The Water Bottle Mentality: Journeys from Coast to Coast
So I’m walking through airport security this morning dreading the regimented screening that we all know and love. As I scrambled to whip off my shoes and empty the loose change out of my pockets, I was struck by the conversation going on in front of me.
A young Italian traveler (I caught a glimpse of his passport) was getting hassled by a TSA agent. As she reprimanded him for not removing his laptop from his case, he struggled to come up with a response in English. With a discerning eye and a winked eyebrow she inquired,
“Wuch’ you speak boy, French? You speak French?”
He seemed helpless and hopeless, so I put his laptop and its case in separate bins for him. He flashed the most grateful smile, and the TSA agent shrugged as she quickly rushed back to work. As he passed through the metal detector, he turned around once more with a smile, as if that was the first act of kindness he had experienced in New York City.
New York has the most incredible energy. Its vibrant lights, unparalleled diversity, and cultural opportunities are one of a kind. It’s fairly hard to be bored. But despite its greatness, its ills are often overlooked-the immigrants busting their ass for less than minimum wage in unsanitary conditions, the workers of Manhattan almost always struggling to make rent in their dwellings outside of the city, the pollution, the smells, the heartbreak- all products of the largest concentration of people in the United States.
I wonder why the city where the richest businessman and CEOs work, the largest companies have their headquarters, and the most amount of people live continues to fail to address its problems. It doesn’t surprise me that a TSA agent can’t give someone the time of day in New York City, or that a deli employee moves the line with out saying hello, when so often their most frequent clients are part of the problem, rather than the solution.
“So you wanna make the world a better place, huh? Sounds like a waste of time.” A family friend laughs. “Let me tell you, profit off your connections. In this dog eat dog world, it’s in your best interest. You’ll get eaten alive if you try to stand up to what’s been built up and laid out for generations before your time kid.”
I wonder when he made his first compromise. Was it in college when he had to take out loans? Was it afterwords when he had to pay them back? Was it when he decided to purchase the nicer car to impress the nicer looking woman? Beats me.
The East has so much potential. People are still vulnerable and aware of the pressing problems that surround them; they simply have been hardened to the point of utter apathy. The daily grind, daily train trip, daily scotch, and the daily news just has that extra punch when 9 million around you on the tiny island of Manhattan are all in the same boat.
So where and when will the tipping point be- where awareness, ethics, and action all cooperate- to unite both coasts in the crusade against our environmental problems? I think the answer lies somewhere in a mentality shift among the people that drive the biggest engine. The answer lies in the people telling sheep which numbers to punch, whom to call, whom to swindle, whom to compete and conquer. A lot of these influential individuals live in the tiny suburb of New Canaan, CT.
When I ventured back to picturesque New Canaan, CT this past week, I got more sleep in one week than the entire past month. In fact, I slept like a rock for about 12 hours every night. While I enjoyed renewing the old lifelines, shootin’ the shit with former partners in crime, and visiting some old mentors, boredom was inevitable.
By the second day of my week stint in the baby crib, I was yearning for the mystery that was stripped with the 2,800 mile trip across the country. When I flew into New York’s LaGuardia airport, the congestion and hustle-bustle alone brought me right back to the crowded physical/mental environment I had grown up in. When I returned home, it felt like I had never left.
I was fortunate enough to see my sister and 300 of her peers graduate from New Canaan High School on Thursday. As I listened to congratulations, thank-yous, and generic student speeches I couldn’t help but remember my own graduation. How naïve I was to the world then. How naïve I am now. How naïve I’ll always be.
I gazed around at the faces in the crowd- the polo shirts, the designer sunglasses, the perfect teeth- and asked myself why most of them had plastic water bottles in their hands. Almost immediately, I recognized the happy-go-lucky Ms. Daisy McDaisy Pants (We’ll Call her) from the student council coalition. She must be a junior by now, but even her freshmen year she stuck out like dreadlocks on a white guy in Beverly Hills.
“STAY HYDRATED PEOPLE, STAY HYDRATED! GET YOUR WATER BOTTLES HERE! COME GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE FRESH! ICE COLD WATER COMPLETELY FREE! COME GET ‘EM!”
Free–A.K.A. funded by the fiscally disabled suburbanites of suburbia. Everyone gave her the “are you insane” look as they passed her shouting debacle, but continued on to take one, two, even three water bottles. I scrambled through the lineup of water bottle consumers. Taking four bottles was Chamber of Commerce president, who was a large proponent in a school-wide recycling program earlier. The head of JetBlue airlines took 3, whose company is raving of being at the forefront of green practices among airlines. An old Music technology teacher took several as well, whom I had spoken countless times with about the hopes for environmentalism to catch on in the Eastern U.S.A. She seemed so passionate at the time. Hmm.
When I made a subtle comment to my mother about her own water bottle consumption that hot day (glancing towards the nearby water fountain), she insisted that it was hot and she needed a water bottle. She said, “you have your responsibilities, and I have mine.”
Now I love my dear mother with all my heart. She gives me her endless love and support in all of my endeavors. But it seems that for the past 3 years her New Years Resolution has been to be more “environmentally-sustainable.” I see little to no action, and the mentality that accompanies the green lifestyle doesn’t exist in her life.
But I don’t blame her. It’s hard to be the giraffe in a room full of penguins, sticking out like the sorest thumb. I simply worry for the East. While the same information is everywhere, the reactions differ. Those who have the most power in making truly effective change continue to stick to their old ways. Perhaps only when having a truly “green company” brings the same pleasure of driving a hummer, or owning a house with a built in basketball court, the individuals at the forefront of the problem will jump to find the solution.