Wednesday, March 16, 2016

March 16, 2016--Snowbirding: Radio Havana

"You ask me if I'm angry?"

I hadn't asked him that or anything else. I hadn't looked his way. We were simply seated next to each other in the waiting area where I was waiting for Rona to finish an eye exam. I was reading the paper and had not even been aware of him. I was reading about Russia maybe or maybe not pulling their troops out of Syria.

"More than angry. I'm fed up." I continued to ignore him. "You probably think I voted for Trump." It was primary day in Florida. "Well, I didn't." He tapped the I-Voted sticker they give you after submitting your ballot.

"I hate him and everything he stands for. I voted for Hillary Clinton. She's not perfect but I think she'll make a damned good president.  Been a lifelong Democrat."

Out of the corner of my eye I looked over toward him. He looked like a retired lawyer or college professor. I wasn't in the mood for more talk about the campaign. I needed a break from all this politics business. I know I've brought a lot of it down on myself, but I was feeling enough. I was tired of it all, including the sound of my own voice. Or, more honestly was saving my political attention for later in the evening when there would be actual results. Enough speculating, analyzing, and projecting. I knew, though, that whatever I tried to do to keep myself calm I'd get all riled up. I am that addicted.

"Here's a little story for you." I put my paper down and half-turned to him. The rest of the Syria story would have to wait. Let's get it over with, I thought.

"Late at night, I like to listen to the radio. AM radio. You know, to listen in to all those crazy rightwing talk shows. Sometimes sports talk too. Anything to distract me. I'm not much of a sleeper and am prone to middle-of-the-night anxiety attacks. Suppose it comes with getting older." He took a long look at me.

"I'm like that too," I finally said.

"You a conservative?"

"No. The opposite."

"I suspected that. What with you reading the New York Times."

"But like you, I try to keep track of what's going on in the conspiratorial world of the true believers."

"My name's John, by the way," he said extending his right hand. I took it and introduced myself.

"In the old days, when I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, I used to like listening to the radio late at night. I'd lie in bed and turn the dial slowly from station to station; and because at that time of night with the ionosphere all charged up, in Philly I could get stations from as far away as St. Louis and even Florida. I could get Phillies-Cardinals games with the local St. Louis announcers. I loved that."

"I did the same thing," I said, "in my Brooklyn bedroom, clutching my big Emerson radio to my ear, with the volume turned down low so as not to wake my parents, I would listen to Yankee games also coming in from St. Louis when the Yanks played the Browns. I loved that."

"The radio was a great way to excite your imagination back then and pulling in stations form hundreds of miles away contributed to that."

"I agree," I said.

"So here's what's making me crazy." At this point I was eager to hear what he had to say. "I do the same thing living in Florida. We've been down here a couple of years, and have gotten used to a lot of things which in the past we didn't like. Like all the talk about the weather and having to get used to eating early-bird dinners at 5:00. You know, all the snowbird clich├ęs."

"I know what you mean."

"But one thing I still do is listen to the radio overnight and then early in the morning before Sally gets up. In the morning, at 6:00, I like to listen to Imus In the Morning. For old time's sake. He's no longer as compos mentis as he used to be--who is, by the way--and a lot of his old heavy-hitter guests have abandoned him and moved on to Morning Joe. After he got in trouble making fun of the African-American basketball players on the Rutgers women's team. It was disgusting what he said, but what can I tell you, I still on occasion like to tune in the see what he's up to. I like his grumpiness."

"And?" I was growing a bit impatient.

"Well, there are two ways to get Imus down here. The first is on the New York City station that carries the program--WABC. 770 on the dial. On some mornings I can pull in their signal. And then there 'The Talk of the Palm Beaches' station, 900 on the AM dial. That's only 25 miles north of where we live."

"And so . . .?"

"So, most mornings I can't get either signal. Froget ABC from New York. That's more than1,000 away. But the nearby Palm Beach station? You would think that wouldn't be a problem."

"Is it?"

"Indeed it is. And that what's making me crazy."

"So what's the problem? What's the story?"

"The reason I can't get AM 900 is because its signal is overwhelmed by one from Cuba. From Havana, Cuba."

"But that's 250 miles away while the Palm Beach station, as you say, is a short drive."

"What can I tell you. It's the truth. And that's also true for half the other stations in South Florida. Including some from Miami. Mind you, this is anecdotal. I haven't done a study. But trust me, what I'm saying is true."

"I have to check tonight on my own radio."

"Look, as I said, I'm quiet a liberal. I hate all the scapegoating going on. Blaming immigrants for our problems and getting people all agitated about them supposedly here to go on welfare. In the clubhouse where we live all I hear is this and how they don't want to learn English. Baloney of that kind."

"I feel that same way," I said.

"But this radio business is outrageous to me. Why doesn't someone, maybe even our government, block these signals? It's one thing at night to hear Radio Havana or what have you. As I said the ionosphere causes AM radio signals to bounce hundreds of miles, but to block out Palm Beach and Miami stations? This doesn't feel very good to me."

"I get your point," I said.

"It feels like an invasion. You know how in war or a revolution the first thing troops or rebels do is try to seize control of radio stations. A little like this maybe?"

"Well, I  . . ."

"No need to say anything. I sense we might agree. Then again, maybe not. Who knows. We just met. But this does get under my skin."

I shrugged as if to say, "What can I say?"

"But my bigger point is that, though this is admittedly a trivial example, so many Americans have other things that are making them crazy. Much more substantial things. As a result, they're turning away from conventional sources where they traditionally used to find relief or help or fairness. From governments to churches to schools to their neighborhoods to the places they work. People are feeling manipulated and afraid. That's really my point. In my own little way, even from the trivial radio example, I get it. But it doesn't make me feel good to have these thoughts. Quite the opposite. But I do. What can I say."

By then, Rona had emerged from the examination room and it was time to leave. I was hoping to have five peaceful hours before Super Tuesday III results would begin to come in. It promised to be a long night. Even a long afternoon.

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