BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This is becoming a nasty pattern. I realized it after being tempest-tossed by Hurricane Sandy and American Airlines for the last handful of days. Two years ago, I’d been similarly held up by the blizzard that hit the East Coast just before New Year’s. But this article is not just about physical storms, but figurative ones, too. So if you want, you can skip ahead four paragraphs to avoid the hurricane story!
I flew out from LA to NY on a red-eye Friday night to surprise my mother on her 75th birthday. My youngest brother picked me up from the airport (JFK) and we drove to Washington, DC to pick up his wife and six-and-a-half year old. We then turned around and drove back to Toms River, NJ. Along the way, we had a farcical search for a Whole Foods store on NJ’s Rte. 73. The stumbling block was bad information from Apple’s new mapping app. We finally arrived at our destination after a baby-feeding stop in the woods along Rte. 70, surrounded by the smell of horse manure!
Of course, all along, we had Hurricane Sandy catching up to us. So we did the birthday stuff on Sunday and headed further north to NY as early as we could. Unfortunately, my Monday morning flight out of JFK had already been cancelled. I eventually managed to get on a Wednesday night flight from the same airport. But on Tuesday, that flight, too, was cancelled. American Airlines, in its infinite wisdom rescheduled me for a Thursday flight, meaning more missed work. Luckily, I was able to get a flight out of Philadelphia instead, which meant renting a car from LaGuardia airport. The funny thing is, with public transit shut down in NY, it cost almost as much to get from Brooklyn to Queens as rental cost! And speaking of costs, in all the turmoil, when I went to return the car to hertz, I forgot to fill up the gas. Of course then included an obscene charge- over $80 for half a tank of gas. When I said I’d go fill it up, they would no longer allow it. Even speaking to a manager did not help. This kind of inconsiderate, under the hurricane circumstances, behavior lands Hertz on my boycott list. I ask you to join me in never renting from that company again.
The next day, Wednesday, we tried to get my sister-in-law to work in Manhattan, after crawling for about two hours through traffic, traveling all of roughly six miles. We turned back from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. I then set out for Philly. It took close to two more hours to get out of the city. Once on the highways, it was smooth sailing, except… I couldn’t enter the rest areas to use the toilets! Every one of them along the NJ Turnpike had a backup of cars into the highway, in one case contributing to a brief traffic jam! When I noticed the parking lots in these places were empty, I realized what must be happening. Because of the power outages, gas stations can’t pump their fuel, so people must have been coming to the station on the turnpike where they could fill up.
At about this point, my mobile phone’s reception cleared up and I starting both receiving and calling out with ease. One of the questions I got was “How are the Armenian communities doing in the storm areas?” Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for that. I can say that most of them are in areas that are removed enough from the coast that they probably didn’t take a very hard hit, but they are still impacted heavily by things like the power outages.
Naturally, all kinds of family fights, conversations, and hanging out with my new nephew filled the storm impacted days. The one that stands out most was discussion of where the kid might go to school in a few years. Armenian schools were ruled out by my nephew’s parents. Why? Not because where they live is inconvenient to any of the three NY area Armenian schools. It never even got that far. No, it was because of the impression that our community’s schools are not up to snuff. This is a pervasive, and erroneous, impression, at the very least judging by the colleges the kids get into.
Yet, my brother made a different, much more accurate and pertinent, point. His “demographic”— comfortable financially, interested Armenian-wise if not very active, serious about their children’s education —is EXACTLY the group our schools should be targeting. Yet we do none of that kind of outreach, and certainly not to people like him/them who live in non-densely-Armenian communities, such as Brooklyn. I expect my nephew will go to some private school. Why shouldn’t it be an Armenian one? The storm surrounding our community’s schools should be eluded by reaching out to the people who will become long-term, even trans-generational, supporters.
Of course the biggest storm in the midst of which we find ourselves is the U.S. election. Unfortunately, the “What were they thinking?” category in last week’s column about the elections has picked up another item. This time, CAAD* (California Armenian-American Democrats) is the culprit. After some internal storms of its own, a meeting was held on October 29 to decide which candidates the group would endorse. Astonishingly, despite the guy outright lying to the Armenian community, CAAD chose to endorse Barack Obama. With this foolishness, in terms of inappropriate action, they outdid NORA’s (National Organization of Republican Armenians) endorsement of Mitt Romney a week ago. Thankfully, and wisely, CAAD did not endorse Mike Gatto, resoundingly so. In this, at least, the group did not stoop as low as the Hnchags’ ACA-PAC.
To be fair, there is a notion out there that partisan groups such as NORA or CAAD, cannot but endorse their respective party’s standard bearers, else they risk losing credibility. I disagree. Being firm in what a group stands for ultimately elicits more respect, and builds more credibility than cowering before the mighty and doing the wrong thing.
Finally, there’s the storm that has become Syria. Of course you’re aware of the civil war going on there and its massive impact on the very old, established, and prominent Armenian community there, especially in Haleb (Aleppo). No doubt you’ve also given money for relief work or are planning to attend one or more of the events being organized to provide support to our compatriots. What has not been obvious (to those following the Western media) is Turkey’s counterproductive and damaging role in that mess. Take a look at the accompanying picture to realize the mercenary role being played by Turks. Remember when our fighters in Karabakh found Afghan mercenaries among those fighting for the Azeris in the early- and mid-1990s? Here’s more of the same, courtesy of the most destructive and disruptive entity in the whole Middle East— Turkey.
Make sure you’re properly engaged in all these storms— vote, let your federal representatives know how bad you think America’s Syria policy is, send your kids to Armenian schools, and stay out of the path of hurricanes.
* For full disclosure, I too am a member of CAAD.