A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals ...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chapter 2

I was on my way to the airport to fly out west to a series of meetings for a project that I had just recently agreed to work on,” I began. “There was nothing particularly unusual about this project, nor does the project really have anything to do with the rest of the story; but I have to begin somewhere and this seems like as good a place as any. While mentioning this may seem rather mundane, pointless, and boring now, it will probably get less (or more) so as I continue. I may have mentioned to you at one time or another that I earn my living as an independent consultant on automation technology who works with architectural firms and their clients around the country. These kinds of projects have been my stock and trade for the last couple of years, and it’s work that I really enjoy (a lucky thing, as it seems the only one that life appears ready to allow me). My expertise is not in any one manufacturing process, but that I seem to have a knack for the efficient layout of such facilities once the goals, technologies, and specific equipment required of a particular process have been described and explained to me.

This was to be my first trip to the project site for a canning company in the Seattle area. The project itself didn’t appear to present any special technical difficulties, or at least nothing that jumped out from the contracted specifications that I carried with me for review on the flight over; and it promised work for at least eight weeks in the favorable climate of a summer in the northwestern United States. I was quite looking forward to a change from what can often be the monotonous geography and wearying heat of another summer in the Midwest. Besides, this kind of work was my main (only) source of income, and the balance in my bank account was telling me in no uncertain terms that a little replenishment was in order. I had stopped at the light on High Street for a turn towards the airport for the first of my flights that day, when he walked right in front of the car.


I know that this doesn’t mean anything to you, but it meant a great deal to me; and none of it was good. I looked again, hoping that I could be wrong, but the second look proved no more reassuring than the first. There was no doubt that it was him. Now I am not normally prone to emotional demonstrations, but I have to tell you that just the sight of this person caused an almost complete loss of physical and mental self-control, only replaced by a state of abject terror. Flop sweat began to break out on my forehead and run down my back in concurrent rivers; and my hands felt instantly clammy on the steering wheel. Seeing him again put me into such a state of panic that even now it's difficult to describe without experiencing some small part of it again.

Of course this could mean nothing to you, and were you to see the same person out in public, it's doubtful that you would even notice him. Certainly he's not physically imposing; and in fact at first glance would appear just the opposite. He's not much more than 5'6” tall, though I think this is because he slouched a bit sometimes; especially when it might suit his purpose or gain him sympathy. His face was thin but not gaunt, and was for the most part unremarkable. His most noticeable feature were a pair fierce blue eyes under white caterpillar eyebrows, staring out over a prominent nose that also bordered on being thin, but seemed to fit with the rest of the picture. His mouth is small and rounded, but you hardly noticed it for the white hair and beard that concealed a good bit of his face. The hair was cut neatly, and worn at what can best be described as medium length; managing to obscure his features without drawing undo attention. As for the facial hair, it wasn't a beard like Santa Claus or one of those Tolkien-like figures, nor was it one of the short, almost stubble-like beards that are so popular today. It too was of medium length, and likewise trimmed neatly; with the whiskers a bit longer at the chin and the ends of his mustache. Almost like one of those beards that you would picture on a proper English gentlemen wear in an old black and white movie. In fact, that's exactly the picture that he paints on first impression. A short, old,


English gentleman; right down to the 3-piece gray pinstripe suit and pocket watch chain properly hanging across his vest. He also occasionally wears a rather disreputable looking hat and a pair of round wire-rimmed glasses; thought I'm not sure if he actually needs them, or he does it for the effect that he thinks it creates.

At any rate there he was, this perfect picture of a proper English gentleman, was hidden amidst and standing completely out from the crowd as I found myself stopped at the light. As the initial shock began to recede, I found that it was quickly replaced by even more shock, bordering on terror. Fear, excitement, anger, and sorrow were all rolling around in my stomach like an all-you-can-eat Mexican feast gone terribly wrong; and creating a nausea that could only be ignored by focusing on the light-headed feeling that told me that I was very close to losing my grip on reality (a grip that even at the best of times is rather tenuous). He always seems to show up like this; never when I wanted, just when least expected, and by no means when convenient. As you can probably tell, this wasn’t the first time that I had seen him or been through this; and knowing what I had learned through bitter lessons, there was nothing left to do but to face up to it … and him. I finished the turn I was making and parked in the first open place that I could find. There was a diner three doors down and I knew without thinking that he would be there. True to form, he was sitting halfway up the counter and picking at a slice of peach pie (a curious thing to notice) with a steaming cup of coffee sitting as yet untouched next to it. There were a couple of stools to his right that were open, and I sat down at the one next to him without asking permission and with more than a bit of trepidation. A waitress immediately appeared in front of me, and I ordered coffee for myself.


