There are two schools of thought on traveling (and life). The first is that it’s the destination, not how you get there, and the other is that where you end up doesn’t matter, but the journey on the way. For a semester studying abroad in Beijing, it may seem foolish to suggest that the journey mattered– It’s just a long flight, after all– but as I discovered, the journey can be just as much of an adventure. I’m en-route to Beijing as I write this, just waiting for my flight to board. You may think that means that I have no travels to write of yet, but you’d be wrong. Like Dorothy, I’ve entered a very strange place.
I didn’t arrive here by tornado, though. This morning I left the beautiful US of A and entered into the FSAABB (Federated States of Airports, Airport Bureaucracy, and Bureaucracy). It’s been an interesting trip through the FSAABB. After checking my lone duffel bag, I entered into a rat maze congested with congested people, and was sorely disappointed to not find a hunk of cheese at the end.
To enter into the CLT state of the FSAABB, I had to present valid ID. The security force for this federation of unified but geographically isolated airport states, the TSA, wear blue uniforms and seem to be descended from desert nomads. I say this because of how fastidiously and diligently they snatch all liquids before allowing you into the airport state they guard. They do so behind x-ray machines, metal detectors, fearsome single-strand, elastic band fences, and some tube thing that swirls around you and reveals how many second portions you’ve had in the last month. I half expected to hear someone say, “Energize,” be teleported to the Enterprise and greeted by Spock. Sadly, I doubt the TSA has achieved that level of intelligence.
Nor have they achieved that level of physical fitness. Two year olds can move faster than the people who checked my ID. Shouldn’t security personnel have to pass a minimum standard of ability to run down a suspect? Or maybe that’s what the golf carts are really used for, and ferrying the elderly and disabled is just a cover.
If you are suspicious looking the FSAABB’s blue uniformed security personnel may attack you with a beeping wand. Should the wannabe Geiger counter click enough, they may even engage in what I can only describe as legal molestation. Strangely, if you elect to forgo having Scotty beam you up, you get this treatment as the alternative, which begs the question of why I had to be radiated with microns and x-rays in the first place. At least the dentist gives me a lead blanket to protect myself.
But alas, it’s all in the name of security, so I grin and bear it, knowing that the annoyance of a long line and friendly pat-down is better than the annoyance of finding myself on a hijacked plane.
Side observation: I think the FSAABB is governed by a totalitarian regime. There are so many propaganda posters on the walls, and every few minutes an emotionally removed feminine voice tells me to watch my bag and not trust strangers. Strange, because everyone here is a stranger. It’s all very Orwellian, and I keep waiting to hear I’m in a bad 1984 adaptation. The regime can’t be communist, though. They allow too much advertising to be anything but ruthless capitalists.
Next, I travelled within the FSAABB from the state of CLT to ORD. Based on how my seatmate pronounced that he wanted a cheeseburger and a coke for lunch (a cheeese-boyoiga and a coak), I think the ORD is located somewhere around Chicago. Here, faced with a long layover, I sought a solid meal in the desperate attempt to avoid airline food later. With 8% unemployment in America I know I shouldn’t be too critical, but it seems the FSAABB is suffering from a similar situation coupled with high inflation. They wanted $10 for a sandwich, $3 for a bag of chips, $2 for a cookie, and the ungodly sum of $2.67 for a small container of bottled tap water.
$2.67, really? What am I supposed to do with this change when surrounded by metal detectors? Is this part of an elaborate ploy to pat more people down? And why is the price so odd? It would be much faster to keep it at a round number to keep the line moving, I think. I must be wrong, however. I am not an expert, as the people who run the FSAABB surely are.
The FSAABB also seems to be suffering from some mismanagement of what I judge to be a recent stimulus package to help their failing economy (though based on the line at Starbucks, I don’t know how they can be failing). I have no other explanation for why there are so many closet NASCAR fans driving empty golf carts into crowds of people rolling luggage behind them.
I wonder how many kamikazes, err, I mean golf carts and drivers, a stimulus buys. Do you need a driver’s license to drive one? Or perhaps a special license? Also, if there must be golf carts disrupting everything, whey can’t they be like the beverage carts on golf courses, complete with a smiling and cute blonde soliciting overpriced and warm beer over a batted eyelash and stale joke? I mean, come on. Overpriced and warm beer would fit perfectly beside their overpriced sandwiches and bottles of water.
One thing I have noticed about the FSAABB in my travels is how diverse it is. There are at least seven different languages being spoken around my table as I eat my overpriced sandwich. Assuming that they are only passing through the FSAABB on their way to America, it is a real testament to the character of our country. I suppose they could be visiting just the FSAABB, but I find that unlikely. Real estate and electrical are real commodities here. There are no fewer than a dozen people crowded around one small table with a couple of outlets.
For the most part, we travelers are all the same. There are really only four stories, and everything else is just a variant. Going somewhere, Coming back from somewhere, Being redirected somewhere else, and Stranded.
Occasionally some flight officers will walk by in their crisp uniforms with wings. I don’t think they are part of the TSA, as I have yet to see a TSA agent escorted by three or four smiling flight attendants. Where that smile goes between the time that I see them in the FSAABB and when I see them on the plane is another question I have. Do they always get bad news about a promotion or wages when they board? Don’t get me wrong, they still smile on the plane as well, but then the smile doesn’t reach their annoyed eyes.
With the (liberty)-stifling security measures, unbalanced economic system, disparity between government employees and non-government employees, and obese bureaucracy, another thought does occur to me: Perhaps the FSAABB is really just a spyglass into the future. If it is, then we’re all destined for diabetes because the Golden Arches are in every terminal and, quite inexplicably, the soda is cheaper than the water.