For normal people, fear of flying starts when they get on the plane, generally either when they close the door or when the engines rev for takeoff. I’m deeply paranoid about flying, but it’s the security line that does it for me. It could just be the forced separation of me and my laptop, or possibly that while I trust the pilot not to get me killed because he’d probably take himself out too I don’t trust people working for TSA to be smart about anything, particularly not my safety, but the whole thing gives me the super-bad heebie-jeebies that I normally save for terminal idiots in positions of power and hive-minds in a recruitment phase.
Going through the security line just now did not soothe me at all. The line was short and efficient and I mostly blocked out the lady at the x-ray machine constantly barking about boarding passes, mandatory shoelessness, the evil of liquids and my impending forced separation from my computer. When I get to the table where you put everything into bins and prep for sending it through the x-ray machine the only person in front of me was a man about fifty years old, sitting in a wheelchair. He had just a handful of things in his one bin; his wallet, a crossword book, the case for his glasses. One of the security guards is talking very loudly to him – not shouting, just high volume – about needing his boarding pass out. The poor guy is apparently connecting somewhere and mixed up his passes.
I wait. My flight’s been delayed I’ve had two hours of sleep, and I’m in no hurry particular hurry. If I move over to the other line I have to fight a bunch of desperate Californians for limited space and will probably let some grumpy self-righteous executive wannabe into line behind befuddled wheelchair guy. Not worth it.
Trust me that I’m not lying here, because after finding wheelchair guy’s boarding pass the TSA guy, all 6’3″ of him, starts in on removing coats. Wheelchair guy is wearing a navy blue hoodie over his white undershirt. It looks like he’s been in that hoodie for most of the last decade. It isn’t a coat so much as an extra layer of clothing. Wheelchair guy hesitates; he’ll be marginally undressed without his hoodie.
TSA man starts yanking on wheelchair guy’s sleeves and, before he’s done, has pulled wheelchair guy to his feet in order to strip the offending garment. As he does it he smirks back at me. “Can you believe how incompetent this guy is?” says the smirk.
“Can you believe what an asshole you are?” says my glare. I want to get home. I want to be sitting at my gate whenever my plane decides to show up, not in a back room getting read the riot act for setting petty tyrants straight, so all I did was glare.
Imagine for a moment that something from the movies happened and I told the TSA man to use his brain before stripping vulnerable people in public. Suppose that after doing that the mother of two who fled to the other line the minute mine wasn’t moving fast enough backed me up, protesting as I get dragged off for “Intimidating or interfering with a TSA official in the execution of his duties” (quote pulled from sign posted next to the notice about the liquids ban). And when they start moving in on her, business exec wannabe jerk says, “Hey, wait a minute, why are you more powerful than me? Leave them alone.” Then the softball coach in line behind him pipes up. We’re quiet, peaceful, but stubborn. “You are out of line,” we say collectively. “Step back.” What does a TSA official do, arrest all of us? And then people at other airports all over the country do the same thing. Can they be arrested too? How long before somebody figures out that they’ll either arrest the entire country or listen to us. Feeding our paranoia about terrorism isn’t worth stripping people who can’t stand up to defend themselves, we will not tolerate this behavior. Step back over the line.
The mom with her two kids who watched it and didn’t say anything because the baby was sleeping and waking it would cause mayhem. Business exec wannabe jerk was on his cell phone trying to finish a meeting before he got on the plane. The softball coach fiddled with her ipod. They as good as stripped wheelchair guy themselves. Me, I wanted to get home today, and the TSA makes me paranoid, so I’m not taking them on. It might delay my nap.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why habeas corpus is optional, why people get to disappear to Guantanamo, why the government is listening to your phone calls, reading your email, lying to you with a smile and a wink as it twists the knife in your back. Wheelchair guy can be violated in front of a crowd of people over and over again, at every airport, before every flight, and everybody just wants to get on their plane. This state of affairs which irritates me so and makes my skin itch, I own it. I know what’s going on, I watch it happening, and I move along to my plane.
This is my fault.