Its funny about royalty,” he said as if we were in the middle of a conversation on a subject begun some time ago. “They're so used to living in their own little world of palaces, protocol, and the protection of ceremony that they seldom understand anything of the real world around them.”

As I'm sure you are quite aware,” I replied a bit sarcastically, not to be confounded by this particular conversational tactic. “My knowledge of royalty, palaces, protocol, and royal ceremony could be considered only slightly less than non-existent. If I felt inclined to offer any opinion on the subject however, which I don't, I would say that it has always struck me that few of those who govern, no matter what form of the system used or level of influence exercised; understand little if anything of that power, even less of the real world around them, and next to nothing about the people who have to live in it under their care.”

Yes,” he replied, going on as if I hadn’t answered him. (This was rather a habit of his that I had noticed before, though I never allowed myself to be annoyed enough with it to take issue with it. Of course even if I had, that too would likely have gone unnoticed.) “I’ve often wondered how members of a monarchy can perform the function that life has supposedly bred them to, when they know so little about the world they live in. How someone can be expected to be able to tell someone else what to do or how to do it under most circumstances is quite beyond me. As for the concept of telling a lot of people what to do all of the time; why it simply boggles the mind. Wouldn’t you agree Sean?”

Now my first impulse would be to pointedly ignore him as he had previously done to me, or to agree with him whether he was listening or not, since I already had. The practice of telling other people what to do is one fraught with peril, usually to all parties involved; and should be avoided at all costs. The concept of people being born and raised to such duties added a genetic component to the notion that made it often dangerous, completely ludicrous, and not at all amusing. People living in the rarefied atmosphere of duty and drama involved with


the celebrity of royal lineage is an experience that thankfully few of us will ever know. Surrounded by crowds of spokespersons, handlers, media consultants, servants, bodyguards, and tutors; they are rarely if ever exposed to such mundane concepts as physical labor, the idea of budgeting or the handling of money, or the expense of living. In other words, they lack exposure to any part of the world as most of us know it.

Oh sure, they're taught a great deal about things like image, duty, honor, and responsibility both to their families and their countries; but they are taught to use these concepts as tools of leadership and acting skills. The problem with such an education were flaws inherent in the system itself. I’m sure that individual members of any royal family probably weren’t bad people (maybe they were even nice); but they were political icons being asked to act as if they shared and understood the problems of the those they governed, and there's no way that they could. When considering governing at all, I had always felt that government was a necessary evil that served best when it served least. I trusted governments to serve their citizens about as far as I could throw them; and adding the pomp and circumstance of royalty to the equation seemed little more than adding insult to injury.

This is a concept that we unfortunately see all too frequently in the world today. Those to whom a jealous public has awarded a title of Celebrity speaking out on one the world's ills as if they were experts rather than actors. (The definition of an expert being a person who normally can’t find gainful employment with what they know in the real world and must therefore inflict the burden of their “special knowledge” on the rest of us.) There seems something horribly incongruous about a celebrity heading off to areas of recent famine, war, or natural disaster who shows up in a private plane and gets chauffeured to the site of the most appalling conditions that anyone can 


imagine; only to hand off their offspring off to nannies so they speak passionately about the suffering going on around them that needs to be assuaged (usually with other people's money). Speech completed, it's normally followed by a short tour of the affected area before being whisked off to an a meal of rare delicacies with those in power (who likewise appear not to be suffering any deprivation) prepared by private chefs. There are certainly exceptions to this rule of course, but they are only exceptions because the rule exists.

