In Security

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You have no alternative but to fly. It’s too far away to drive. You have to fly.

So you call the airline and find out the fare is outrageously inflated. Knowing that airlines operate on principles of random number selection, you call back five minutes later. The fare has dropped $300. You take a gamble. You call back five minutes later, and it’s down again. Pushing your luck, you call back in another five minutes, only to find it has gone back up again, higher than when you started 15 minutes ago. You should have quit while you were ahead. But that’s the chance you take when you enter the stock market-like world of airline ticketing.

The day of the trip arrives. You know how much you hate taking people to the airport — why do THEY get to go on a trip and you’re stuck being their shuttle service? — so you spare your friends this torment by driving yourself and leaving your car in long-term parking. You discover it is called long-term parking because of the amount of time it takes to find a parking space.

Eventually, you’re on a shuttle bus being whisked to the terminal, and it’s a “terminal” because it’s the last place you’d ever want to spend time. Friends in other cities brag about how nice their airports are, and you think: Yeah. But it’s an AIRPORT. It’s sterile and crowded and everything in all the shops costs twice what it ought to and every time you’re there you’re either apprehensive about flying or groggy from just having flown. Gussy it up with trees and fountains — heck, put in a circus, a Super Target and a slaughterhouse — and it’s still an airport.

After waiting in line long enough to have evolved a third foot, you get to the check-in counter. But actually, before you get to the actual counter, you have to meet with the people who are working triage for the counter, rubbing a weird wand over your hands and your luggage. The triage wand people have appallingly feathered hairstyles, you note; surely our first line of defense could avail itself of a stylist whose skills are not mired in 1986.

The weird wanding complete, you advance to the check-in counter, where you are asked whether you’ve had your baggage shackled to your neck since the moment you packed it, or whether there’s a chance terrorists stopped by this morning and dropped a missile into your duffel bag while you weren’t looking. While you were having breakfast, perhaps.

You proceed to the security checkpoint. The going is slow. People trudge wearily, longing for the sweet release of death. The line is never-ending. People have been randomly pulled aside and are being searched, probed and molested. Men and women dressed in snappy business-travel clothes have been reduced to sitting on metal folding chairs and taking off their shoes so that minimum-waged people in ill-fitting uniforms can look for fuses. You used to stare at people who were being harassed by airport security, but now it’s become so commonplace that you barely give it a second thought. It’s all part of living under the regime.

At last it is your turn to pass through the metal detector. Your carry-on baggage goes on the conveyor belt, as does your jacket, due to the high number of jackets these days that are made entirely of explosive, deadly cotton. You put your keys and cell phone in the plastic bin and walk through the detector. It beeps. The look on the attendant’s face says, “You and I both know you’re hiding some metal. You should just confess now.” You consider making a joke about how it must be your stainless-steel kidney, but you stop yourself, remembering that jokes are not funny anymore.

You are prodded, fondled, investigated, caressed and groped. The findings? No metal. They eye you suspiciously, but they reluctantly let you proceed. You stumble away, feeling slightly dirty and disheartened to realize your journey technically has not even started yet.

You wish you could have driven.

I thought it would be fun to discuss airports -- not in a light-hearted, "What's the deal with airports?" way, but in a moody, depressing way.

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