L.B.: Hard to get a cab

Left Behind, pp. 28-30

From the pilot of a passing Concorde, Rayford Steele has learned that the mysterious disappearances on his plane are but a small piece of a global phenomenon. Finally Rayford picks up “an all-news radio outlet” that confirms the Concorde’s account.

One pictures Steele frantically scanning the dial looking for news — country music, hip-hop, oldies, adult contemporary — trying to find an “all-news” station in order to learn more about a global phenomenon bringing catastrophe, shock and sorrow to every corner of the globe.

Here, LaHaye and Jenkins may have stumbled onto an oddly accurate piece of prognostication. In the future, when Clear Channel’s conquest of the airwaves is near complete, most radio stations probably will be playing a nonstop loop of the same 10 songs on a continuous feed from the home office. These fully automated stations will have no local human personnel to break in with news when disaster strikes — as was demonstrated when Clear Channel’s stations failed to broadcast flood warnings in North Dakota. And in the story of Left Behind, it’s safe to assume that none of the executives at Clear Channel’s central office will have been “raptured,” so they would likely keep cranking out the Britney and Celine, unaware that anything was happening.

We can’t say that Rayford learns more details about the mass disappearances from the reports of this news station because, as usual, L&J don’t provide any of the details that would make this story interesting. This is a shame, since radio newscasts can be a particularly effective device for presenting glimpses of well-chosen detail that can heighten the sense of dread, suspense and foreboding — think of Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds.” But L&J are not Welles, so instead we get more of the all-tell, no-show prose we’ve come to expect:

[Steele] learned the far-reaching effects of the disappearance of people from every continent. Communication lines were jammed. Medical, technical and service people were among the missing all over the world. Every civil service agency was on full emergency status, trying to handle the unending tragedies.

You almost have to admire L&J’s refusal to employ storytelling in telling this story. And it gets worse. Here’s Rayford’s attempt to come to grips with the scope of this tragedy:

Rayford remembered the El-train disaster in Chicago years before and how the hospitals and fire and police units brought everyone in to work. He could imagine that now, multiplied thousands of times.

Yes, it’s a global catastrophe — like a really, really big wreck on the El. Every infant and young child on the planet has disappeared (a detail L&J reveal in later pages), thousands are dead in hundreds of plane crashes — Rayford is right. That can only mean that EMTs won’t be getting their regularly scheduled time off.

Even the newscasters’ voices were terror filled, as much as they tried to mask it. Every conceivable explanation was proffered, but overshadowing all such discussions and even coverage of the carnage were the practical aspects. What people wanted from the news was simple information on how to get where they were going and how to contact their loved ones to determine if they were still around.

Readers of LB do not, of course, get to hear those newscasters’ voices. Nor do we learn here, or anywhere in the book really, what might be included in “every conceivable explanation.” And how to account for the strangely inhuman emphasis on the “practical aspects.”

L&J were writing in 1995, six years before the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But the news coverage of that event — and what viewers and listeners wanted from the news — followed the same general pattern of the coverage of earlier catastrophes, such as Kennedy’s assassination or Pearl Harbor.

The human questions that humans have in response to such events are the same questions reporters (and novelists) should always be in the business of answering: What happened? Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Beyond that, faced with disaster and the loss of life, people also want to know: Who was responsible? Is it over? Will it happen again? Am I safe?

In the world of LB, no one seems to ask such questions. They just want to hear the next Shadow Traffic report. Such a bizarre perspective on human nature makes L&J bad novelists. It may even make them bad people.

L&J abruptly switch, mid-paragraph to Rayford’s instructions for landing and the logistics of his arrival at O’Hare. One assumes that these instructions are coming from air traffic controllers and not the all-news radio station, although the latter is what the text seems to suggest:

… Rayford was instructed to get in a multistate holding pattern that would allow him to land at O’Hare at a precise moment. Only two runways were open, and every large plane in the country seemed headed that way. Thousands were dead in plane crashes and car pileups. Emergency crews were trying to clear expressways and runways, all the while grieving over loved ones and coworkers who had disappeared. One report said that so many cabbies had disappeared from the cab corral at O’Hare that volunteers were being brought in to move the cars that had been left running with the former drivers’ clothes still on the seats.

Cars driven by people who spontaneously disappeared had careened out of control, of course. The toughest chore for emergency personnel was to determine who had disappeared, who was killed, and who was injured, and then to communicate that to the survivors.

Wrecked planes litter the runways, black smoke still rising with the scent of burning flesh. But far, far worse — the disappearance of cabbies has created an intolerable backup in the pickup lanes outside of baggage claims. Heroic volunteers, watching this tragedy unfold, refuse to sit idly by in the face of such suffering. They shrug off their personal losses on this day of horror, then brave great dangers and struggle to the airport against all odds so that, yes, they can get those unmanned taxis out of the way and get the line moving again!