In spite of all of this being the case, none of it was in fact expressed out loud to my diminutive companion. Any opinions held in the presence of this character should be as closely held as hole cards in a poker game at a table full of cardsharps. Should their existence be discovered by some horrible mischance, one should claim that they were found lying about loose on the sidewalk and were picked up merely in the hopes of eventually returning them to their rightful owner. If that tactic fails to work, deny under torture that they could possibly be yours, since the last time that you saw the few opinions you held, they had been left in the pockets of a pair of pants that were subsequently lost with your luggage upon returning from a vacation six months ago. Of course, it's doubtful that such excuses would be heard, let alone accepted. And as for the exercise of power, this particular gentleman seemed to have spent a good deal of his existence acting like he was royalty and telling other people (especially me) what to do; so taking a rather jaded view of such subjects seemed rather fraudulent on his part.

The only thing that I can tell you with any certainty” I finally said, while futilely attempting to consider the consequences of speaking in his presence, “is that I have very little experience in telling anyone what to do, and even less of having them pay attention when I do. As far as knowing how royalty might think or how they might act, I think that we have clearly established that my level of knowledge and experience on this particular subject is zero. I feel obligated to ask however, if it’s not too much trouble, whether this question has to do with anything?”


Like many other things, I'm sure that it invariably will,” he said, giving one of those typically evasive answers that I had almost grown annoyingly accustomed to.

But does it have anything to do with me?” I continued, knowing that I would regret doing so.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” was the only response I could get.

And having said that, my little friend (and I use that term in a way dripping with sarcasm) stood up from his seat, counted out the correct funds to cover the check beside his plate, and over-tipped the server before leaving.

The over-tipping was a particular point that stuck with me at the time, and I couldn’t help but think well of the man in spite of a great deal of our history together. I must digress for just a minute to explain how and why this should be; though it's simple really. I believe in over-tipping. Not all that many people in the world do you know, which is a terrible tragedy in my mind. Did you ever stop to think that most of those who provide service to other people in the form of food, beverages, or anything else for that matter, do so for very low wages? Have you ever considered that they receive these very low wages from employers who expect them to make up the difference between the amount that they provide and a livable wage from the largesse of those being served? Consider then that those having been thus served, and not truly understanding their part in this rather simple and time-honored process; tend to provide their part of the transaction in an amount that either suits their whim, or allows them to get by without seeming cheap to their companions. Most in fact, compute the amount of this token of esteem on the side of cheapness whenever the opportunity of anonymity presents itself. This particular display of poor behavior occurs whether the service is marginal, good, or exceptional; and results in no end of dire consequences for the 


employee so blessed . Choosing an arbitrary percentage agreed upon by people who have never worked at a job whose income depended upon such income, they hand it over as if it were either a Christmas present for which they expect to be thanked, or a dirty diaper that they hand over with measured level of distaste. Now if the people who worked for these gratuities were paid a wage that did not require such additional supplementing, I would be happy to follow the rather arbitrary rules that have been laid down, or do away with the practice of tipping all together. This not being the case however, I choose to excessively reward those people who take on the jobs that are some of the least respected, most overlooked, and most frequently abused of all those on the planet. I do so in the full and satisfying knowledge that I am ‘bucking the system’, and in the hope that my apparent generosity will inspire others (or shame them) into emulation, and in some way make up for those less generous members of my species.

I apologize for digressing on this subject, but this is my story, and I’ll tell it the way that I want, or not at all. I know that I've digressed on a number of subjects already and I will in all probability digress again later. In fact, I would be willing to bet that you can count on it. One should never be afraid of digression in a story, for while it tends to make a tale longer and can make it more confusing, it usually makes it more interesting and potentially a lot more amusing.

I was left sitting at the counter with a half full cup of coffee in front of me and a number of burning questions running through my head, unsure whether I wanted any of them answered. I know that I probably should have immediately raced out of the diner and confronted him for more information whether I wanted it or not (you probably would have). I also know that even if I had run out at that very instant, my little friend would have been gone, disappeared without a trace. He in fact seemed to do that a lot. Instead of gaining necessary information, I have found myself standing outside feeling rather foolish, and completely alone. When after further careful thought I finally realized that no solutions would immediately present themselves while I was sitting on the stool staring at a cup of coffee that I had no real interest in, and since I still had places to go and people to see, I decided to resume my interrupted journey to the airport as if none of this had ever happened.


