I don’t like flying in the middle seat on airplanes. I feel cramped. But on a recent United Airlines flight from Chicago to Portland, Oregon I sat between two men and had the most fascinating trip. Joe sat on the aisle. He is a 70 year old college professor and psychiatrist. He and his wife were returning home after visiting family in New York. He was reading a book called “Lucy’s Legacy” about the importance of the discovery of an ancient skeleton named Lucy in Africa and what it tells us about mankind’s ancestors. Chuck was sitting by the window. He is a manufacturing engineer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who was heading to Washington to attend his 30 year high school reunion. He was reading Road and Track and a manual with Yamaha motorcycle diagrams. Being the journalist that I am I sat in the middle asking questions about this and that and the conversation eventually turned to health care.
Joe said he was a fiscal conservative and social liberal. He drives a BMW and is a New York Giants fan. Chuck said he was a fiscal conservative and social conservative. He drives a Ford F150 pick up and loves the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. Over the course of the conversation on health care neither of them agreed on one single thing. Joe said we need a public option along with private insurance. Chuck said a public option would only give benefits to those who were on welfare or who were in America illegally. He worried that his health care insurance would be compromised with a public option as employers fled to cheaper possibilities. Joe reminded him we had Medicare and Medicaid and those were government options. On every point they agreed to disagree. Neither one swayed the other one bit and it occured to me that this may be why nothing meaningful will get done in the health care debate.
The conversation then turned to living in Alaska which both of them had done. Chuck had lived in Ketchikan. Joe had lived in Anchorage. Chuck commented about how people lost jobs up there when the mill closed so the spotted owl could be preserved in the old growth forests. He said you can’t close mills because of a spotted owl. Joe said Chuck’s teenage son might never see any original growth in his entire lifetime. He added that every place will look like Colorado which has been tamed. Chuck said talking to Joe was like talking to his dad. Joe asked Chuck what he thought about drilling in ANWR. Chuck said bring it on. The words bullshit and moron and 50/50 nation were thrown in (but in a nice way) and all the while I’m looking one way and the other and shaking my head wondering if we will ever make any progress if people don’t realize the truth is somewhere in between. They couldn’t even agree on football.
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