[post-pub edited to add LB tag and fix typos]

  • Bill S

    I find myself trying to imagine the most embarressing moments to be “Raptured”-what if you’re having sex when it happens? What about those poor souls who were using a lavatory at that precise moment? Or getting a bikini wax?
    Can anybody think of some other examples?

  • Scott Cattanach

    In case of rapture (satire) bumper sticker

  • CMike

    Bill S.,
    I cannot resolve the lavatory issue – very perplexing. However, assuming The Rapture occurred during daylight hours in the Western Hemisphere, there is little or no chance any of the graced would be having sex at that time.

  • julia

    Medical, technical and service people were among the missing all over
    He can’t seriously be saying that plastic surgeons, plumbers and IT people are going first, can he?

  • sushiesque

    There are some great Jack Chick tracts about the Rapture (apologies if someone’s already posted about this). A personal favorite is The Last Generation. “Their clothes are on the floor… but where are they?” Meanwhile, Little Bobby who listened to his kitten-murdering wiccan teachers and betrayed his Christian relatives to the antichrist’s UN is left behind to die in his sins. “DON’T BE FOOLED LIKE BOBBY.”

  • Scott Cattanach

    If I donate a kidney and then get raptured, does the kidney go w/ me or stay with the hellbound sinner?

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    Is it a standard belief among LB’s readership that infants and young children are all heaven-bound? How young is young?

  • kevin

    “He can’t seriously be saying that plastic surgeons, plumbers and IT people are going first, can he”
    It is a well known fact that IT workers are God’s chosen people. :)

  • JRoth

    Not to distract from the lovely snarkiness above, but I think these storytelling flaws are telling on 2 ways. the first is the obvious one, which is that they are really just awful writers – I’m sure they thought the taxistand thing was a “telling detail,” one that would evoke chaos and people trying to cope in their own small ways. But offered as a rare concrete example, it’s laughable.
    But the real reason for these flaws is, as you hint, that they are bad people. They really think that their fellow humans (well, except for the plastic surgeons, plumbers, and IT types) are so petty that they only care about getting to work in the face of global catastrophe. You see, if people had their priorities straight, then they wouldn’t be Left Behind, would they?
    It’s incredibly simplistic and patronizing, but then that’s pretty much the motto for Premillenial Dispensationism, isn’t it?

  • http://www.sushiesque.com/sushiesque/2003/12/little_bobby_di.html s u s h i e s q u e

    Little Bobby died in his sins

    Lately I’ve been reading (gasp) blogs with (shudder) political content. This is out of character, for me; I tend to avoid the whole “warblogging” phenomenon because either it makes me sad or, worse, it preaches too shamelessly to the choir.

  • Kit

    I don’t know if this point has been made here before, but when you refer to the authorship of the book as by LaHaye and Jenkins it may not be entirely accurate. I believe Jenkins really wrote the books, with LaHaye overseeing their ‘biblical accuracy.’ In essence, a prominent Christian writer got someone to ghost write some novels about the apocalypse, and was kind enough to actually include his ghost writer on the jackets. I wish I could point to a useful link on the topic though, I mostly know this as ‘bookseller’s dirt’ from work (I am a bookseller).
    It is funny that the author(s) seem so reticent about giving any real detail via the radio broadcast when one considers that Kirk Cameron as newscaster talking head is one of the major characters in the Left Behind movie.

  • zenjohn

    What struck me as funny is the notion that dozens of cabbies were raptured from in front of O’Hare airport. Do LaHaye and Jenkins actually -know- any cabbies? It’s about as likely as 50 people being raptured from the Concorde.

  • pablo

    At least Jenkins and LaHaye have a high opinion of taxi drivers. Who knew?

  • Jon H

    kevin writes: “It is a well known fact that IT workers are God’s chosen people”
    Well, that sorta explains the current exodus of IT jobs.

  • Jon H

    zenjohn writes: “What struck me as funny is the notion that dozens of cabbies were raptured from in front of O’Hare airport”
    Good point. Who knew Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs were eligible?

  • William

    The real question is: why is only O’Hare open? Have all the other air traffic controllers at all the other airports been Raptured too? Is O’Hare kind of the Sodom of air traffic control?

  • Christy

    Jeffery was asking about the age of children who would be raptured. The idea that young children would be raptured instead of being “damned” with everybody else, is based on the idea of the “age of accountability”. I’m going to generalize, but the basic idea is that all children are innocent of sin, until they are old enough to understand right and wrong, recognize that all people are sinful, and and make a well-informed decision to choose to believe in Jesus Christ (salvation).