I have long had the ability to ignore things that I don’t understand or don’t want to deal with in the hope that by doing so they will go away. While this particular strategy for dealing with things has proven to be universally a failure, I have never chosen to abandon it. Perhaps it's simply an illustration of some weakness or flaw in my character. If it is, I’m relatively sure that its one that I share with a great many people (usually when they vote). Besides, continuing to do this on a consistent basis will eventually place the law of averages on my side.

There was nothing else to do therefore but follow his lead in departing, doing so in such a way in which my now frazzled nerves would be less apparent to the rest of the world. This may not have seemed the smartest thing to do under the circumstances, but I have never been known as the brightest bulb on the tree. I therefore left the diner slowly and carefully, and returned to where I had left my car parked. Of course by that time, there was a parking ticket on the windshield, even though I had placed enough change into the beast of a parking meter to last for well over two hours and had been gone only twenty minutes.

That’s always the way it is with parking meters though, isn’t it? When you plan your method of using these benighted change consuming horrors thoroughly and execute that plan flawlessly, they treat you like a Reno slot machine that hasn't paid out since before you were born. When you gamble on achieving a legal reprieve from their all-together arbitrary operation, control, and abuse; you almost always get away it. (There's a rumor that Einstein purposely ignored parking meters when writing his General Theory of Relativity because he knew that they violate it whenever it suited their sick sense of humor.) Unfortunately, I believe in laws; even parking laws. I also believe in parking meters, though I find many people either have a great deal of trouble believing in them


or refuse to acknowledge their presence entirely. (Coincidentally, I have heard that parking meters have a great deal of difficulty believing in people. They believe that automobiles are in fact the dominant form of life on earth, and that in gratitude for their company, automobiles provide little metallic treats to their hosts when stopping by for a visit.) I also believe in parking tickets and in paying my fines when I get one. This is partly because I try to be a law-abiding citizen; but mostly because I believe that I'm the kind of person who would get caught, arrested, publicly humiliated, and sent to some evil hell hole where parking scofflaws are sent if I didn’t. Laugh if you will, but I also believe that there are cable cops who will break down my door and imprison me if I were to partake of any use of services (even a bad pay per view movie) without giving them proper reimbursement. I even suffer terrible pangs of guilt when I tear one of those tags off of a mattress, for fear that the charges and penalties listed thereon will be enforced brutally upon me by the 'mattress police'.

I somehow managed to put my growing frustration, my anger, and the parking ticket in my pocket however, as got back into my car. Pulling away from the curb with a few mumbled imprecations on the inequities of life in general and parking meters in particular, I somehow managed to complete the rest of the trip to the airport without further chance meetings or incidents.

Now the airport that I was using that day was that of a small town in Ohio which I choose not to mention for fear of being named in some future defamation suit. While an airport in a completely land-locked city, it nevertheless insisted on including the term 'Port' in its name in spite of the fact that the closest it came to being one was that it was in a city named for a sailor.


 It likewise chose to call itself an 'International' airport in spite of the fact that it's only foreign flights were a once-a-day junket to Toronto and a once-a-week charter flight to a vacation destination in Mexico. While these minor bits of ego might be forgiven, what could not be was the horrible symbol that it chose as its own. This bit of commissioned hideousness masquerading as 'art' was a sculpture entitled “Paintswipes Flying” which bears no resemblance to its name. (The name for this odious bit of design has of course likewise been altered, in order to prevent similar legal action on the part of either the city or the artist.) The city, feeling a pride similar to my own in this travesty, soon placed it in a position near enough to the main terminal that it might be destroyed in the event of a terrorist attack on the airport; but not in one that allowed it to be viewed by passengers who were already risking nausea from air travel. I suspect that they would have liked to send it back to the artist, but he's long since gone back to painting pictures of dogs playing cards and the skinny Elvis on felt; and selling them out a van in Fresno where no one has ever heard of this particular example of his lack of talent, or the city where it resides for that matter

