“Air show? Buzz-cut Alabamians spewing colored smoke from their whiz jets to the strains of “Rock You Like A Hurricane?” What kind of countrified rube is still impressed by that?”
— Sideshow Bob, The Simpsons, “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming”
We are fans of things that draw tourists to Montgomery. Even if we find ourselves never likely to attend any of the lame events at the Davis Theater, we appreciate the fact that some folks evidently think that these are cool shows and show up in our town to spend their tourist money. And while our tastes may be outside the mainstream, if people want to drop $50 to go to a no-talent hack like Michael McDonald perform at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre (yes, that’s how they spell it), that’s fine with us. Spending money on crap still enriches our tax base. And the tax base is what makes our city function.
So we support all of the events that draw dollars to be spent in our town, be they Biscuits games or crummy music festivals that draw acts we don’t ever want to see perform. Thus, it is with great remorse that we must reluctantly ask of the current massive Montgomery tourist draw: Can we please find something else?
Maxwell Air Force Base officials estimate that 50,000-70,000 people have turned up for the “Thunder Over Alabama” Air Show this weekend. A Montgomery Advertiser interview with vendors produced an estimate of 80,000 people. And if people want to get together and risk their lives to watch tax dollars evaporate in an air-polluting spectacle of bad music and crotch-grabbing patriotism, well, hey, we don’t begrudge people their stupid monster truck shows and we won’t agitate for the banning of these exercises in nationalist death worship.
But the gripe that merits actually posting something on the Interwebs here at Lost in Montgomery is that it’s not like these air shows are taking place off on some private land far away from those of us who choose not to pay admission. The air shows impose on us all — not just with the window-shaking, car-alarm-setting-off, super-low runs over downtown Montgomery, but also what with the whole risk of death of all of us.
Look, I might even be willing to sign off on a little noise pollution once a year as a sacrifice for our city’s economy. Montgomery has a long and beautiful aviation history, something of which we can all be proud. So if I have to feel like I’m in some kind of warzone while working in my downtown office as the Top Gun wannabes crack off a few barrel rolls and ruin a couple of workdays out of the year, fine. At least from a noise and disruption perspective.
But what’s not cool is that along with the noise comes the risk of death raining down from the sky any time one of these super elite show offs loses control. And it happens. Fairly often. And it’s not just if the pilots mess up. There could be mechanical failure. They could hit a bird. And when you’re sitting there minding your own business, there’s nothing you can do when a couple of tons of metal come screaming out of the sky and explode into flaming jet fuel somewhere in your vicinity.
All of which is what makes it so heavy metal and awesome for the yokels who show up to these things and cheer as “Danger Zone” blares over the speakers and Alabama residents get an up close look at the low-rent wannabe Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds. This is not particularly unique. The risk of a deadly crash is also, admit it or not, part of what makes Alabamians drawn to NASCAR like moths drawn to the potential of flame. Mix in some old school hand-over-heart weepiness (cue the Lee Greenwood) and some kind of fireworks-laden “salute to the troops who are doing this ‘for real’ overseas,” and nobody is thinking anything about the folks who didn’t pay to sit on the bleachers except what terrorist-loving cowards we probably all are.
But the difference between the smash-em-up, gas-wasting allure of NASCAR and the nuke-em-all, gas-wasting allure of air shows is that the explosions at the car race won’t kill those of us who decide not to attend. When Lt. Maverick Junior slips into a distracting Reagan fantasy while pretending to shoot down MiGs and Chinese J-10s over downtown Montgomery, it’s all of us who are at risk.
Again, we like tourist dollars and all, but can we please get a new tourist event and leave the 600 mph aerial hot rod show to some other state?