Make America Sane (Again?)

(written in May, not posted until now)

I’m not sure if it has ever been sane.

A few days ago, I was parked outside a McDonald’s in Frederick, Maryland. It was raining, and there were small packs of people running from their cars into the restaurant. Their hands were over their heads, attempting to shield what little hair they had left from the water. My dad was passed out in the driver’s seat. We were in a rental, on the way down to Rockville to buy him some better hiking gear. A few days before, he bruised his hip while climbing over some wet rocks on the Appalachian Trail. I iced him down for a few nights at the Day’s Inn, doped him up and let him rest. Now, we needed to shave eight or nine pounds off his pack. That meant a new sleeping bag and pad, plus a new backpack. So we hopped a rental car in Hagerstown, and started down I-70.

The reason he was passed out: he forgot he took a muscle relaxer that morning. I found out that fact when we started to drift on the highway. I looked up from my phone and we were wandering left then right in our lane. I looked over at him. His eyes were shut, mouth hung open, car horns all around. His breathing was deep and I knew he was out. Quickly, I put my left hand on the wheel and stabilized the car. I shouted his name and he popped awake with a short scream. His eyes slung high to the wet road. He was up. And dear God I was too. Heart through the chest, every pore beating out sweat.

The next exit was just ahead. We merged across two lanes, hopped off, took a right, then drove just another minute and we were in the parking lot. Almost safe. We just had to get him into a parking spot. It was a Saturday, and the lot was full. We drove slowly through the aisles, then settled on a corner spot. He took the car wide, then started to park. And as he was backing in, he did it again. His eyes closed and his head fell forward, while the car crawled in a long arc to the spot. It idled back slowly and I yelled his name again. He shot awake and slammed the brake.

He was now blocking traffic in the lot, so he swung the car wide to set up the turn again, then backed successfully into the spot, put it in park and turned off the engine. I yanked up the parking brake and took the keys from the ignition.

We weren’t going anywhere for awhile.

The reason I wasn’t driving: There’s still something on the books that allows rental agencies to discriminate against drivers who are under the age of 25. I’ve had just one speeding ticket in my life and no accidents. But I still won’t be able to rent a car without an extra fee until February 3, 2018. So his name was on the rental agreement.

He reclined, unbuckled and fell back to sleep. I sat in the car, watching the patrons go in and out of the McDonald’s, running through the rain. The arches looked down on it all: the trucker hats, the Trump shirts, and the bits of drool now rolling down my Dad’s cheeks. He snored, loud. I continued to look out the window.

This is when I saw one of the more compassionate moments in human history. There was a teenager. He was tall, and not so much thin as he was gaunt. He had a bony methed-out walk to him and he looked nervous. Then there was a man. He stood in the light rain, kicked back against his car smoking a cigarette. His gut peaked out the bottom of an Old Navy American Flag tee shirt, and his jeans were tucked high into a pair of work boots. He took a few drags, then the teenager approached with a hey-mister kind of politeness. “Can I bum one of the cigarettes from ye?” the kid asked. To which the man promptly responded, “No,” then told him to go away.

But the kid was persistent. His eyes were wide and there was a twitch in his left hand. He needed a cigarette more than I did (keep in mind my recent state of affairs). The teenager started to walk back to his car, then turned again to the man. “I’ll give you a dollar for one,” he said. The man took a long drag and I could see his head start to work. He stared at the kid another moment and said, “Alright. But you take this one.” He put the lit cigarette between his index finger and thumb and held it in the direction of the kid, who then rushed back. He handed over the dollar, and got half a cigarette. He walked back to his car, took a few good drags and tossed it into a puddle. He opened his car door, took a look back at the man, hesitated, then yelled asking, “D’you serve?”

“Huh?” the man yelled back. “D’you serve?” the kid asked again. He pointed to the hat on the man’s head, which had the words ARMY scrawled across it in a generic statement of patriotism. The man took it off his head, looked at it like he had never seen it before, then called back to the kid, “Nah.”

The kid nodded and said thanks again then got into his car. He started it, and the headlights split through the rain drops, throwing a bit of contrast onto the flat cloudy scene. He threw it in reverse, backed out of the spot, tossed his to-go trash and half eaten box of fries onto the pavement, then drove off toward the Interstate.

I watched the man break out another cigarette, pocket the dollar and light up.

Meanwhile, southeast of here about 40 miles, the same Republican leadership that vilified Donald Trump for the past year is now in the early stages of courtship with the man who from 2001 to 2009 was a Democrat. McConnell and the gang are quickly coming to terms with the idea that the raging businessman who has no consistent platform other than a big wall is their only shot at full control of the country. They know he will be their nominee.

To them, Trump is their only shot at appointing who they want to the Supreme Court, their only shot at destroying Obamacare, their only shot at beer bonging establishment politics down the throats of a populace ready for wine. Not necessarily because the GOP leadership thinks Trump will play by the establishment game, he’s certainly the opposite in theory and reality, but because they just need someone red who can beat Clinton.

Mr Trump is winning in the primaries. However, almost all the major polls in America show him losing in November. A short five point loss to Hillary Clinton. A full 13 point loss to Bernie Sanders. Even our boy Cruz would do better than him. Certainly Rubio. But the voters are starting to respond to Mr Trump. And his gap with Mrs Clinton is actually beginning to shrink. Many thanks to the pliable minds of the registered voters two stepping in and out of the golden arches here off I-70.

When we look at Mr Trump’s history, the most recognizable item the man has built for himself is a brand. And thanks to reality television and the low tenacity of the average American consumer, that brand has become synonymous with absolute quality. Despite his business failures, multiple wives, legal scandals and bankruptcies, voters are buying his name. And thanks to a full year of network media covering his antics from morning to fringe hours, his fervent, rambling sentences have rocketed into the ears of American voters.

And although I’m still trying to figure out the full story behind the rise of Mr Trump, I can explain his campaign: he’s playing a game. One he’s already rigged in his favor. The networks pawn him off as stupid, which strengthens his support among those who hate establishment media. Mrs Clinton and Mr Sanders say he’s dangerous. But I’m not too sure. Why would a man who has never in his life shown Hitler-esque tendencies begin to display them now?

I think he recognizes rhetoric as a product. A product with a yuge market. It’s a product he can provide. And like all businessmen, he provides it even if he wouldn’t buy it himself. He’s an off the cuff musket ball tamped down with too much gun powder. He’s the candidate about ten percent of America has been waiting for, but they’re loud enough to attract twenty to forty percent more. Mr Trump is someone who knows what sparks, and what speaks to generations of Americans who grew up with rhetoric instead of facts. He is simply the prodigal #nofilter son of a very filtered election.

Three hours have passed since the cigarette transaction. The lunch rush was finished. A few folks loitered around still, warming their cars in the cold rain. I got out of the rental and went inside. It was nearly empty. There was an old Hispanic man mopping the floor. The grill was hot in the back, sizzling. A new batch of fries was dumped into the oil. I approached the counter and ordered a coffee.

“Is that all for today?” the cashier asked.

Some sanity, please. “No, just the coffee,” I said.

I handed him two bucks and got my change. He grabbed the black handled pot from the burner, poured a medium, popped on a lid and handed it to me.

I thanked him and went back out into the rain, took a sip, yawned and walked to the car. I got in and Dad was up. Seemingly awake with the radio on. I opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. He turned and asked, “is that for me?” with a big goofy grin across his face.

I looked down at the mug. Then at him. I handed it over, smiling.

He took a few sips, turned the key and we started south again to Rockville. He was awake and ready.

Back on the Interstate, the tire tread kicked up water as we cruised 60 miles per hour, reckless toward Washington.