Don't get me wrong. I love the city that I long ago adopted as my home and feel blessed to live there. It's one of those cosmopolitan jewels of the Midwest once considered little more than a cow town. It is the home to one major institution of higher learning known for little more than sports scandals (like most other major universities) and a couple of other smaller colleges known for not being that major institution. It likewise boasts professional sports, the symphony, ballet, art museums, and many of the other things that cities normally only get by becoming places that no one can afford to live in any more or don't feel safe living in if they can. It's home to a number of corporations, including one that specializes in woman’s lingerie; and the headquarters of fast food giants as well, having long ago proved itself as an able test market. It even has a replica of one of the ships used to discover North America, which was incongruously enough assembled in a non-navigable river. It's most ludicrous claim to fame has to do with airplanes however, as the lone high-rise downtown in the early days of flying caused it to be known by pilots as 'the city with a hard-on'. While now grown far beyond its humble beginnings however, its fairly new airport has not seen similar attention and expansion; a fact for which I am often grateful.


Many travelers will tell you that it is better to live next to a big airport, so that you can get direct flights to anywhere in the world. They are of course incorrect, and often found to be people in an inordinate hurry to get to places that they don’t really want to get to, for reasons that no one (including they themselves) seem to be able to understand. Big airports are often of truly colossal proportions and almost unlimited pretensions. They are also architectural monuments to man’s ability to ignore the merits of the place he lives in the quest to get to somewhere else in a terrible hurry, which he usually finds he likes even less than the home he then can't wait to get back to. They have dozens of terminals with hundreds of gates, thousands of airplanes, and tens of thousands of passengers traveling to and from them every day. They are difficult to get to, impossible to park anywhere near, and often require a separate transportation system to get you around in them. The airline industry calls them “hubs” because flights come to them like the spokes come to the hub of a wheel. (There are some who say that HUB actually means Hideous & Uncomfortable Building, but no proof of this has yet been discovered.) What I call them can usually be described by a string of expletives that I am far too much of a gentleman to share in polite company. My own little place of embarkation has made an occasional attempt to become one of these hub airports for one airline or another over the years; but fortunately for me, these efforts have been as successful as those to make large airports more convenient. Their failure however, stirs up a lot of excitement, sells a few newspapers,and leads to the replacement of the airport administrator. Each new airport executive, hoping to make good and yet to drawn to the siren song of airline hype, usually allows it to go back to being a fairly sleepy little airport.


As I am concerned, this is not a disadvantage to the city or the airport that serves. You can keep your hubs and everything that goes with them. Give me the spoke with all of its apparent inconvenience any time. Perhaps I feel this way because I am a mostly relaxed traveler who prefers convenient access to a convenient route. Perhaps is because I find the company of so many of my fellow human beings in one place more of a problem than a solution. It might even be because I object to the fact that such efforts are usually constructed on the back of taxpayers, who are burdened enough by their agreement to build the latest (or next) sports stadium. Spoke or hub however,I find that I eventually arrive at the same destinations as most frantic travelers. It might be slightly later yes, but I'm usually in a better mood, and much more ready to do the work that I was sent to do when I get there. I also find that I often pay less for the privilege of this convenient inconvenience than those who use the hubs, since no one airline achieves a monopoly of local air travel in this arrangement.

Arrival and check-in for the flight was both boring and predictable, and in spite of my short interlude, I had plenty of time before the first leg of my journey. I managed to make it past the gourmet coffee booth (I prefer coffee flavored coffee, thank you very much), the mini-shopping mall, and what passes for fine dining establishments I such places; and made my way to the security area for processing. It's not that I sneer at any these things (except for the coffee thing, and I only find that mildly annoying). In fact, I often stop at these airports shops during my travels to buy things that I suddenly discover that I need for reasons that I can never seem to fathom. I appear to do these things out of a necessity driven by regular travel, a quirky outlook on the world in general, and the never-ending desire to participate in capitalism (and probably has something to do with the subliminal messages to spend being broadcast throughout airports 24 hours a day). I also enjoy doing them to alleviate in some part, the mindless boredom intrinsic in frequent and regular air travel, with all that it entails. In spite of what may have been perceived as disparaging remarks about food, I am also willing to partake of the gourmet delights of food and beverages (sometimes of the adult variety) that such gateways to the world offer from time to time. In fact, you might say that I am especially enamored of one type of food in particular where these monuments of air travel are concerned. I am singularly captivated in the delights of the airport hot dog.


