Hello nurse! I am traveling around the US and writing about it, and there seems to be no end in sight unless I die or go to prison or something.
US Tour Day 69: Portland Airport
I just received the least pleasant airport experience I've ever had.
Now, I was only flying from Portland to Oakland. It's barely a flight at all clocking in at a mere hour and a half. Yet, ticketing and checking in my bags took longer than any international flight I've ever been on. I'd really hoped that I would have enough time to grab some expensive and terrible airport "food" to tide me over until I got back to the Bay Area. But, now my time was impacted.
Maybe if I was lucky there would be some food out past the security checkpoint, near my departure gate?
Now, if there was any food out there, I wouldn't get to experience it in any way. See, it appeared the kind folks at the security checkpoint had other plans for me.
At the security checkpoint I was told that I got to go to Lane 8. Um, ok. I looked off to the left towards this strange thing called Lane 8. The line at Lane 8 was much longer than the others—there were seven or so people already waiting there. There were no more than two or three anywhere else down the row of metal detectors and TSA agents. And the entrance to Lane 8 was cordoned off. The TSA agent undid the cordon, inviting me to what would turn out to be an airport torture theme park—and today I would be the guest of honor.
Now, I have enough troubles going through airports as it is. I always have at least one computer with me, so that has to have its own bin through the X–ray machine. My boots get another. My little green turtle shell backpack with my camera and phone and Palm Pilot gets another bin. Then there is my backpack—it gets it's own bin. My shoes must be removed. And my belt. And my watch. And my bracelet.
I put my computer into a grey bin and then carefully sat my cowboy hat on top of it. Poor hat. My cowboy hat has really seen better days. Most people don't realize that it is quite fragile, so they put things on top of it or grab it or throw their arms around it when they hug me. This results in my hat being crushed and me being irritated at having to reshape it for the eighty–seventh time that day. So, I was very quick to stop the woman who was about to put my hat under my almost comically heavy leather and fur coat I bought some years ago during a bitter winter in Sweden. The coat weighs so much that my shoulders and back ache after wearing it for more than a few hours. The hat wouldn't have survived, no way.
Another man insisted that the hat mustn't have its own bin. I thought, Who the hell is this guy? I have enough hat troubles, and I don't need anyone else working against me on this issue. He assured me that it wouldn't be crushed, and that it would be OK. He proceeded to place my hat in the most precarious way possible atop the jacket. I frowned and tried to explain to him—which I should have known would be impossible in the three second window in which he cared about what I had to say—but his mind was made up.
I was being negative. Everything was going to be fine. These guys are trained professionals. I kept repeating these words in my mind as I watched my things disappear into the x–ray machine. I walked through the metal detector and waited for my things to emerge on the conveyor belt.
They emerged. And, my hat came through the machine completely smashed. There wasn't enough clearance inside and the hat had been folded over two ways. My hat now looked like something that came from the beginner class at the Origami School for the Retarded.
I got the attention of a Trained Professional. Excuse me, sir. My hat was smashed. Just like I thought it would be, I thought to myself. I didn't say it out loud because nobody wants to hear 'I told you so'. He apologized, but not in the way that showed he himself actually cared about my hat or me or anything having to do with me. It was a more cordial and professional sort of apology, the sort you use to placate a person just long enough to get yourself out of their line of fire. He said that his supervisor would come over and speak with me about it. His supervisor. Super.
Now, so far I had stood in line for a long time and basically unpacked my carry–on items in order to get through the x–ray machine. I was hungry and a little irritated—ok, actually I was quite irritated—but I figured it would be over soon.
Please step over here, sir. So I did.
They asked me to stand with my feet apart on this special carpet. The carpet was special in that it had yellow foot marks on it, indicating where I ought to place my naked, shoeless feet. Before he began, the man asked me if I had any implants or medical devices. Yes, I have lots of piercings. This was going to be fun. Oh, did I say fun? Hahaha. That was an error. Wait, I mean not fun.
I stood patiently, waiting, with my feet spread, arms out and my hands upturned to the fluorescent lights above as he wanded me.
The detector beeped near my right hip. "Do you have a piercing there?" Jesus fucking christ. What an idiot. Are people really do out of touch that they would think a person might pierce their hip? I can imagine a group of grandmothers sitting together, worrying that their grandkids are out late at night piercing their femurs and temples and stabbing railway bolts through their forearms while they get hopped up on goof balls, worship satan, and infect orphans with AIDS.
