NPF: THE HORROR, THE HORROR

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 20th, 2010 by Ed

We scholars (or in my case, "scholar" in skeptic quotes) of American politics miss out on a key rite de passage in graduate studies in the social sciences: doing fieldwork. We don't spend a year or two of our lives in places no sane person accustomed to the pampered American lifestyle would go. We do not interview Uzbek peasants in unelectrified villages in the Pamir Mountains. We do not live among the undiscovered tribes of Borneo. We do not subject ourselves to thrice-daily malaria prophylaxis or vaccinations for diseases eradicated in the West during the presidency of Grover Cleveland. Our data are readily accessible or, if not, can be collected in the comfort of various Capitals.

On the one hand, this is great. We finish grad school a little faster than our foreign-oriented colleagues and we don't have any hardships along the way. But on the other, we don't have bitchin' fieldwork stories like, "I lost a toe in Siberia to collect my data" or "Yeah, my hut was only accessible by burro." Granted, not everyone who does overseas fieldwork ends up roughing it to that extent, but you get the idea. It is worth many Experience Points and if it doesn't build character it will at the very least provide some colorful stories.

The most consistently amusing of the Field Work Tales, in my opinion, is the Third World Airline tale. I mean, we Westerners think our airlines are bad, and they are. They lose luggage, they are always late, and their staff range from indifferent to openly hostile. That said, our airlines are not bad like most of the world's airlines are bad. As much as Delta sucks, it's not Air Angola or Garuda Indonesia. It never ceases to amaze me that people actually get on domestic flights in undeveloped countries. They are almost entirely unregulated and they fly planes that have been used up and discarded onto the scrap heap by the major airlines.

The travel writer Robert Young Pelton offers some sage advice about flying in underdeveloped places: "Never board a plane if its logo has a goat in it." This strikes me as excellent advice, but we know that being picky is not always possible. In places with no road networks, you take the Flying Yak Airways flight to Point B if that's where you need to go.

I never tire of horror stories of the in-flight variety, largely for three reasons. I have led a soft life, the airline industry is very interesting to me because it represents so much of what is wrong with our economy and society, and I am a 9 year-old who thinks airplanes are Neat. So go ahead and regale me with your airborne adventure tales. What was your worst flying experience? Scariest? Funniest? Sure, I'll take the "Delta lost my suitcase" variety, but I'm hoping that a few of you globetrotters or old-timers will have a good story or two of the Holy Shit variety.

Don't let me down.