"When all think alike, no one is thinking very much." ~ Walter Lippmann
One Happy (and Free) Island
Exclusive to STR
As Strike The Root celebrated its fifth anniversary, I was in Aruba with my wife and kids taking advantage of some of the liberties denied to me in the so-called "Land of the Free." From the moment our plane landed in Aruba, to the time one week later when we began the ordeal of US Customs pre-clearance and threw ourselves at the mercy of the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration, I can appreciate more the spirit of individual liberty expressed in the articles and essays on STR.
One of the first things I noticed on my trip was how much easier it is to get into Aruba than it is to get out of the United States. Before our plane left from Newark, it took almost two hours to check our bags and get through security. Even at the departure gate, we had to endure another security check, and guard dogs were sniffing around for bags containing cash that might be used to buy drugs.
When we arrived in Aruba, the atmosphere at the airport was completely different from what we had left. It took about three minutes to get through immigration; the lady at the desk simply smiled and asked how long we were staying (I guess they want to make sure their "one happy island" doesn't sink under the weight of too many fat American tourists). Customs was a joke; after we got our bags, we went to a designated area for inspection, but it was closed off and the two "inspectors" who were there just smiled and waved us through without opening anything.
At our hotel, a surprise greeted us in the room: an ashtray! We got an even bigger surprise when we went to a restaurant: another ashtray! Yes, smoking is permitted in Aruba, even in hotels and restaurants. In the People's Republic of New Jersey (where I live), smoking is prohibited in all public places and accommodations, including bars. It seems people in Aruba can deal with each other's vices without resorting to the coercive authority of the "nanny state." Just as remarkable is that most people--tourists and natives--don't smoke anyway. I didn't go to one restaurant where I saw anybody smoking at their table. Maybe because in a truly civilized society, people rely on good manners and mutual consideration rather than calling for bullies with a badge. For those who do enjoy an occasional smoke (like myself), Aruba offers freedom of choice not available to Americans at home: Cuban cigars. Every night I could sit on my balcony and savor the smell of superior craftsmanship which is denied to cigar aficionados by the anti-Castro lobby and their neo-nut conservative allies in Congress and the Bush Regime.
At home, I can't drive more than a few blocks without seeing a cop car; it's nice to see how my tax dollars are being wasted. In Aruba, I did not see one government thug (aside from the two smiling customs inspectors who waved us through the airport). However, there were plenty of uniforms which belong to private guards, usually designated "Loss Prevention" or "Security." With so much dependent on the tourist trade, businesses in Aruba make sure to provide a reasonable amount of protection to persons and property without becoming intrusive. Which leads to the infamous case of the missing Alabama party girl, Natalee Holloway. Personally, I could not stomach the TV coverage and talking heads speculating about her disappearance any more than the obsessive, nonstop media hype surrounding JonBenet. The condescending attitude towards Aruba by grandstanding analysts and commentators gave true meaning to the term "Ugly American." This was exemplified by the Governor of Alabama, a state notorious for its own unsolved hate crimes against African-Americans, calling for a tourist boycott of Aruba. What he and the media clowns don't seem to comprehend is that Aruba does not depend on a police state apparatus. They don't need one; their crime rate is much lower than the US, and violent crime is practically nonexistent. Americans fulminating against Aruban authorities are like alcoholics castigating potheads for using drugs.
As we went through US customs and immigration pre-clearance while still in Aruba, I began to feel uneasy, as if I was entering a prison. That feeling remained when we landed at Newark Airport, even though we had already been "cleared." After spending one week in Aruba, I appreciate the advantages of being in a country that is not at war with anybody, that minds its own business, and whose government does not promote an environment of mistrust and fear of other people. I also enjoy being in a place where I can pretty much do what I want (like smoking Cuban cigars), where I want so long as I don't interfere with someone else's enjoyment. If there is a conflict, people in Aruba generally resolve their differences between themselves, without resort to coercive force. This would be a valuable lesson for all Americans who visit Aruba to take home with them (along with the Aruban aloe but not the Cuban cigars).