really all that bad, indeed, with the help of the media, and Hollywood, they can even sugar coat it enough to make it seem things are getting better every day. Without television, Hollywood was doing double duty in those days. The time FDR was buying was to establish the new bureaucratic structures, most of which are still with us now, just so you’ll know hard it is to get rid of them.

Right now we are at about the same unemployment level 17%, only the measuring method is different. In some ways it’s worse in that people in 1933 were generally tougher. But what does this have to do with separation by class at airports?  Simple. Count the years…again, about eight. Today, retired grandparents can get on a plane and go see the grandkids anytime they want. Cheap fares. BUT WHEN THEY DIE, and Obamacare and Berwick have every intention of hurrying that process along with death panels (yes, children, death panels), and when that generation dies, in 8-20 years, there will be fewer retirees with that kid of money, but more importantly, there will be far, far fewer airfares between American cities that ordinary citizens can afford to pay. Probably only one. Dogpatch Air.

The decline of the private sector and the rise of the state sector will shake itself out in due course, once all the laws and regulations are in place, as FDR proved in the 1930s. We are seeing the next steps now. There will be a shaking out of airlines, the Europeans only having one as a rule, with a few side ventures, co-sponsored by the state entities. But America is so big, we will need two, so that upper management of the government class and select private corporate executives will fly one airline…where there will only be business class, no coach…(Please God, don’t let Continental be the low bidder) and a second airline for flying around lower tiers of state employees, all coach and no business class. But in keeping with the Founder’s promise, and John Murtha’s understanding of economics, the state will also allow certain routings, linked with Greyhound and Amtrak, for a private company to ferry ordinary citizens, using old 707′s we buy back from Brazil….assuming they can pay. To understand this in context, in the old USSR a Soviet citizen saved for seven years to buy a new car…a kid in America bought in 1960 FOR $200 , and fixed up to take to beach. It was called “a Woodie”.

This will be Dogpatch Airlines…just for the People, where a flight from Baltimore to Detroit should cost around $1000. But, hey, that’s round trip.

But before the airlines will be the terminals. That will be the sure signal. Look for them. When Dogpatch terminals begin to appear in Ames, can Dogpatch Airlines be very far behind? I’ve flown C-47′s with a bag lunch and it was called Air America. Look for it in a terminal coming near you.

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