mike o callaghan pat tillman memorial bridge

The day the laughter died

March 29, 2021

Photo Credit: Trip.com

   We were having breakfast in our hotel in Boulder City, prior to our visit to the Hoover Dam. Across from us sat a table of what, until January 6, I would have jovially called “good old boys.” One was dressed in a county sheriff’s uniform, and the others spoke as if colleagues. They were saying and agreeing how President Joe Biden was not their president.

   The hotel we were staying at – the Boulder Dam Hotel – is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It’s located about seven miles from the Hoover Dam, a monumental human feat built in just five years with government money, and at a cost of nearly 100 lives. There is a bridge there, dedicated in part to the memory of former Arizona Cardinal and U.S. Army corporal Pat Tillman, which offers the best panoramic view of the engineering marvel of the dam. The resulting Lake Mead measures the cumulative effect of 20 years of drought conditions in the southwest.

   America is a big country. I learned this during a couple of trips on Amtrak, where after something like 48 hours, I’d only covered half of it. And I used to think it was a diverse country, and diverse in a very amusing and entertaining way. That fat deputy sheriff in the Boulder Dam Hotel restaurant would have been an amusing, local color caricature in the not too distant past. The sight of the Hoover Dam would have been one of pride and marvel of the American “can do” spirit. In another time, I would have found something funny about a dam holding back a drought. The memory of Pat Tillman would have tugged at my patriotic heartstrings, but still would have cracked wise about what some people will go through to have a bridge named after them. (Not all my attempts at humor are in good taste, by the way.)

I’ve repudiated all former childhood friends and my best man for my wedding to Carolyn because of their support, implicit or otherwise, of Trumpsterism. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” wrote Allen Ginsberg.

   But on January 6, this country stopped being funny or even amusing. On that day, we witnessed members of law enforcement and the U.S. military smashing the windows and doors of the nation’s Capitol, hurling projectiles, the N-word and even thin blue line pro-police flags at the very officers the rioters claimed to respect. And all done in the name of “patriotism.”

   Nothing in this country can be funny or amusing anymore.

   That fat deputy sheriff is a domestic terrorist. The National Registry of Historic Places enshrines insurrection and racism. The Hoover Dam is a monument to American rapacious, the chalky, dessicated drought lines of Lake Mead, a skeletal image of an America soon to come. Pat Tillman died in vain. He certainly did not die as a “patriot” the way the rioters defined the term.

   I’ve repudiated all former childhood friends and my best man for my wedding to Carolyn because of their support, implicit or otherwise, of Trumpsterism. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” wrote Allen Ginsberg.

   It was during a road trip to the Grand Canyon that we checked out a classic car street show in Williams, AZ. When I saw the “Trump 2020” flag on one of the cars, I said to myself, “There’s no place in this country I want to visit anymore. And in the restaurant of the Boulder Dam Hotel with a uniformed law enforcement officer agreeing with his trough mates that Joe Biden is not their president, I realize there’s no place in America where I should feel safe anymore.

   I can’t imagine what it’s like being Black here.

   And there’s nothing funny about that.

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