tisdag, mars 29, 2005

The New Airport Etiquette

Leg 1. New York to Paris. At airport security checkpoint #4, my family waits to disrobe. Ahead of us, a woman huddles at a table. Twenty passengers could fill the space between her and the conveyor belt, but we wait. A linebacker of a man dressed in security blues squeezes through the metal detector and booms, “Move the line down.” I motion my children towards the screeners. Instantly, the stalled woman becomes animated, confronting me for cutting the line. I explain that I live only to follow the instructions of the big scary man. This woman who apparently has only limited interest in catching her plane, attaches herself to the big scary man and points towards me. As my children pass through the X-ray machine and drift off to various gates, I begin to contemplate what life must be like with this woman, what it must sound like to forget the dry cleaning or an anniversay. Suddenly, the big scary man drains my imagination dry with a thunderous, “I said ‘Move the line down’ not ‘Move to the head of the line.’” I have no choice but to express my disapproval over the his lack of clarity in the initial command and of his decision to placate a hysterical whiner by shouting out to a group that, save one, has already escaped his jurisdiction. I express my disapproval by making a clucking chicken noise. My actions entitle me to a full security screening.

Leg 2. Paris to Venice. The plane comes to a complete stop and we whip off seat belts and reach for overhead compartments. All are eager to stand cramped and uncomfortable in the aisle where for the next thirteen minutes we will inspect each other’s hairlines and pores. I spot two tiny, elderly passengers efficiently scoot up from further back in the plane. I can tell that if not constrained, these two will never stop to make sure each row has a chance to exit before charging on. I have no choice but to respond to this deplaning infraction by inserting my Gulliver-sized body into the aisle so they cannot pass. I respond to their elbowing by leaning back against them. They call out something to others in their tour group, and point at me as if I have done something other than maintain order. I remain calm in my understanding that I am a true friend to all who cherish civility en route. At the crowded baggage carousel, the two Lilliputians and their gang of troublemaker sixty-something friends block my access to the circulating luggage. My family misses the bus to the hotel.

Leg 3. Venice to Paris. “Hey, grab me one of those USA Today’s,” I shout out in the direction of one of my daughters, as we juggle belongings and clamber along the Jetway. Within seconds, an airline employee scrambles about the rack of complementary newspapers, trying to obey my command. I have no choice but to correct her assumption that I could be so rude. “Not you,” I explain to the employee by shaking my head and waving her away with my arm. Instead of being thankful that I am not one inclined to believe that everyone in the service industry is at work today to provide for my family above all others, the gate attendant glares at me and then carries the few remaining English language newspapers towards business class. Hoping to appear unfazed, I grab a foreign newspaper, forgetting that certain continental newspapers have a Page 2 tradition of linking photographs of strippers and porn stars to the day’s “human interest” copy. Words like “boobs” and “butt” and “gross” shoot up into the air from seats 12A, B and C, as if pulled by vacuum tubes during a lottery drawing, followed by the inevitable, “Why do they do that?” directed at 12D. I am unable to translate.

Leg 4. Paris to New York. My oldest daughter stands in front of a baggage rack on a large transfer bus. She wants to protect her suitcase, but being the oldest daughter, does not believe me and/or hear me when I tell her that she is blocking the balance of the storage unit and, therefore, doing something wrong. Another passenger boards. He grouses at her to get out of the way. He thrusts three heavy bags into the rack and continues to grumble. He sits next to me and begins to complain to his wife about the “stupid girl” who was in his way. All three of my girls hear him, and then look at me. I have no choice but to set a good example on being calm. I tell him that the “stupid girl” is my daughter and that I would appreciate it if he would say no more of it. He looks at me and snipes, “I don’t believe I was talking to you.” This, of course, forces me to John Wayne, “If you are talking about my daughter, I am part of the conversation.” An Andy Cappish scuffle ensues.

The End. Customs and Immigration. “And the third child, where is she?” the inspector asks rising from his seat. The five-year-old is not yet tall enough to be seen over the edge of the desk. “Better hold on to her. Little girls like that get a big dollar on the street. Don’t let her outta your sight.” There I am, hoping none of the kids shoved meat, agricultural products, or $10,000 in cash into my luggage, when Mr. Homeland Security makes me - tired, road weary me - imagine my baby on the back of a milk carton. The littlest one overhears this currency exchange and asks, “Someone is giving me a dollar?” “Yeah,” I answer. “But then you have to do a lot of dishes for that family. Better to stick with us.” I look back towards the man holding our documentation and the next two hours in his hands. I wish to point out to him that “Welcome home, folks” and “Hope your kid don’t spend the last twenty minutes of her life with a serial killer” are a bad mix, but I hold back. I have begun to appreciate the fine art of leaving epilogues in my throat and arm gestures in my sleeves where they will do less damage. I say only, “I will keep her close.” The inspector pauses for a second, then adds, “I say these things to you because I got my own little girls at home. You understand. I got no choice.”