Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Freaking on a jet plane

I had the dubious good fortune to fly last Thursday morning, you know, the morning they discovered the terrorist plot to blow up ten planes originating in the United Kingdom. My flight was early in the morning, meaning they had not yet determined what their policies about liquids, gels, and other newly invidious substances should be. The policy at curbside check-in forbade liquids, aerosol, gels and so on. No problem, I just threw such items in my suitcase I was checking and went in to wait in - no joke - the longest security line I had ever seen. It was pandemonium in there, no order or sense of security, but I will say that the usually sleepy TSA agents had fully woken up and were busy barking orders at anyone and everyone.

By the time those TSA agents were barking at me, they had changed policy from curbside. Any and all makeup had to go. That included not only the liquids I had relocated into my checked bags but also all powders and solids left in my carry on. That meant that my compact and two lipsticks had to go into a giant clear plastic garbage bag, roughly translating into $50 down the toilet. It was so sad. This is America, damn it, and I was not prepared for this. I'm no civil libertarian, especially when my own ass is concerned, but throwing away lipstick seemed to be un-American. It made me realize the little freedoms we take for granted and how quickly they can disappear. This feeling was really driven home when the Dunkin Donuts coffee I purchased prior to boarding also had to be sacrificed to the plastic bag graveyard of fun.

Ordinarily I am not a nervous air passenger. I carry my hot pink foam pillow proudly and I fall asleep pretty much as soon as I sit down. I've never been particularly concerned about my plane crashing or being blown up, since the odds are much better that I might die in a car accident (another reason I don't drive). But this time, it felt different. Something about giving up my possessions and my coffee made me feel how very real the threat to our way of life is, and gave it an immediacy I don't usually find. When we took off, I was really scared. Maybe I'm bitter, maybe I'm a bit of a pessimist, but let's face it, I am not ready to die and certainly not ready to die at the hands of some lunatic freaks as part of their plans to get to their seventy-something virgins and glorious martyrs' posters in Tehran. The flight was otherwise uneventful, although I will say it was jarring to watch the "TERROR IN THE SKIES" headlines on the news while I myself was airborne. But the terror, for the first time, was really there. It wasn't just me, either, because for the first time since late 2001, the entire plane exploded in applause when we landed without mishap.


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