Giving no sign to my disappointment in his ability to consider what parts of one's body one might usually pierce—surely not one's hip—I suggested that maybe, just maybe it was the metal button right there in clear sight sewn on the hip of my pants.
Of course, I had no such explanation when the metal–sniffing wand went off between my legs. I was assuming 'the position'. He was assuming the sarcastic tone, "Do you have a piercing there?" Sheepishly smiling, "Yes, two actually."
Now it was his turn to frown. He was standing behind me. I could smell in the air that he was terrified. He stopped what he was doing and called his manager over. They whispered back and forth for a while. The manager approached me.
"Can you remove your piercings?" Obviously they had little understanding of the mechanics of a two gauge, titanium captive bead ring. It took two very large, strong men to put the ring in. It was going to take two very large, strong men with special ring spreaders in order to take it back out. Of course, to explain this to them would've been a waste of everyone's time. They didn't care. They just wanted to do their job so they could go home and eat food and masturbate and do the important things in life. Mostly at that very moment they wanted me off of the 'conveyor belt' so they could search someone else.
"No, I can't remove them. Sorry."
The manager asked me if I would mind coming with him into a private room for a "private screening."
My time thus far in line had been no fun at all. Not even a little. Well, there was the white trash family behind me ten minutes ago with a bunch of young (and stereotypically dirty) kids that all had either duck tail or mullet hair cuts. It was early in the morning and both the mom and dad smelled like someone spilled a few beers into a bowling alley ashtray. The scene of them was a little fun, in that sort of sad but funny kind of way. But, besides that, no fun.
So, the point was that I was really disappointed with my morning thus far. And now this guy wanted to present another major obstacle to me having fun and/or eating and/or not having to be subjected to whatever it is that I imagined might happen in a private room during a 'private screening'.
And then my mind really got it. I didn't even know what a 'private screening' was! My mind raced. I remembered my stepdad once had to strip to fully naked and get cavity searched—and not in the good way—in the San Francisco airport when flying home from Mexico City. Was this going to happen to me in the private room?
"Wait, are you saying that you are going to inspect and possibly grab my..." I wasn't sure what to say at this moment. See, I don't like any of the words in the English language used to describe the male genitals. Dick, schlong, wang, mantenna. Ok, I must admit I think mantenna is pretty funny. But, it wasn't appropriate here. In the split second I tried to think of the word that would best describe this region of my body that he would best understand. "Wait, are you saying that you are going to inspect and possibly grab my cock?"
Wrong word. He was furious.
"No, I am not going to grab your," his eyes narrowed as he leaned in closer to my face. Between angrily clenched teeth and itchy contemp he continued, "your, what did you call it, sir?" It was meant as a challenge.
Not accepting any challenges, I said, "My cock. Grab my cock."
I felt bad. I wasn't trying to be threatening or troublesome. I was just really surprised that they wanted to take me into a separate private room to do something that involved the stuff between my legs and such. I mostly felt bad that I hadn't chosen a better word. Cock was clearly the wrong choice. I made a mental note to not use that one next time. Maybe he would have like Johnny Mantenna better. Who knows.
"I plan to do nothing of the sort, sir! I need to pat you down using only the back of my hand in order to make sure there are no weapons in that area! And, I could do it right here if you wanted!"
"Oh! Why didn't you say so earlier! I'm not bashful or anything. Go right ahead!"
So he searched. And he found nothing.
"Some people prefer to be taken into private rooms because they do not want to see themselves being searched in this way."
God, people are so boring. I always want to be watched when people are rubbing me, especially when it is non–consensual. That is so hot!
"Really, sir. Did you really expect that we were going to fondle or grab you? Right here in front of everyone?"
"Well, who doesn't like a good public fondling now and then?" I didn't want to give them the wrong idea though—such as that I actually wanted these two sixty year old men to fondle me rather than the young, short haired, voluptuous woman I envisioned—so I added, "So long as it's the right person doing it."
Finally they cracked a smile, and one of them said, "Let's not even go there."
I was disappointed. If anyone knows about public fondling, it's the guys from the TSA. I mean, they get paid to juggle balls in public, if you know what I mean.
I was finally done, and they allowed me to put back on my shoes. And my belt. And my jacket. And my watch. And my bracelet. My hat was still crushed, though. Yet another manager approached me. She told me that she heard there was some sort of problem with my hat.
"Hello sir. My name is so and so. I am here to listen to your problem."
