Friday, December 19, 2008

If Akroyd and Martin Had Had Passports, Part#1: 3 Trains, 1 Plane

We actually began with trains, three to be exact, two subways to Penn Station and NJ Transit to Newark Airport. Only upon arrival in EWR did Ben’s reticence at taking my proposed later train register. We needed to stand in the checked baggage line for his gift-laden suitcase. Since a language barrier enhanced three-day luggage loss en route to Marseille in ’99, I have not willingly checked anything. In a nod to herd mentality, I unwillingly bid my regulation cabin size bag adieu onto an LGA baggage belt last December. I was bound for Durban via Jo’burg through Charles de Gaulle. The number of warning bells in that itinerary makes the mind reel: Charles de Gaulle is one of the world’s widest airports, Jo’burg, one of the most dangerous and socially- transient cities, and Durban? Durban is a pretty resort city where the position of Whites during Apartheid has been overtaken by a group of entitled feeling Coloureds, and everyone is fighting for a place. Yes, such class categories still see daily use. Irate, but not surprised I was the only one leaving Durban Airport with solely my carry-on. Through the “pass-the-buck” muddle of Durban baggage service call-in lines, I learned my bag was stranded in Paris. I only hoped it was enjoying some of that city's gastronomic pleasures! Eight days later, wearing part of the new wardrobe I had been forced to buy, I retrieved a filthy version of its former self in Jo’burg, then gladly presented Air France with a detailed wardrobe bill.

My current trip, fortunately, was a direct shot to Zurich. Besides a moment’s pause as to whether or not Ben's suitcase would warrant the over 50lb. $15.00 surcharge (it didn’t), and slight skepticism towards the meager ratio of visible, blue-uniformed Continental employees per passenger, I had little fear that it would fall off, perhaps yodeling, on to the luggage belt. So, we joined the overextended Checkpoint 2 Security Line.

As usual, this queuing invited the standard commentary: why international passengers don’t have their own line, why we bother to get dressed or pack at home at all, etc. For the newest addition to this litany, I extend a heartfelt thanks to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and what I’ll dub its Justification Signs---sort of an FAQ section for the TSA, in the form of small, bright white signs on the line pillars every couple of feet. Turning my head to regard the length remaining ahead, I came face-to-face with one of my favorite gripes, The 3oz. Liquid Restriction. “Why is each passenger only allowed 3 oz. of liquid container placed in a see-through Ziploc bag?” the gleaming sign asked. “Future technology will enable the TSA to distinguish between dangerous and benign (sic) liquids,” its answer read. "Until then (please forgive the paraphrase) a plastic bag makes it easier for TSA officials to see inside." Excuse me, Mr. CEO of the TSA. So, what you’re saying, in fact, is that current technology is incapable of making said distinction, so, you or any TSA employees have no idea whether the clear liquids measuring no more than 3oz. that I have compliantly placed in my little Ziploc bag are shampoo, water, hemlock, gasoline, or cyanide? Pause while he searches for pre-packaged, convincing sounding rebuttal.

The highlights of the actual flight were, first, the meal and, second, the managing bursar’s skill in rattling off airplane greeting and protocol simultaneously in Switzerland’s three official languages, and English, without missing a beat. Having not eaten much that day, due to packing and errands, I was salivating in anticipation of the flight attendant's chipper inquiry, “chicken or beef, or would it be chicken or pasta?” The actual question, “chicken or chicken?” did not bother my open palette in the least. The couple behind me, however, was a different story. He didn’t eat chicken and this particular flight attendant had cinched her scarf too tightly, because “it’s either chicken or nothing,” she growled. Moments later came a flight first for me: screaming from the kitchen area of the plane. The uproar, we heard later when the bursar came around to smooth things over, was that the couple had felt quite slighted in not being offered a food alternative on a seven-hour flight. While I quite agree, I’m not sure dried- out chicken and mushy pasta and vegetables were worth rousing the sleeping twins in the seat next door...

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