22 December 2013 | Majuro
I will always remember the silver plastic Gemini space capsule that Santa brought me when I was 9. About the diameter of a dinner plate, it had an opening door and clear plastic windows.The cockpit had been cast in an off-white plastic and included the astronauts seat and seatbelt. Overhead lay a giant array of complicated looking instruments and dials. It required no batteries because it didn't really "do" anything, but when you turned down the lights, the interior glowed brightly and that plastic toy captured my imagination for hours. I'd imagine myself inside the cockpit - orbiting high above the earth. Of course it may have helped that our grade school had been visited by a traveling NASA exhibit which had a real Gemini space capsule. This exhibit must have toured the country long before it made its way to Anchorage, but the fact that it did make it, surprises me even today. That capsule must have sparked the imagination of thousands of children at the time. The Apollo space program was in full swing, we'd landed on the moon and America was kicking ass. It was a good time to be a kid. While I don't remember specifically wanting to "be" and astronaut, I was brought up with the space and aeronautics field forefront and my room had many model airplanes dangling from the ceiling in flying positions. After school television programs included Lost in Space, Star Trek, and my favorite - Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. We were told to "boldly go where no man has gone before." In short, life for a kid at the time was filled with fodder for big dreams and aspirations.
And so it struck me today, while doing some Christmas shopping of my own, so see there in the toy section, front and center, a big, metallic blue, realistic, radio controlled, model JL678.........TOURIST BUS. I was speechless. Setting aside the notion that any kid would actually want a radio controlled metallic blue tourist bus, what about the not-so-subliminal message that comes along with this toy? Imagine the gleam in little Junior's face when he runs down the stairs to see what Santa has left under the tree. Is this a toy that will spur his imagination...or make him reach for the sky and dream big? Is it even fun? What parent in their right mind would buy this for their child? I can just hear dad on Christmas morning, "Oh look what Santa has brought you son. That is so cool. Lets put the batteries in and see how it drives. Wow! It looks just like a real tourist bus." Junior learns something new. "Hmm? I guess Santa (and mom and dad) place a lot of status on being a tour bus driver. Maybe someday, I'll be a real tour bus driver too."
Now I'm sure it's a noble enough occupation and I'm not trying to slam anyone who actually drives a tour bus for a living, but I'd be real surprised if it was their childhood dream job. Today Americans are whining that we seem to have lost our competitive edge in the world. Is it any wonder? It felt odd when I was at university that there were so many foreign nationals at my school...I mean like a third of the student body! And it's been happening for at least 25 years now right under our noses. While the USA may still have the biggest purchasing power in the world, that ain't gonna cut it for long. We've outsourced just about everything including, apparently, the notion for our children to dream big. As kids morph into adults these days, lackadaisical attitude prevails and there seems to be an increasing number of kids that simply have no motivation, no direction, no drive and no ambition. Most are no longer interested in going on to university, but they don't really want to work either. Perhaps its too late. Perhaps our kids really will be tour bus drivers for the throngs of wealthy Chinese tourists who come to see the remnants of what America used to be. So this year, Santa, ......... what are you gonna do about it?