Trust me on this one my friend, as I am a seasoned traveler, know of the true value of such things, and am capable of the proper appreciation of these little bits of gastronomic delight. Now perhaps you laugh at such things, and disparage the hot dog as a piece of epicurean nonsense, but properly prepared, they are a true delight. Many cities around the country now boast of restaurants featuring these little pieces of down home America. With the exception of Portillo's in Chicago and those provided in ballparks across the country, the airport variety is a particularly well-prepared bit of American cuisine. The marriage of America’s game with the proper preparation of dish is natural and right, since this country is both the home of baseball and the hot dog. Even amongst cities that boast both however, there are some that are better than others. I could reveal their secrets to you, but by doing so I would be betraying a sacred trust, as well as causing unnecessary crowds and probable market-related price increases at those that are my personal favorites. I would also be denying you the opportunity of surprise at the location of successes and failures for the wiener and frankfurter in your travels. I will say however, that in cities where you find good baseball, you can normally expect to find good airport hot dogs; though there are exceptions. Such distractions were not a part of my plan for that day however, my recent visitor had spoiled any appetite that I might have had, and I was merely seeking to reach my flight.


My gate was not far from the security area (another advantage of the smaller airport), and I therefore didn’t have far to go after I had disassembled my clothing and luggage for a group of individuals whose education and training would not normally allow them to meet the criteria of a bagger in a local grocery store. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against these people personally (or the bagger in grocery store for that matter) except for the idiotic and arbitrary rules that have been mandated in these situations for our protection, and the way that they have chosen to interpret and execute them. I don’t think that anyone would argue that we need safety in travel after some of the things that have happened in recent history, and I want to be as safe as the next person. (Maybe more since I travel so much.) I also believe that placing my personal safety in the hands of a government trained employee may be the biggest gamble and the most danger that I am likely to find myself in.

It's not just that I find it ludicrous that the normal airport security agent, having long abandoned that same government's dietary guidelines and now weighing more than an guard on the Packers is actually going to be able to chase a terrorist down without becoming the first victim of the incursion after dying of a heart attack. It's that having staffed what we are told are important positions with people who failed to meet the cheerful personality and friendliness exam at the DMV and the IQ exam for Wal-Mart greeters we then unreasonably expect a modicum of common sense and common courtesy from them. While holding no expertise (or authority) on the subject, perhaps I should not really get to comment on such rules, how they are enforced, or how they could be fixed. Neither it appear, do most of the people who write them however. In fact it appears these days that more of the airline safety that I count on comes from the diligence and courage of my fellow travelers than from these mall cop wanna be's. Let me in the name of expediency therefore, take a pass at further comment on a process filled with regulatory intractability, and procedural insanity .


At my overbuilt and under-utilized airport, let me say instead that this meant that what should have been a very simple process only required me to stand in line for some thirty minutes before being allowed to pass through their government-designed defensive position (this being a period when not many people were seeking to travel); and I was able to be on my way to the gate with only a modicum of annoyance and at least a shred of the dignity that I entered that area with.

Having now completing that journey, I found that I still had more than a little time to kill before boarding, even though my flight was on time. Not fretting over this slack in my travel schedule, I was able to take some well-deserved down time and content myself by the use of the game that I normally play in airport terminals. You might well ask why I seek entertainment in airline terminals, and the answer is simple. I do so because for the most part, they are very boring places and because I have given up the luxury of the “Air Clubs” that most airports provide as private amusement parks. This is not out of any sense of superiority or a moral judgment on the people who are members of such clubs, but only because such establishments charge you exorbitant annuals fees for the use of these 'elite' private areas, only to discover that they are nor more entertaining than the terminals that they seek to divert you from, since they filled with people as just as boring as you are. I would like to think that I have better taste than that. Instead I play a game of discovery by studying my fellow human beings.

