There is no greater incentive to immediate emigration from the U.S. than coming into Dulles Airport and facing Customs, Immigration, USDA and the TSA. I know it’s been said before and is largely taken as an unfortunate given, but something just has to be done about this American overreaction to 9/11/01. Other countries check bags. Other countries make you take your laptop out of it’s carrier. But other countries don’t constantly create new and different rules about all this “terrorism” stuff, rules that lead to situations like that in the bowels of the Capital’s busier airport yesterday.
Coming off what was a rather pleasant 8+ hour flight (except that my wife got the bouncy-bouncy motion sickness something awful), our plucky little band of Munich flight victims were shunted down an increasingly narrow hallway filled with hastily made signs indicating directions to this and that. This was soon followed by even more narrow (getting a bit cramped now) hallways featuring seated airport security personnel yelling for us to “go right for connecting flights”, “GO RIGHT”.
Then, as the hallway reached its narrowest, an escalator appeared and we all turned into a human sausage trying to get into its moving black casing. The only problem was that at the bottom of the escalator hundreds of people were crammed into an ill-defined mass waiting for something. The people sausage moved downward steadily into what shortly became reminiscent of a Latin American soccer match stampede, with exiting escalator victims bouncing into the stuck throng of those waiting at the bottom. The bouncing became a bit of a crush. People were still laughing about it all, but in each of our travel-addled minds the thought of headlines like “57 Dead in Airport Stampede Melee” had to be pushed out to retain sanity.
But there were really was no sanity. Through the same sort of semi-voluntary movement process you see with amoebas under a microscope, the encased sausage throng gravitated toward one of those cordon systems designed to organize crowds, but the crowd was too big for the “system” and see all uncomfortably squished in again, luggage rolling over toes, muttered expletives audible in a variety of languages, in the direction of the first of what turns out to be four different “Stations of the Airport Cross”: Customs, USDA, “Baggage Re-Check”, and TSA Security.
At this point in the retelling I just about stop, again, knowing that we’ve all been there and what I’m saying is neither new nor appreciably worse. This crap has been going on for years now, changing and devolving with every whim of governmental policy as to what might flying “safer”. Airports have had to remodel every few months to keep up, remodel jobs every bit as bad as the disaster I created in parqueting my bedroom floor a while back.
Of course those forced to suffer with my inability to accurately line up parquet tiles is small, whereas the number of us forced to suffer the gauntlet of U.S. “Homeland Security” is vast. Vast and getting vaster all the time, it would appear.
And it would be easy to slam the airport security personnel, but who would want to do such a job? Inefficiently parading human cows in a security slaughterhouse can’t be fun. Still, to see the capriciousness of various functionaries in dealing with travelers, especially foreign travelers, is disheartening.
An old Eastern European woman doesn’t understand she has to take off both shoes, and is laughed at unmercifully while her younger co-traveler has to wait to go through the walking metal detector over and over again. The TSA clerk keeps putting the hand up to stop the younger person from passing, all the while having a loud, laugh-filled conversation with a co-worker. The hand comes down for a second, but before the passenger can pass the TSA worker laughing to the point of spitting looks back to see the old woman still fumbling with the shoe. The TSA worker put the hand back up quickly. This hand down/hand up thing happens at least five times.
By the time I’m redressing myself, taking materials from the three plastic tubs I have filled with shoes, laptop, jacket, etc., I’m thinking back to the serenity and order of Munich Airport security and considering teaching jobs in Bavaria. Or writing trashy novels in Bavaria. Or becoming one of those paid to stand on street corners passing out pamphlets to get guys to come into “gentleman’s clubs” in Prague. Anything to get me out of this country. Anything.
That desperate clawing at the prison bars feeling passes and my still-sick wife and I trudge toward our connecting flight home. We’re sick, shaken and beleaguered, but we survived re-entering our “homeland”. By the end of my $9.00 Bloody Mary at the swamped airport bar I’ve almost forgotten about the stampede and mental images of people crushed by others in our attempt to make this country “safer”. Maybe that’s the mental condition all Americans are under at this point, a state of Bloody Mary numbness, unable to continue thinking clearly about a nation gone amok with its desire to control history and risk.
Or maybe I was just tired on a 24 hour journey home. Still, I would like every member of our federal Legislative, Executive & Judicial branches to go through Dulles Airport in a similar manner every day for a week. I realize that these folks must travel by air all the time, but I can’t help but think those in power might have little bureaucratic tools to employ that make their trips a wee bit less onerous than we commoners. So…a solid week of daily Customs/USDA/”re-check”/TSA for those listed above and let’s see what policy changes result. It can’t hurt…and maybe we could also use those CCTV cameras to record the festivities and fall down laughing as we watch Pete Domenici and brethren yell, scream, curse and harangue every uniformed person in sight.
I’d pay movie for those tapes. Good money.