Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

North by Southwest

North by Southwest
© 2006 Ross Williams

I hate flying. Not because I'm scared of having my feet 30,000 feet off the ground. I'm afraid of having my feet thirty feet off the ground. Thirty thousand doesn't even register.

Not because I'm scared of the [extremely remote] possibility of some pan-islamist yahoo trying to turn the plane into a makeshift guided missile either. We've learned to refuse compliance with pen-knife wielding whackjobs. The next guy caught getting bossy with a pen knife on a plane with Americans might well find himself in several oozing pieces by the time the plane makes its emergency landing.

No, I hate flying primarily because I cannot politely and only mutteringly tolerate the lengths to which our national obsessive-compulsive disorder gets played out on those who are supposed to be free citizens in a free country.

Which is worse: having foreign hotheads take away our rights? or having our government do ditto in order to keep the foreign hotheads from doing it first?

The answer is 'yes'. I've said this before: if you can't do your job without breaking the rules – and warrantless searches break the rules – then it's fairly conclusive evidence that your job doesn't need doing.

Or that you're a grasping power-monger who believes rules apply to everyone else. Pick one. Either way, I still have a first amendment, and you're going to hear about it.

But I'm not here to complain about the anti-constitutional indignities attached to a billion of us annual airline passengers having to remove our shoes because paranoiac feds want to prevent another yutz trying to light his laces in order to permeate an entire passenger plane with gym-shoe stink. Oh, right, it could have caused a fire. And if it were an episode of 24, it could have been enough explosive to fly a rocket to the moon as well. So, lunatic feds, thanks but no thanks. Confine your paranoias to the plausible from now on, if you don't mind.

Again, I'm not here to issue yet another kvetch on idiot power-grasping, rule-breaking, one-size-fits-all, every-whitebread-or-brownbread-American-is-as-likely-to-be-an-islamist-terrorist-as-an-islamist nonsense.

I'm going to complain about Americans. You and me. But mainly you.

Going to the airport puts me into an immediate foul mood. I'm nth-degree grouchy because of the aforementioned national paranoias I'm forced to comply with. I'm a free citizen in a free country, goddammit, and you'll damn well treat me like I am.

But what actually drives me to the edge and keeps nudging me is the people I run into there. I was carrying about a thousand pounds of Yucatan onyx in my carry-on and would have loved breaking it over the heads of a few dozen sniveling, self-obsessed retards. And would have, except that each piece of onyx had been ear-marked either as gifts or as a dust-catcher for the mantle. Pardon, as a piece of art signifying the love and togetherness my wife and I share. ...two kissing rock birds on a branch of rock. Awwww. Fifty pounds if it's an ounce.

We ran into the basic line-jumping twit. Yes, he’s going to get a much better seat by getting in front of me than in taking his arrival-order position behind me. He might have to walk as many as two steps fewer than I will. He wins!!

Congratulations, idiot. Did you start the day sitting in the middle of the airport parking lot waiting for the car in the first parking spot to load up and leave so you can take the spot for yourself? You could have been first in this line if you'd only gone around the corner and parked in the spot a half-dozen cars down the line. But no. You have to hold up 5 cars behind you just so you can snag the closest spot and walk 30 fewer feet. You win again!!

Your trophy case must be overflowing by now. Much like the seams on your pants, I notice. Walking less and less adds pounds. Take a hint.

We also ran into self-pitying tear-stains. Heaps of self-pitying tear-stains. And they were all trying to get on the plane first by abusing the rules. They all had some form of major infirmity that [sniff sniff] required them to "pre-board".

...so they boarded the plane before they got on it? No, no, no. They preferentially boarded. "Pre-boarding" is something, apart from boarding, that is necessary to do before boarding. Like getting to the airport in the first place. Like packing. Those are both “pre-boarding” activities.

"While we're pre-boarding, dear, are you going to want to take your razor? How about pre-boarding my dress shoes, while you're in the closet. And hurry up, because we need to get in the car to complete the pre-boarding."

Dear airlines: you do not "pre-board" the aged, infantile and infirm. You preferentially board them.

And while I'm on the airlines themselves, why the hell is it so hard to make airplane windows that actually serve their purpose? There isn't an airplane in the modern fleet which has a window that:
1] fits with the seat pattern, and
2] is face-high for a full-grown adult to look out.