People, as you might know, are fascinating, nauseating, frustrating, and generally unable to function in large groups. If they are taken individually, they are generally congenial company. Taken in larger groups, they usually be counted on to become an unruly mob prone to poor behavior and evil disposition. In airports, most of them find their only legal means of personal satisfaction is by doing anything that they can to prevent others from reaching the place that they're trying to get to.


You know the ones that I am talking about. These are the people who stop in the middle of airline terminals at random intervals for no discernible reason, preventing the free flow of traffic through and around them. They stand in large groups blocking access to the gates, even when they are not asked or prepared to board the plane. They block bathroom entrances, ticket counters, and they stand closely packed around the baggage conveyors (usually the wrong ones), keeping other people from getting either bladder relief, their tickets, or the luggage they require to get on with the rest of their lives. Some of these people are simply ignorant of the common courtesy, proper behavior in an airport, and the annoying nature of their behavior. They perform these actions as part of a collective unconscious of aggressive ignorance and a pervasive atmosphere of group stupidity that has affected mankind throughout its history. Many more however, are part of a devious group known to the world as the Anti-Destination League.

Members of the ADL operate in every airport, bus, and train terminal in every city of the world where travel happens. No one knows much about this insidious organization, or what horrible rituals they must secretly participate in when not pursuing their singular mission against travelers. Some are convinced (and with good reason, I believe) that they they are recruited from the ranks of disgruntled government bureaucrats already singled out by their co-workers for rotten dispositions and obnoxious personality traits. It's also said that while their initiation rites are not painful, they are particularly tedious and lengthy, instilling in the membership a dogged determination to inspire humiliation, frustration, and aggravation into their intended victims. No successful infiltration of this insidious assembly of human travel barriers has ever succeeded, as it's rumored that they were taught secrecy by the Masons and vengeance on those who betrayed them by the IRA.  As a consequence, little is known of their ultimate goals, or if they even have one. 


My own engagements with the petty annoyance of this league of destination delayers has been largely successful, but only because of the superior travel skills that I have attained over the years of experience and the constant vigilance against their efforts that I maintain. Even for the novice or average traveler confronted by these roadblocks to travel fulfillment however, there is still hope. Keep a smile on your face at all times (it infuriates them), and keep your carry-on luggage firmly in your grasp (for its security and for potential use as a weapon of last resort). But I digress again however. (See, told you!)

The game that I mentioned (before the lengthy digression) is one of my own invention, and requires no more than one to play. It consists of studying people in all of their interesting diversity and splendor. They are short and tall, fat and skinny, old and young, rich and poor, ugly and beautiful. As such, and much like any other animal species, they have been, can be, and currently are the subject of many types of scientific study. This game does not qualify as true scientific study and requires no particular training (or government certification).  It does however require a willingness to carefully observe ones fellow man (and woman) in order to play it properly. The rules of this particular game are very easy to understand, and simply involve getting inside the heads of the people around you, and seeing them as they see themselves. It can be played in any public place, but airports provide one of the better backdrops for seeing a great many people in a short period of time.

Here, try it now. Imagine yourself in a crowded airport terminal, sitting quietly with a book in hand so as to appear unsuspecting in your detailed observations. Look around you now, at the masses of humanity. (Careful that you don’t imagine too large a mass and become overwhelmed. Maybe just a small mass of humanity would be better.) Look closely now at each of them, and try to see them as they see themselves. Understand, if you can, how each of them selected their respective attire for the day, searching endlessly through their wardrobes before departing for the airport. Remember, they knew that they would be on public display among their fellow man, and that hundreds or even thousands of close friends and complete strangers would see their displayed finery.


Obviously, one would therefore expect that careful selection of such attire would be an obvious consequence of this knowledge. Taking extra time in that selection and carefully preening before leaving for the airport, they were therefore able to look into a mirror before their departure and say to themselves, “Damn, I look good in this!”

