I used to love flying. I’d sit by the window and revel in glorious creation, both Divine and human, as I sat both ensconced in it and removed from it, watching, thrilled, as the farmland, villages, mountains, lakes and cities went by under the wings that cut through wispy clouds. It was true heaven as far as I was concerned.
And then America went crazy and tried to retroactively stop a bunch of zealots who turned a jet into a very lethal weapon.
I made my peace early with the illogic and humiliation of having to remove my belt and shoes to join a friend for lunch in their office building or keep my appointment with my cardiologist. I try to interact like a human with the poor people manning the portals of a system designed to be very inhuman and inefficient. I talk and joke with them and most will talk and joke back, or at least smile. Some just give me that bureaucratic blank stare to let me know this is not a time for levity, thank you very much, but I feel it is part of my job to bring a ray of sunshine into people’s lives whenever and wherever I can. Okay, I also always wanted to be the teacher’s pet. You might try it, though. It makes my day easier than if I grumbled through them. I must go through, I might as well do it with a smile on my face.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of flying to San Antonio. At Terminal Seven of Los Angeles International Airport I checked in at the little computer console with my e-ticket. Wonderful convenience, those, you do everything on-line, put your credit card in a slot, print out your boarding pass and you’re on your way. The first console didn’t work. Nor the second. Nor the third. Finally, one of the people behind the counter, whose load these consoles are supposed to lighten, came out, opened one of the consoles up, waved her hands voodoo-like over its innards and printed my pass.
I had packed my bags fulfilling all the regulations I was aware of for carry-on. Not too heavy, not too big. Only one suitcase and a shoulder bag. They could both fit in the overhead or under the seat in front of me. On the way to the main screening station at Los Angeles Airport, or at least at Terminal Seven, you must pass several mini check points. It’s sort of akin to what I understand entering a country behind the Iron Curtain must be like. Yes, there still is an Iron Curtain. I joked and chatted with each person at each point and got my requisite smile, albeit sometimes patronizing, from most of them.
I was happy to travel and secure in the thought that this minor inconvenience was stopping a child, somewhere, from starving to death.
After the last checkpoint, where you present your photo ID and prove you have a boarding pass, there are four lines to choose from in order to wend your way up to the row of abattoir that are the x-ray machines. All four rows looked to be about the same length, so I chose the outermost one. You don’t actually see the screening stations until you wind around the line a bit. It’s kind of like Disneyland that way, without all the cloying music.
I started realizing my line was moving more slowly than the others.
I chatted and joked with those around me, in my line and the one across the rope. Finally I saw our x-ray station. The portal. The conveyer belt. The man, staring at his little x-ray screen. He was stopping at every second or third bag to call his supervisor over to examine some supposed piece of heinous contraband. The supervisor let all of them through. No wonder we were the slowest line. All the other screeners were looking intently into their screens, but letting almost everything by. Our man had a look about him. He was big. He was angry. He was bitter.
I got my shoes off, my belt unhooked and unlooped, took the laptop out of the shoulder case, took my toiletry bag out of the suitcase. All my metal, coins, money clip, neck chain, into the plastic bin. I was ready. I knew the routine. After all my stuff went through, the fellow at the controls stopped the conveyor belt and opened my toiletry bag. Uh oh.
He took out my tube of toothpaste.
“This is over three ounces,” he said.
I sort of didn’t understand. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s over three ounces. No liquid over three ounces.”
“But it’s half empty.”
“It’s over three ounces. The container is over three ounces.”
I was flabbergasted. It’s not like I was going to blow up a plane with toothpaste. I doubted even an experienced demolition man could do that.
“I’m going to blow up an airplane with toothpaste?”
I actually said that. And I didn’t get arrested. At least we can speak our minds, still.
I insisted there was far less than three ounces of toothpaste in the tube, but he was adamant. He finally told me I could go back and check it if I wanted. I’d been in the line for this moment for over forty-five minutes. A short time, granted, given the state of some airport screening stations, but still.
This is a man who has little or no control of anything in his life and wields his petite power like a demagog. It never even occurred to me to try to bring a ray of sunshine into his life. The ray would have been instantly sucked into the black hole that is his void. A complete waste of a good ray.
“I’m not going to check a tube of toothpaste,” I said to him with a heavy coating of sarcasm that was lost in that same void, never to be seen again. Hey, it was Tom’s of Maine toothpaste! “Keep it.” He did.
I gathered my stuff with quick jerks and snippily put my shoes and belt back on. That’d show him. I still haven’t bought a new tube, either, just for spite. I’d rather brush with salt water.
Geoff Hoff is co-author of the best selling satirical novel Weeping Willow: Welcome to River Bend
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