“What makes the pyramids of Egypt the seventh wonder?
What makes the dawn come up like thunder?
Who put the “ape” in apricot?
What have they got that I haven’t got?”
“Courage.” The Wizard of Oz
Rome wasn’t built in a day, goes the old cliché. I suppose we’re not going to restore honor to America all in one day, or put God in His proper place, or convince Progressives that when we say we intend to “take America back” we don’t mean back in time; we mean from them.
I couldn’t help myself at Glenn Beck’s rally. He was talking about being surrounded by giants on The Mall in D.C. – the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial across the pond – he said that once upon a time they were average people just like us. Glenn then asked the question, what did they have that we haven’t got? I just couldn’t help it – I was instantly reminded of the scene from the Wizard Oz, and the response – “Courage.”
If we’d had courage, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. For the last fifty years or so, our courage has taken a nose-dive. We’re still too timid. We’re still too afraid of The Media, of the Progressives, and of our authoritarian politicians. My courage failed me in the end. But only at the very end.
I was one of five bus “czars” – captains. Our responsibilities only pertained to our own buses. For my part, I kept my bus and passengers in ship-shape order. I kept them fully informed of what they could expect, when the bus would leave, what would, or wouldn’t happen when we got there, what kind of problems we might run into (in the end, none).
One of the other czars convinced me to stop at a rest area on I-95 so we could all gather together, go into D.C. as a caravan. I didn’t it was likely to work once we got into the city, with all its traffic lights. I was surrounded by a cadre of experienced bus drivers who knew the same thing – and said so. Still, I wasn’t opposed to us keeping together.
But I had informed my passengers very early on that we wouldn’t be stopping. When we pulled I told them, we were only stopping to rally, not to go in. We couldn’t afford the time. I had to get off myself because we were next to a diesel truck. When I got the other czar on the phone, it turns out he was already in the restaurant with his passengers.
I told him we would not be joining him, that my passengers were anxious to get on the road; that they hadn’t intended to stop and neither had I. Then I hung up on him and ran back to my bus. We were in tandem with another bus that had left the same location we had. I’d failed to tell my colleague not to let her passengers off. About half her passengers were gone.
Since it was my fault, I told her I would go in and chase them again, and I did. I circled the building, calling out the group’s name, my flag in my hand. Some were on the restroom line. “Get back to your bus! You can use the lavatory there!” Others were on the coffee line. If their order wasn’t being processed, I told them to get on their way. They gave me raspberries. But by the time I got back out to the bus, they were hustling along. Within ten minutes, my colleague’s passengers were all back (one of mine had disappeared, too, but he was back shortly.) The other bus was now ready to go but the driver had vanished to get some coffee.
With an assurance from our driver that the other guy knew the way (better, in fact, than he did), we got back under way. Even with some delays at the start, waiting for the other bus to load and the unfortunate delay at the rest area, we still arrived in D.C. by 9 a.m. and were unloading before 9:30.
So far my courage hadn’t failed me. During the trip, I was in charge of entertainment. I brought along some of the best war films in my DVD collection. At first my passengers balked. “Oh great, The Longest Day, a movie we’ve all seen,” one groused. It was to remind them that we were honoring the courage of our military, that this wasn’t a political rally. I had Saving Private Ryan, too, but I considered it somewhat negative and way too gorey.
The other buses had been given “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” A fine movie that had nothing to do with saluting the military or getting back on the same page wit God. At the stop, the other bus’s passengers were complaining about. I’d anticipated that problem and brought some extra movies for the other bus – Glory and The Patriot.
The Longest Day is also the longest movie. There wasn’t time going down to D.C. for a double feature, so I filled in the time with a reading of The Gettysburg Address and a little talk about the Medal of Honor winners.
We weren’t sure our buses would be able to pick us up in the same place, but they did. It would be the only time we were all together. My bus filled up first. My passengers evidently took the movie seriously considered themselves soldiers, bound to keep to the schedule. We were waiting on one last passenger. As I was about to tell them another story to keep them amused when my cell phone rang. It was a passenger from one of our buses and another location. Someone directed him to RFK stadium, which was not where our buses picked us up.
I told him there was still time and to get on the Metro right away, and told him where we were. But he was upset and not listening. I asked him what bus he’d been on and he told me. My passengers didn’t want me to leave, but as our last passenger still hadn’t arrived (a husband and wife who got separated), I jumped out and ran back to the bus with the passengers’ name and phone number.
I won’t tell you what he said for the sake of inside politics. But he wanted me to repeat that message to the passenger. I refused. I told him it was his passenger; he would have to call him and give him that message.
I stormed back to my bus. I looked helplessly at my own bus. My passengers were all board. It was a matter of going straight down Independence Avenue, finding this lost passenger (I had extra seats) and then getting on I-95.
That would have been the brave thing to do. But not necessarily the right thing. It was still the other bus czar’s responsibility. I didn’t know whether he would really give the passenger the callous answer he gave me, or give the guy a break and wait for him. My responsibility to my own passengers was to get the bus on the road; they were all on board.
My passengers knew what happened, and they had pretty much the same attitude as that other bus captain. That never would have happened on this bus, I told them. They weren’t happy to hear that, but didn’t really protest since we were on our way. Still I had the feeling we weren’t doing the right thing. And yet, we just had to hope for the best.
I’d forgotten to bring my lunch; my sandwich was home in my refrigerator, and I had left the snacks I brought on the bus. Out on The Mall, all I had was water and tiny Diet Cokes. By the time I got back to the bus and got us underway, I was starving.
I figured, except for any emergencies, my duty was done, and I set to eating. Then my phone rang again. I expected it was one of the other captains with some notion of stopping for dinner, which to my relief, my own passengers negatived. They just wanted to get home and so did I. My cell phone which I had kept handy until that point, fell into my snack bag and I just left it there.
