Ashtray Followers

As one does, others will follow suit blindly. This is the thought that ran through my ever-entangled series of coherent spaghetti I call my mind. I have been in Portland, Oregon for the last four days, enjoying the graces of good friends, kind love, and boisterous laughter. One of my close friends tied the knot at an outdoor lodge along the beautiful countryside. Actually, I am not sure if you would call it countryside in Oregon but the endless trees, green grass, and rows of berry farming suggested the appropriateness of the phrase. Back to the blind leading the blind.

My wife and I arrived at the airport early in the morning, ready to board the plane and return home to our children. I still had more than a half of cup of 7-Eleven coffee left and time to spare. She decided to make her way to the terminal. She gets anxious about being there at a specific time. Not sure why, I assume so she can watch others board before they call our group. I wanted to have a smoke and finish my coffee.

As I stepped out to the designated smoking area, outlined in a rectangular shape, multiple stone ashtray pillars, tucked in the corner as an elementary school detention area, I used my time to indulge. I first saw the future through the actions of a young man, sitting hunched over staring at his cell phone screen, sucking on an electronic cigarette as his hands shook form what I only assumed was a nicotine withdraw coming to an end with his next hit. I wondered if this was the picture to be seen as I get older.

I then watched as all five or six of the other individuals in this smokers’ box, said nothing to one another. No engagement, at all. I love conversation with random strangers but everyone seemed a bit haggard from the night before or at least the mere fact that it was 6 o’clock in the morning. I bothered no one.

My wife sent me a text, “Security is packed.” I respond, “K.” She wants me to hurry up so we don’t miss our flight but I know we still have forty-five minutes until departure and I can make it, even if I am searched in a back room for being suspicious looking. I take a few more pulls of my smoke and decide to head towards the ashtrays. I notice two things that really stood out. Here is where you get a sense of my private events that typically make sense only to me.

First, the top of the ashtray had a flat surface to extinguish the cig and then a hole in the middle of that flat surface to drop the butt to a descending plunge of nothingness, disappearing from the naked eye. Yet, no one used it properly. All simply put their butt on the flat surface. I thought how it was a bit inconsiderate. Some employee of the airport cleaning crew was going to have to grab foreign cigarette butts with saliva filled wet filters and put them in their proper abyss, by hand.

I looked to the second stone pillar ashtray to see if this was just an accident. This is where I saw the second fascination of the moment. There were six or seven deserted lighters laying on the rim of the ashtray. Can I not bring my lighter on the plane? No, I do it every time I fly, including internationally. I brought one to Oregon. Is this just a PDX (airport code) rule? It has to be, otherwise why are so many others leaving their lighters? Lighters cost money and they are hard to hold onto as they constantly seem to find their way into someone else’s pocket besides the owner. I must research the answer.

I quickly pull out my phone, wrangle Google to give me the correct TSA policy and procedures, only to find that I am absolutely correct. You can bring a disposable lighter or Zippo on the plane. You cannot store these lighters that carry fluid in the undercarriage of the plane in your bag. It must be brought in through your carryon-on. I recognize in that moment this is simply blind following.

None of those people took the time to look at the configuration of the ashtray to use it properly. Each one of the owners of the lighter, saw the first person who left the lighter and figured they knew best and should follow along. There seemed to be zero thought process, no gathering of information, an absence of mindful observation, and limited appropriate decision making. This moment of scholarly smoker behavior is a clear microsome to the herd mentality and follower status so many displayed from time past, present, and most likely in all futures.

What I desire most in life, from others and myself, is for people to take a second to think. Just think. Following may be the appropriate response but only after you have gathered the appropriate information. With information comes the wisdom to make the appropriate choice. That choice still may be not to use the ashtray in its proper manner or to leave your lighter in a “better to be safe than sorry” sentiment. That is fine. I would like to think this was the protocol and procedure used by each individual’s remnants I inspected. Unfortunately, I highly doubt it.

To follow is a simple response that requires little effort in strategy nor tactic. It may still be an arduous journey but one you are no longer responsible for leading. Followers are necessary in life and each one of us will assume that role multiple times throughout our decades. Great things are accomplished by the masses following sound leadership. But if all you ever do is follow, never take the time to gain accurate information, or stop and think for a second to make a decision that is most fitting, you will forever see the back of someone else’s head blocking the view of your path, inhibiting your journey. This I gathered from a full ashtray laden with free lighters.