“I’m pleased to say there is no weather across the country today”. The reassuring words of our Captain as we taxied to the runway at San Fransico Airport. What he meant in non-US aviation jargon was that the weather is clear- no storms, snow etc- all possible when flying from one end of this huge country to another!
We are halfway through the flight as I start to write and so far- with the exception of a few bumps as we joined some heavy cloud after two hours- he has been true to his word. But as the flying pessimist, I will only be content once back on terra firma. In my thirty-five years I have so far resisted the temptation to do a Pope John Paul when landing and bending down to kiss the Tarmac but I have thought about it many times. Perhaps one day.
This flight- United 788- fits more neatly with the stereotype of US domestic flights than our last; more bus travel than air travel. Packed to the gills, bags everywhere, an overpowering feeling of being a little closer to ones’ neighbour and their armpit than is ideal and the equipment (‘the plane’ for those of you not fluent in aviation!) has seen better days. Anyway, enough ramblings about the journey. What do I have offer today by way of observations after five days on the US west coast?
Our time in San Fransico proved the point that every city has its own personality and the east and west coasts of the US are very different. Immediately upon arriving in the city by the bay it is hard not to feel a sense of calmness, a slightly slower pace than found out east and a willingness of strangers to engage in idle chatter with you. This is all of course from the box marked ‘mass generalisations’ but it is worth reflecting that the mania of a New York or DC we did not find in San Fran. There was a very tangible European feel about the architecture- obvious in the history of the city and its French designer- and a wonderful diversity about the city and its people- from ethnicity and the fragrant Chinatown to sexuality and the happy sight of so many same sex couples holding hands and kissing in public.
But our arrival in San Fransico sadly coincided with an awful event just across the bay; the tragic death of double British olympian Andrew Simpson in a sailing accident. It was amazing to be six thousand miles from home and yet be sharing in local, UK sadness. The words of his families, friends and fellow sailers left a real mark as his passing will have had on them.
The analysis- endless, endless analysis- of the Celevland and Arias cases has continued unabated. As every gory detail is revealed from the now widely named ‘house of horrors’ in Ohio- a name by the way which provokes very strong memories of the awful Gloucester case of Fred and Rose West- one feels more and more repulsed. The same is true of the Arias murder. Both cases are now prompting a fascinating debate about the death penalty in the US.
The debate has been blurring out from the TV in our hotel room, which looked out over Alcatraz- an eerie reminder of the brutality of the penal system. I am strongly anti-death penalty. I do not support it in any cases or for any offences. I do not believe the state- any state- should kill anyone except in war. But these cases are perfect case studies which challenge my views.
Arias. A more brutal murder it would be hard to find. Extreme violence, almost torture. No remorse. A life taken viciously and many others ruined. For her to spend one more day as a free woman would sicken me. Her punishment- I believe that punishment must play as much of a role as remediation- must hurt. Her life must end in prison but not at the hands of the prison. Life for her must mean life but I cannot think that the state killing her make any of this better or fix any of the wrongs that have been done.
Ok, that was easy. Now on to Mr Castro. Much more difficult.
Again I start from a simple principle. No to the death penalty. Yes to life behind bars. And by life, I mean life. But aren’t his crimes so heinous, so extreme, so appalling, that his is the exception which requires a new rule? Maybe. The kidnapping and sexual assaults are enough to turn anyone’s stomach but the details of the regime he imposed on these young women go so far beyond my comprehension that I am left challenging my own views. The cruelty. The brutality. The sick mind games. The mental torture. The abject existence with no hope of an end in sight he forced those women to live, and I fear we do not the half of it yet. On balance, I am clinging- just- to my anti death penalty view but I can’t help but think that his death would be a good thing- but not at the hands of the state. Thinking that, let alone writing it, makes me very uncomfortable but not as uncomfortable as hearing about his vile crimes.
It will fascinating to see how those involved with these cases will resolve this dilemma. I will be watching very carefully.
On a brighter note, it was moving to see the spire installed on the new World Trade Centre- Freedom Tower- in New York. I never had the opportunity to climb the original but would hope to make it up this one. I will not rehearse my own version of that terrible day here for we all have our own experience of 9/11 which will stay with us. Suffice to say, that it was the day that life changed forever for so many. I still think of those people jumping from the towers. To jump- for that to feel like their best option- still strikes cold into my heart. Those images are images that will never go away.
My thoughts are now turning to Boston. To a city very close to my heart. It was here and then Cape Cod where my wife and I spent much of our honeymoon four years ago. It has been the scene of several repeat journeys since. Our visit last year to the incredible Fenway Park sealed the deal on my affection for baseball and the Red Sox in particular. I am trying hard hereto resist my Liverpool/Irish tendency towards sentimentality but it is certainly true that there is no other sporting arena like it in this country, perhaps the world. I am only hoping that the Sox can rediscover the early season form that has deserted them in recent weeks. They are ‘on the road’ whilst we are in town but I will be watching on NESN from the great bars and restaurants of Boston.
But my overriding thoughts as we wing our way to Boston is the humbling opportunity we are getting to show in a very small, unnoticed way, our solidarity with this great city and its great people. This has been a tough few weeks for Bostonians. We are here back precisely because the people and the city are amongst the best in the world.
More in a few days. In the meantime, LetsGoRedSox!