The first time it rang, I was so tired and annoyed, that I ignored. Sometime later, much farther up the road, it rang again and a little voice told me that it might be a good idea to answer it this time. It had stopped ringing, but I found the received calls section and when I pressed the number, it rang (I generally haven’t much use for cell phones except in emergencies, so I’m not totally in tune with how they operate).
To my dismay, the first missed call was the stranded passenger. The second call was an unknown area code and the caller never identified herself. The reverse call-back, I found later, revealed some location in Sykesville, Maryland… They wanted to know if my passenger had arrived safely.
“We put your passenger on a bus back to The Mall as soon as we could. Did he arrive?”
I didn’t know, I told her because we left immediately after that. I explained that he was a passenger on another bus belonging to another location, that I had notified the captain on that bus, but didn’t know anything further. At first, she was remonstrative but realized it was out of my hands. I told her that bus was only half filled when I left and that they were still waiting and it’s possible he did make it. It was four p.m. when I returned her call and she said they’d sent him back and an hour and a half earlier, which meant 2:30 p.m.
I wondered if I hadn’t made a mistake. That I should have called the president of our organization, as I usually did. I did early on in the process for another passenger who wanted to ride on my bus. But that was days before the trip when managing the matter was much easier. I couldn’t even understand how someone who wasn’t my passenger got my number. Why didn’t he call the person in charge of his own bus?
Did he get the same answer I heard? Why didn’t he listen to me and get on the Metro right away like I told him to? He would have had enough time. In any case, why was that captain as well as my passengers (and probably his own) so retributive? Who knows why he listened to the wrong directions – probably from some transit official or organizer. It was irrelevant – he was stranded, and rather stubborn, I thought.
Whatever the case, hadn’t they been listening to what Glenn Beck said about charity? That it’s not just about giving money to some “charitable” cause, but demonstrating charity (as in forgiveness)? That it’s not about judging people or “teaching them lessons?”
But maybe God was testing us and we all failed. I failed the test in courage, the other captain in charity, and the stranded passenger in faith and hope (as in he put faith in the wrong directions). Actually, Glenn didn’t talk about courage, his words are faith, hope and charity. But I did and found I couldn’t live up to my own words. I didn’t have the courage to withstand my own mutinous passengers and direct my bus driver down to that stadium to pick up the stray passenger (goodness knows how I would have gotten him back to his own location back home).
Then again, this was my first experience leading this particular kind of group. I had 18 years of experience with the band, but there I was an officer with formal authority. Here, I was just a sort of deputy. If I’d had any authority, I would overridden the other captain’s authority and ordered that bus driver to either wait or go over to the stadium and pick the passenger up.
Meanwhile, I played two more movies for my passengers on the way back: Memphis Belle and Casablanca. Memphis Belle is a terrific movie that got panned by the Liberal critics. It was too positive for them, I guess. There was a critical point in the movie I wanted my passengers to take note of: when the Belle’s captain has to make a crucial decision, drop the bombs through the cloud cover, possibly missing their target and hitting civilian targets instead, abandon the mission altogether, or go around again, which his crew regards as suicide.
He thinks it over while precious minutes are passing. To his crew’s dismay, he orders them to go around again. If they don’t, some other crew will only have to come back again another day and risk their lives to do the job they failed to do. “It’s our job; ours, and no one else’s,” he says. It also helped that the song Amazing Grace, which we’d heard at the rally, was one of the movie’s two theme songs.
But Casablanca, the second movie, was the miracle movie. Within five minutes, the sound on the disk (not the system) failed. The passengers were unhappy with the selection anyway. They’d seen it a hundred times, they said. “It was just on the another night.” Yes, I countered, but there are two scenes (actually three) that are critical to the day’s theme, I said.
When the sound went out, I thought, well, there goes the object lesson. But just when all seemed lost, the sound burst back into operation just as the French police raid Rick’s Americain Café and try to arrest Ugarte, who had murdered the couriers carrying the transit papers. Ugarte begs Rick to help him, but Rick tells him tough luck. “I stick my neck out for no one.” Selfish? It’s the answer you get when you commit a dishonorable act (even if the couriers were Nazis).
The passengers were startled when the sound came back on, because in order to hear anything, I had to have the driver turn the volume all the way up. He lowered it immediately. Then the sound went out again for quite awhile, and the driver turned the volume up again.
Everyone was chatting and dozing off. I saw the second scene coming that I’d wanted my passengers to note, when Viktor Lazlo has the band play the French anthem. I sighed and thought “Oh well.” The sound came back on just as the trumpets blared. My passengers nearly jumped out of their seats, and again, the driver was forced to lower the volume.
After the scene ended, the sound went out yet again. I thought, “Well, now they’re going to miss the third point.” I watched as a silent Rick tells a tearful but now silent Ilsa why she has to get on the plane. Just as Viktor returns, the sound came back on as he was asking her if she was ready to go. She goes to his side and tells Rick quietly, though it boomed over the speaker system, “God Bless You.”
Then the sound cut out again as the plane was leaving, though it came back just as the finale music played. I had yet another movie I could have played for them, “Executive Decision” but I asked them if they were all movied-out and they said, “Yes, but thank you for asking us.” Instead of inflicting it on them.
Glenn Beck said that we need real life heroes. But often we don’t recognize heroes until it’s far too late to acknowledge them and their stories have to be retold in books and movies. He presented his own badges of merit to three people the audience barely knew anything about, one for faith, one for hope, and one for charity.
Even with the stuff of legends, books and movies, our eyes tend to glaze over and we become inattentive to their import. It takes an Almighty God indeed, to take away our sight and our sound, and then restore it at a crucial moment to make us more appreciative of miracles like courage, honor, charity, and self-sacrifice.