  • jlstrat

    >>>>>>>One report said that so many cabbies had disappeared from the cab corral at O’Hare that volunteers were being brought in to move the cars that had been left running with the former drivers’ clothes still on the seats.
    The kind of unintentionally hilarious quote that makes these books so priceless. I bought the paperback of the first one at Goodwill and, you know, I’ll never get that quarter back.

  • corsair the rational pirate

    …all children are innocent of sin, until they are old enough to understand right and wrong, recognize that all people are sinful, and and make a well-informed decision to choose to believe in Jesus Christ (salvation).
    Since I have a problem with absolute right and wrong, don’t recognize that anyone is inherently sinful, and don’t believe in jebus, does that make me childlike enough to be able to ride the Great Transporter Beam to Heaven?

  • Kevin Carson

    corsair,
    Facetiousness aside, your question pokes some holes in the fundamentalist dogma that acknowledging Jesus by name is the only way to heaven. Catholics believe in something called “baptism of desire,” which means (among other things) that anyone who is genuinely unaware or unable to understand the truth of Christianity, is judged only by what he DOES know. The same goes for people who are, in good faith, unconvinced by Christianity, but attempt to do good and avoid evil as they understand it, and sincerely repent of what they regard as sins.
    So while people are indeed saved by Christ, it doen’t necessarily mean that they are conscious adherents of Christianity.
    The question is: since there is no Biblical basis for the “age of accountability,” and the Catholic idea of “baptism of desire” applies essentially the same principle on a larger scale, why don’t the Baptists accept it?

  • Scott Cattanach

    What makes me think that Heaven, in the LBverse, will have a population that is 99% clumps of 10 cells or fewer?
    “No, I don’t have memories of Earth – I never developed brain cells while I was there.”

  • obeah

    “It is a well known fact that IT workers are God’s chosen people”
    They did even better than that in Nevada a few years ago:
    http://tinyurl.com/2fwmp

  • Jon H

    “The question is: since there is no Biblical basis for the “age of accountability,” ”
    Actually, the Bible would seem to suggest no exclusion at all. The Flood and the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrha didn’t make any exceptions for the unborn or children. They were wiped out with the adults.

  • Jon H

    It’s surprising that L&J didn’t have the plane divert from O’Hare to someplace more rural (and implicitly more godly) like Iowa or Indiana.

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    Thanks to Christy and Kevin for their responses on “age of accountability.” I also happened to look at the Jack Chick tract linked to be sushiesque, and obviously some believers have no truck with the notion. “Bobby” in the cartoon screed is obviously a demon child, and looks to be about eight years old.

  • http://www.retrogrouch.net/MT/archives/000277.html Barefoot And Naked

    Left Behind

    Slacktivist has been reading the first Left Behind novel. He’s also publishing a running commentary about it. Slack is one of the funnier people in the blogosphere, and he’s also a deft exegete. Hard to get a cab Here, LaHaye…

  • Charles Kuffner

    The Flood and the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrha didn’t make any exceptions for the unborn or children. They were wiped out with the adults.
    Jon, you just brought back one of the more horrible memories from my childhood. It was a comic book about Noah and the flood, and some thirty years later I can still clearly remember two panels, in which the rising waters reach and submerge a family. Mom, Dad, two small children, and a lamb, all terrified, all being drowned. Scared the crap out of me as a little kid. One doesn’t have to be a heathen to ask “What kind of God would do that?”

  • Jon H

    Charles wrote: ” One doesn’t have to be a heathen to ask “What kind of God would do that?””
    Yeah, it’s stuff like that which really makes you understand what the Gnostics were on about, separating the good God of the New Testament from the separate, evil, world-creating God of the Old Testament.

  • http://www.retrogrouch.net/MT/archives/000367.html Barefoot And Naked

    Boycott!!!: American Airlines Non-Christian Passengers Narrowly Escape Death

    By now you’ve probably heard about the American Airlines Pilot who asked Christians on board a flight to New York to identify themselves and suggested that the non-Christians discuss the faith with them. In most news stories, the pilot was…

  • Faustus, M.D.

    I’m confused. Aren’t there only going to be 144,000 people raptured and everybody else stays here? Because the passages you’re quoting make it sound like way more than that. Or is the 144,000 just the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

  • Ursula L

    We’ve got some nasty spam posts above – can anyone break the links?
    Faustus MD – In LB land, the 144,000 has to do with Jews who convert to Christianity and become evangelists, I think. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, I believe it is 144,000 total in the best part of heaven – which is a pretty good reason not to bother to convert to them, since there have already been more than 144,000 JW’s.


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