Some actually do. Dressed in the height of fashion or comfort, the clothes that they wear fit them, and they fit the clothes that they wear. More often however, they are amusing at best, ridiculous at worst. Assembled in finery that would only be chosen by a blind village idiot from a Salvation Army store clearance rack, they display their imagined sartorial splendor to the world around them for the amusement of the public in general and for me in particular. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking down at them, or anybody else (OK maybe I am, but I'm doing it with a lot of love). I play this game merely to remind myself that we have not gone so far down the path of evolution that we still don’t find silly and amusing ways to display ourselves in our attempt to make up for what Nature failed to give us. (Don’t believe me, try it for yourself the next time that you travel.)

The time that I spend playing the game amazes and amuses me (as does every part of my never ending study of my fellow man), and prepares my mind and body for the experience of travel by air. I find that I require such time in preparation to overcome the often mind numbing experience (more on that later). As a consequence, I am always at the airport well in advance of the departure of the flight simply in order to have time available. Even when not seeking to entertain myself with the human condition, the time spent waiting in airports need not be time either wasted or misused however. Many airports have interesting displays of their particular city or region’s history. Many display the interesting things that are produced in the area. Some merely display relevant or interesting art. If you cannot see yourself strolling the terminals like a promenade, certainly time like this is well spent in immersing one’s self in a good book. When I am not idling away my time in the studying my fellow man, you will usually find my head buried in any book that I can find. 


All of the best entertainment and the greatest knowledge of the world are there at our very fingertips in books if we only give them the chance. Ours is a generation where all manner of such material is well within our grasp, and shame on us if we choose not to take advantage of it. Perhaps the fact that I am willing to seek diversion in such situations is why I have never found travel particularly onerous, though I do it frequently (and to sometimes incredible places that I will get around to talking about sooner or later). Usually, by the time that I have enjoyed an hour or so of amusing myself in some fashion in these cathedrals of aerial transport, I am ready to face the prospect of the punitive confinement more commonly called air travel. Preparation is in fact, required if one is to survive such an ordeal.

For those of you who haven’t traveled by air (and that doesn’t seem like a great number these days), let me share some part of the experience with you vicariously. Air travel involves sitting in a chair so narrow and uncomfortable, that you wouldn’t use it in your home, even if a relative that you liked gave it to you. You will then be treated like a child who needs to have everything from the operation of a seat belt to the concept of breathing explained to you in annoying detail by a person who has done it too many times already and manages to do it without apparent conscious thought or effort, since they no longer actually want to do it. Securely confined now with too many people in too small a space and breathing recycled air containing contaminants that would get most factories in anywhere but the third world shut down, you will be told when you have to turn off you I-Pad, I-Pod, and I-Phone (You've just got to love the monopoly of Apple, don't you?), when you can get up or have to sit down, and when the bathroom is available. You'll be handed something in a foil bag to eat, in a portion so small that even if you could, you wouldn't attempt to purchase it at the grocery store. You will be asked to treat this rationed offering, assuming that you are not allergic to it, as if it were a gourmet meal (and please don’t ask for seconds). You will be served a single beverage in a glass so small that they are found nowhere else in the world. 


You will accept this largesse from a company employee who probably is not happy in their work, and bitterly resents having to give it to you (or deal with you in any many if the truth were known). You will do all of this without complaint, as if such treatment is justified by spending exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege of travel in these “buses of the air”. You will also do it calmly and quietly so that the crew of the airplane does not feel threatened enough by you to feel the need to place you in restraints before turning you over to the local authorities at the next stop. God I love to fly!

As one of those gifted with the designation of a frequent traveler, I am allowed the privilege of extending my enjoyment of the experience by boarding the plane first (with those privileged enough to be accorded seats in the first class cabin). I therefore approached the gate when the announcement was made to allow my privileged group to board. This earned me the right to be one of the first to challenge last effort from the local branch of the ADL, and the jealousy and envy of those less privileged.  Carry-on baggage firmly in my grasp, I breached the defenses of the ADL gate deployment and calmly stood in line.  I had my identification checked against my boarding pass for the third or fourth time that day to make sure that I was still me, had my boarding pass reconfirmed again as well to make sure that I was not so stupid as to try and get on the wrong plane, and quietly passed into the jetway to board (what an amazing mangling of the English language the word jetway is).   All of my effort was for naught however, as I never made it onto the airplane.


No comments:

Post a Comment