All right, I guess I should get out more often! I finally met a real life conspiracy nut in person and I have to admit that the experience disturbed me more than I thought it should. I met someone who is sure that the water vapor tails left in the atmosphere by jet engines (contrails) are really chemical sprays (Chemtrails) commissioned by the U.S. government for some nefarious purpose. Yes, I have heard of them in passing, along with the 911 “Truther” and the JFK conspiracy nuts but I never thought I’d actually talk to a live one!
Since my stints on CBS Survivor (Season 14 Fiji and Season 16 Micronesia), I had the opportunity to travel and meet more people outside of my ordinary mundane State civil service job life than I ever dreamt I would. In the last year, I travelled more than I ever did in the last 10 years before that – so I have spent more time hanging out, waiting in airports than actually flying in planes! A month ago, I was in Long Island, New York for a Survivor fundraiser event. My flight home was scheduled to leave JFK at 9am but the shuttle from the Long Island hotel ran only every 2 hours! Taking into account that weekend’s rainy weather and unpredictable traffic, I decided to wake up early to take the 5am shuttle instead of the 7 am. That morning the rain had stopped and the roads were clear, putting me at JFK a little after 6 am – giving me 3 hours of hanging out at the waiting area.
As soon as I got to the boarding area, I was recognized by a clean-cut, well-dressed middle-age man who asked for my autograph and picture taken with him. I obliged. Then he sat down next to me and asked me if I mind talking to him about my Survivor experience. Sure, we have 2 ½ more hours to kill. He introduced himself as a fan of the show and then after a few questions about making of reality-TV shows, asked if I mind moving to seats nearer to the glass wall over-looking our plane while we talked. No problem as I thought that “Bob” could be some aviation buff and likes planes. As we talked, in between his questions about how the show was made, etc., I noticed that he was distracted sometimes, with intense interest in all the activities around the ground crews preparing our plane. (It was an originating direct JFK to SFO flight, and not a stopover; which could account for the more than usual activities around the plane.) My curiosity got better of me and so I finally asked him about his interest in the fueling, and other maintenance activities around our plane.
That was it! Bob start in about Chemtrails. He asked if I knew anything about it and when I plead ignorance, he was more than glad to fill me in on all the details. I will not go into the gory details of this conspiracy and leave it to you to Google “Chemtrails” to learn all about it. Bob seemed like a very reasonable and personable normal guy when we first met just 30 minutes earlier. But as soon as he started on the Chemtrail conspiracy, I felt like I was cornered by a Hare Krishna or a Moonie proselytizer! He was sure that someone like me, schooled in the sciences would know how “it works” and how “they” do it!
By then, we still have more than 90 minutes from boarding. This was one of the only times since my TV appearance that I wish I would be recognized by more people at the waiting area so they would interrupt me and give me a good excuse to stop talking to Bob! But alas, it was not a very full flight and there were no fellow passenger/Survivor-Fan to my rescue. The more he got into the whole Chemtrail conspiracy the more fantastic it sounded. If I were just reading what he was telling me, I would have dismissed it as a good spoof on conspiracy theories or at best the rambling of a deluded individual. But there I was talking to a completely normal person till the subject of his pet peeve about our government came up!
Since I knew very little about this Chemtrail thing, my curiosity was aroused! And as luck would have it, that flight had a WiFi service! I had to Google “Chemtrail” as soon as I can turn on my laptop! (For $9.95, a passenger with a computer or iPhone can have access to wireless Internet service for the duration of the flight. That’s way too cheap, I thought. How many years and users would the airline need to have to recoup their investment in that infrastructure to provide that service at that rate? If it were not for this burning desire to learn more about Chemtrail conspiracy, I would have never had any reason to spend $9.95 for Internet access on a 5 hour flight! Well, the question was quickly answered – they make their money selling ads – every time a new page loaded, it was preceded by an arrival city targeted ads for car rentals, airport shuttle services, hotels, spas and of course a special discount code for fancy high-end luggage in case they lost yours on your current flight! Now, that’s a conspiracy worth looking into!)
Since that encounter at JFK, I’ve been asking myself why that experience was so special if not profound for me. Yes, Bob was the first real walking, talking conspiracy nut I’ve met in person, but I’m sure he would not be the last. The more I learn about the Chemtrail nonsense, the more incredulous I am and find myself unable to shake the feeling that Bob was pulling my leg! The whole Chemtrail conspiracy theory is almost a caricature of all conspiracy theories. Is it possible that anyone of sound mind could really believe that the “government” is somehow controlling the citizenry by doping them up with chemicals sprayed military jets and jetliners, with the corporation of commercial aviation? I grew up with a mother who is absolutely certain that she has had encounters with ghosts and spirits; I have aunts and uncles who are sure that Feng-Shui is a science, so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with people who believes weird stuff. I guess it’s cultural conditioning. Objectively, their beliefs make no more sense than believing that water vapor trailing hot jet engines are chemical sprays. So, while I have no problem believing that my relatives really believe what they believe, I still have the nagging feeling that Bob was pulling my leg all along and that now he can brag at the next office party about putting one on on a D-list celebrity.