Sweet and sour


“Sweet and sour” is a term that needs little introduction. I’ll borrow it from the menu and use it as a dish for the larger feast of life. So pull up a beach chair, pop open a cold one, and let’s get philosophical about things.


The nifty thing about sweet and sour, of course, is that the right combination of opposite things results in a savory experience. My long-term goal has been to enjoy two very compelling, but opposite, notions.  One is action and adventure. The other is peace and quiet.


This was Saipan’s big draw. Before I even heard of the place the call of adventure had taken me to Pago Pago, French Polynesia, and Panama; I was a pilot and a seafarer. That was great, but I eventually longed for a slice of the other end of a spectrum, a tranquil place with American-style creature comforts. A peaceful nook on Saipan was just the thing.


I wasn’t the only one with that outlook. Though I also did business on the ground and opened an office soon after my arrival, most of my new friends were pilots and mariners. Some of the mariners had arrived on Saipan after single-handedly sailing boats across the Pacific. They understood the notions of adventure and of peace. So, too, did various professionals who found tropical life to be more fulfilling than living under the gray blanket of the “real world.”


This wasn’t the only outlook that drew outsiders to the island, though. Loot from the local political syndicates drew a separate species of outsiders.


True, the two groups of outsiders were sometimes an uneasy mix, but that was only sometimes. It was obvious which camp would prevail. The inevitability of the outcome proved the futility of contention. Even temporary harmony is still harmony, so there was no incentive to rock the boat.


Eventually, one by one, the anchors were weighed. Sails were hoisted. Offices were closed. Props were turned and rotors were, too. Insurance agents scrubbed “Saipan” off of paperwork and put in new places.


Those places were Guam, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Indonesia, to name a few spots where my pals landed. While Saipan ceased to be viable for most people outside of the political structure, the exodus served to create a broadening network of colleagues.


The network had new places and new stories of new adventures. These tales would reach the rest of us in drips and drabs, sometimes taking years to filter through the grapevine.


It’s still happening. For example, it just came to my attention that an aircraft with a storied history on Saipan has been sold for parts. To most people, that’s not a meaningful thing. But to any pilot or any mariner, the death of a worthy vessel is, just that, an actual death.


I went through my photo album and tallied eight aircraft (four airplanes and four helicopters) that I piloted in the CNMI that are gone now.


As the years go by, the more my balance shifts toward the peace and quiet end of the spectrum. Less material goes into the photo album. More time goes into reading it from an armchair. Well, that’s the long-wave trajectory, at least. Shorter terms can zig and zag all over the place. Even if you don’t welcome all the changes when they come along, the alternative is to spend your life under the gray blanket.

And so, while, for example, being seasick during a typhoon in remote Pacific waters is a miserable way to spend a night, looking back on a life where you didn’t do that might be even less appealing. Bad times can make for the best stories.


Eventually, those stories aren’t mere stories. They are YOU.


That’s obvious, sure, but the gray blanket never quits. The comforts of modern life make the rigors of adventure seem anachronistic, unappealing, and unnecessary. After all, the electronic media offer a vicarious substitute.


And here we find a strange phenomenon: The buzzing electric bubble not only serves as a substitute for the discomforts and risks of adventure, but, in doing so, it also displaces the notion of true peace and quiet. Clinging to vicariousness means being cemented to the distractions that comprise it.


This behavior has been noted for a long time. In 1985 a book titled Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman, addressed the notion. Keep in mind that’s back when mere TV was the high-tech thing. It’s before the Web and smartphones were part of life, not to mention the actual core of life for so many people.


I’ll note it, but I sure won’t bemoan it, and, in fact, I’m thankful for it. The routines of the modern economy require a lot of people who, well, who do what modern people do.


As for myself, though, I’ll take the sweet and sour instead. I know that many readers, be they near or far, feel the same way. After all, nothing can rival swapping wayfaring tales from the quiet perch of a snug harbor.


That is, in fact, one routine that just gets better with age. So, cool story, bro. Tell it again.


Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.


Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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