Listen to my problem. Talk about a conversation that was over before it even started. From the very get go she acknowledged that she was not there to help me or solve my problem or make me feel better or anything. She was merely a walking set of ears in a uniform, a whipping post for angry travelers to scream at. This person's job must suck cock, and not in the good way. She get's to listen to people complain all day and is clearly not empowered to do anything about it except stand in their line of fire!
Well, maybe this wasn't the case, I thought. Maybe she misspoke. I showed her my hat and explained to her that I was disappointed that it was crushed. She looked at it and said that she thought it was not a big deal. I told her that this was ok. But, to me it was a big deal.
She then went on to make the value judgment that, "Well, you've already shaped it and basically ruined it. I can't imagine anyone who'd shape their hat like you have complaining about it being crushed." She sneered, she actually sneered.
I was mostly amazed at this point. Clearly this person was not trained in how to walk away from a situation leaving anyone—including herself—feeling good. "How would you feel if this happened to you? What sort of resolution would you hope to see if you were in my situation?", I asked.
She stuck to her guns, determined to be right. "I wouldn't have shaped my hat that way to begin with. I don't see why it's so important to you."
This was not working out. I felt like Job. Only it was worse because I was at an airport being searched. If there would have been the TSA and airport security a few thousand years ago, God would have totally been smiting the fuck out of His enemies with that sort of technology. (But, they weren't invented, so he had to use the next best things—sores, locusts, disease, famine, drought, etc.)
I told her that this wasn't working for me. "Are you empowered in any way to resolve this situation or create some way for me to walk away happy?"
Like a robot—a very, very, very unhappy one with a shitty job—she repeated, "I am here to listen to your problem."
Then, like a human—a very, very, very unhappy one with a shitty job—she told me that if I wanted I could send a form to Washington DC and tell them what happened. I could register a formal complaint. Maybe they might do something, but probably not, she assured me. She went on to tell me that she felt she shouldn't even bother to give me the form. "I mean, it's not like your hat was torn into a few pieces or anything." She dropped the form on the table next to me with contempt. I'm not sure how you can drop a piece of paper with contempt, but she managed to do it.
It gets me to thinking, you know? I wonder what happens when they fold, spindle, or mutilate a priceless picture—an irreplaceable family heirloom from the past or maybe a signed work by a famous photographer. Do they tell the owner of the ruined work, "What the fuck are you complaining about? Just fucking flatten it out. You can barely see the wrinkles from 20 feet away. It's not like we ripped it in half."
What if my dead father had given me that hat and it had emotional value beyond human currencies? What if it was a family heirloom? What if it belonged to some hero of mine and I had bought it at auction for £16,000 in London? None of these were the case. But, she didn't know that.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" How generous! It was like being asked if I wanted to feel more disappointed in people or if maybe I might be hungry for one more helping of futility and irritation before I was on my way to my plane. The irony in her words was the implication that she actually provided some useful service for me to begin with. Worst of all, she was hating every minute of this and she especially hated my cowboy hat.
"No, I think there are plenty of other unhappy people you will have to talk with today and it's probably not so fun. You can't help me, so it would probably be way more fun for you to go do something else. Thank you, though." I really meant it. I felt bad that she had to talk with me. Her job sucked by design. She is required to be yelled at without power to resolve issues. That's her job. In my mind I silently hoped for a raise for her, even if she did hate me.
So, how did it end? It didn't end all that terribly, I suppose. I didn't get to eat anything. I barely made my plane. It would be diet sodas and peanuts for lunch. Again. But, at least I didn't get groped or probed by the wrinkly, old Transportation Safety Administration folks—although I must admit that there is a part of me that would've been so excited for it to happen, even if just to have the story to share later.
I walked away feeling less than great, though. In fact, I felt downright bad. Dealing with me had made their days harder, and I could tell in the tired looks on their faces. Not that their jobs were really set up for them to have big fun or anything. But, still. I want to leave people with smiles, not wrinkles.
I can always tell when I haven't done my best in a situation—it's the times when I go over the conversation I just had in my head and think about what I could have said instead. Maybe I should have called him 'sir'? Maybe I should have asked him about his day? Maybe I should have just smiled and gone along with it? Maybe I shouldn't have said the word 'cock'? Maybe I should have just said nothing the whole time? Maybe I should've hugged them all afterwards?
I guess I'll just have to do better next time. And, hopefully they will long to do better next time, too. Maybe there will come a day when we will all believe we can do better next and actually start down that path with each interaction. Then we will be able to live in a world where we all have nice cowboy hats and get to eat breakfast and make our planes on time and have fun days at work and walk away with clear consciences and wide smiles. I guess I better get started, because I want to meet you all there.
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