Figure it out folks, it can't be that hard. You did it for the pilots.

If you're not infirm when you get into a window seat, you're fully crippled by the time you get out of it. Which is great if you've got a connecting flight. "I must preferentially board now; my neck is paralyzed."

The purpose of preferentially boarding the aged, infantile and infirm is to give them the room and time they need to maneuver themselves. They need the extra room and time: they’re either too old to move well, too young to know where they’re supposed to go, or too crippled to do it fast. But simply because someone wants extra room and time for himself doesn’t make him aged, infantile or infirm. Here are some hints:

If you're 80 but move well on your own two feet, you don't need preferential boarding; if you're 80 and wheelchair-bound you qualify, but you should probably think about a different form of transportation in the future. Cargo airplanes, maybe; not passenger planes. I know, how insensitive of me.

If you're wheelchair-bound because your "infirmity" is excessive obesity, then personally I don't consider you infirm but self-indulgent and selfish, and your personal shortcomings are not a quality so admirable it entitles the bearer a preference at the airport. I again would suggest another means of transportation in your future, possibly a forklift or long-haul tractor trailer.

If your "small children" are merely as immature as an infant, but are chronologically 9 or 10 years old, then they need to get in line behind everyone else … and you need to corral them. If you can't, if you insist on flouting the rules for selfish reasons, then so can I. And suddenly you and your adorably spoiled brats and their grotesquely inconsiderate parents are "suspicious", and you'll be getting tapped on the shoulder by a TSA weenie about ten minutes before your preferential boarding. Better luck on your next flight.

If you legitimately DO have legitimately small children, how about you do some basic housekeeping in your pre-boarding routine so you won't bring the entire FAA system to a slow crawl just for the sake of your aw-what-a-cutie-pie child? Like, fold up your stroller. Better yet, check it at the counter. You have a small baby, fergodsake, not a small rhino; carry it. That's what parents were given arms for.

And before anyone gets all indignant, I've got four kids and I never once used a stroller, ever, not even at the mall, and I took my kids everywhere. A stroller is prima fascie evidence of a lazy parent. Being a lazy parent doesn't grant you preferential boarding; failing to pack up your laziness before you preferentially board means you're rude and selfish as well. If you're okay being lazy, rude and selfish, I'm okay saying so.

On our crowded flight – already late due to unscheduled maintenance – there were at least a dozen individuals requiring preferential boarding. And their families with them. Over twenty-five people got on the plane before everyone else. They took an average of two and a half minutes for each group to individually load. Everyone else stood in line for an extra half hour as these people barged ahead.

They included a thin old lady who rolled up in a wheelchair but was apparently miraculously cured on the flight, because she walked off. Briskly.

There was a two-ton Tessie who should probably have moved by freight rail.

There was a family with small children who were surprised as all get-out that they'd need to fold up their strollers and collect the FAO Schwarz-worth of toys and stuff them in any of a half dozen carry-ons.

There was a young man with his arm in a cast. Uh… pardon, but how does a broken wrist make it difficult for you to walk? Are you a quadruped? If so, you need to be in baggage. In a crate.

And there was a young-ish woman who strolled up to the gate five minutes before the plane was scheduled to leave and nonchalantly headed to the preference line. I'm figuring she had a hangover headache. The airline let her on ahead of us regulars without asking for the note from her doctor, or her last night’s bar bill.

I commented to my wife – and loud enough for several of those around us to hear – that my foot hurt [which it did; it's chronic] and I needed to be up there with the lady having a hangover. Most people smiled knowingly while three people, including the line jumper, looked at me with much disdain … as if I were being, golly, rude.

Yes, indeed. How rude to point out others being rude. And it was rude of you to sneer at me about it. So put that flinging-rock away, Mr Sinfree Glasshauser.

Preferential boarding is available to those who need it, not merely those who want it. We all want it. But it takes an unacceptable level of inconsiderate social arrogance to take for ourselves what is being given to someone else. The collection plate at church is not a sampler tray; the Toys-for-Tots box is not a shopping cart in a register-less toy store. Preferential boarding is for those who need assistance, not for those who want attention.

Buy yourself as many mirrors as you can afford and heap praise upon your reflection if attention is what you crave, Narcissus. Then stay home; everybody wins that way.