08 May 2007
As you can imagine my departure from Washington, DC was a touch overwhelming. After spending six weeks constantly surrounded by friends and family I am moving back into an extended period of independent “rugged” travel where every day will bring new faces and new places. While I love the adventure, that initial “break” from comfort and consistency can be a tad “BLAM,” if that makes any sense. I go from talking to fifteen different people, all of whom I’ve known for years, to talking to myself – and the crazy lady sitting next to me on the plane. Which brings me to my perfect opening sequence for this World Tour.
A friend was nice enough to rent a Zipcar and drive me all the way out to Dulles, blasting another friend’s “Dance Mix #2” the whole ride (she’s insanely proud of these mixes. She takes them everywhere, constantly asking wait staff, club owners and Target store employees to pump them through the building). After fighting curb traffic, he helped launch my backpack up over my shoulders, I flashed him the “Peace” sign (why, I’m not sure. It just felt appropriate) and I was off. I followed the signs to the cattle call line, more commonly known as “Economy Class.” There are 17 people ready and waiting for the first class, premiere class, business first class, business plus class, ‘I bought this ticket with laundered money class’ folks and about 9 people for the rest of us. I then de-backpacked and began pushing the monstrosity down the never-ending cue. A female attendant was walking up and down yapping about knowing your confirmation number and having it ready because “the people at the desk don’t have time to look it up.” I’m sorry, please don’t let any of us – who paid for these tickets – take up anyone’s time (this came after a brief lecture on how we all should have checked in online and printed our own boarding passes). It’s strange, I feel like consumers continue to pay more and more for everything these days and yet we’re doing more and more of the actual work ourselves, from printing our own boarding passes to scanning and bagging our own groceries!
Anyway, so I’m kicking this bag and searching through my itinerary to find this all-important confirmation number that just isn’t anywhere to be found. Not wanting to inconvenience the actual workers as the desk, I decide to ask the “friendly” line monitor where I might find the info. She sighs, rolls her eyes and tells me to “come over here,” grabbing my wrist. I follow her off to the side of the line. She then snatches the itinerary from my hands and says “let me do it.” Ok, cranky nine-year-old! She’s perusing and sighing and rolling her eyes and shaking her head and tapping her foot for a good two minutes until she finally looks at me and says “well this is the wrong form so I guess you’ll just have to talk to someone at the desk.” Heaven forbid the people at the desk be required to speak to a lowly Economy Class passenger!
Little did I know that while I was busy getting a talking to, an international crisis was emerging behind me. The woman had pulled me so abruptly from the line I had forgotten to grab my backpack, which was now leaning up against one of the line poles. There were two other attendants “surrounding” the bag while other passengers were backing away from the area. I dashed back over and grabbed my bag. One attendant said to me “is that your bag?” I replied coolly, “yes.” This is when things got interesting. He looked and me angrily, pointed his finger right at my face and let loose. “You can’t leave bags unattended. You’re going to be arrested. You just committed a federal offense. You scared a lot of people. The bomb squad is on the way. You’re in big trouble. You could have killed a whole lot of people.”
I was completely flabbergasted. First of all, how could I have killed a whole lot of people? I DIDN’T have a bomb in my bag. Second of all, is being absentminded and forgetting a bag somewhere for literally two minutes honestly a federal offense? Third of all, you called the bomb squad after two minutes? I mean, really? Not only did this man ream me out, his coworker – the woman who blamed me for not having my confirmation number in an email HER COMPANY sent to me – joined in. She was the one who said “come with me” and dragged me away! At this point other passengers started chiming in: “you could have killed us. What if a terrorist left the bag there? What if we all died?”
At this point I honestly thought I was on a hidden camera show or something. What rational human beings turn into absolute crazies in under two minutes? Knowing that my only witness was also against me (that rude ticket lady who was clearly a hall monitor in elementary school and picked on by the cool, pretty girls) I decided to just pick up my bag and walk to the check-in counter, uttering just a few short comments: “Oh, is this really a federal offense? Huh.” That was it. What else could I say? This whole “scared of everything” mentality is not rational, so you can’t really talk to someone about it in a reasonable manner. Do we check every car left in every parking lot to see if someone left a bag in it? Do we search through every bush in every public space to see if someone hid a bag there? Do we check every train car for unattended bags? When did it shift from the possibility that someone forgot something to “someone is a terrorist?” I forget things all the time! Bags, watches, sunglasses, my vitamins…if this is our “New World” then I’m in big trouble as an absentminded American.
Of course, the ridiculousness didn’t stop there. While checking my bags the male attendant from earlier came over to let me know he had called off the bomb squad and that I should consider myself “lucky.” People, I left a bag sitting on a pole TEN FEET from me for TWO MINUTES! Lucky? I’m human!
I was then asked if I wanted to pay $15 extra for 5 more inches of legroom. Pay for legroom? Honestly? What’s next, paying to use the bathroom? Then it was off to security, where there are now two lines – “Security Checkpoint” and “Premium Passengers.” I can’t even begin to tell you how many problems I have with this. It’s fine if airlines – private companies – want to give special treatment to people who pay more money, but not the federal government. Airport security – TSA – is a federal government agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. It is a public entity and there is no reason why people who can afford more expensive plane tickets deserve special treatment or to be “more safe” while flying. This is what all those people should be outraged by! If you want evidence of how the rich and the poor are not treated equal just go to the airport! Listen America – my two-minutes-forgotten bag is far less of a threat to you than an American government that says certain wealthy citizens are “Premium.” Aren’t they really saying the rest of us AREN’T “premium?” I mean, I think I’m a pretty premium American…