The young luggage carrier zipping through the airport above is the biggest worry in my world, and will probably continue to be for some time. He is known in these parts as Lord Running Boy. But there are a lot of things to worry about. For example, I'm very anxiety-prone when it comes to racial differences, gays, and lesbians, these issues occupying spots on Page 27 of my single-spaced list of worries, right after my entry for "Do Koreans eat too much damned garlic?"
Air travel comes early on Page 2 of my List of Worries, whereas it used to be high on Page 1 of my List of Sinful Pleasures. In my younger days there as a word for people like me: "jet-setter." Air travel still held vestiges of glamor, adventure, and mystique. Now I'm not sure what connotations it should carry when a nation is deliberately and sadistically torturing a generation of travelers in the name of security.
Heard of "waterboarding?" Yeah. Victims call it dying, sure, but it's mercifully quick (as long as they don't revive you and repeat the process 5 times a day--then it's very annoying). By contrast, there is no end to "airboarding," a training process intended to induce cow-like obedience and placid paranoia, the abbatoir-queued tableau punctured only occasionally by the insane screams of travelers as they're tazered to death. This might be less disturbing to the seasoned, thick-skinned traveler if the entire world weren't being turned into one giant Airport Arrival Centre. ("Your Honor, there was reason to believe the subject might have had explosive charges/guns/knives/nuclear device/et cetera hidden in his shoes/pocket/jacket/trunk/et cetera, so I had no choice but to shoot.")
But allow me to share my reveries. Once upon a time, I was coddled by Icelandic stewardesses. Yes, that was the proper word, and every one of them would've looked at home in the pages of a men's magazine; they would touch your arm, and I assume were trained if not encouraged to pleasantly violate your personal space by resting their hand on the back of your neck while asking if you needed anything else besides the entire bottle of champagne at your disposal. One of my most delicious meals ever was a rib-eye steak with red wine glaze in the lonely Aer Lingus first class on a Christmas eve. Once upon a time, before Homeland Security, immigration-check guards greeted me with a welcome and a smile, showing what, for lack of a better word, seemed like respect.
Respect was all well and fine, but what about the glamor? You want glamor?? Glamor is when you're waiting in line for the bathroom on a 747 and a girl people pay money to take pictures of taps you on the shoulder and gives you her phone number. She doesn't care if you have to pee like a race horse. You're on a 747, flying to Tokyo, so you must be interesting. You might even be somebody. Over the ice caps of Greenland in the middle of the night, over Siberia, Sakhalin, the Mediterranean, and Formosa, I've imbibed umbrella drinks and smoked cigarettes while standing in the back of the plane with ten other people, having parties. Remember the Mile High Club? It existed.
Now, if people attempt to have sex on a plane, obscure fines and charges are levied and levelled at and against them. Sex on a plane is a crime against humanity, the hapless participants are pilloried in the press as perverted fools, and governments practically come out and say "Ewww!" I suppose it's a security threat of some sort, and potentially inconsiderate, but sex on planes was generally once considered a Good Thing. Or at least an acceptable thing which individual humans might discreetly do, as individuals, against better private judgement. Even for me, it's hard to believe it ever was so, hard to track the dots of change which led us to this place in which a stewardess does not caress my neck but has morphed into a flight attendant and looks at me like she wants to spray me with disinfectant or bug killer and says, "Fill out your arrival form." I ask, "Could I borrow a pen?" She's Dutch, on KLM, and coolly remarks, "You must be an American." This was in business class, and I assumed one could ask for a pen without being directly insulted. "Ah, yes," I reply..."and you must be a German." Then she makes the facial expression for I Will Have You Killed.
The cliche says that all good things have to come to an end. I had hoped it didn't encompass air travel. It was so grand not having to undress, get x-rayed, take off your shoes, squeeze out your toothpaste tube, have your leatherman confiscated, your baby woken up, held on a runway without heat, food, drink, or the freedom to leave your seat to use the bathroom for 6 hours, and it was lovely to never hear a woman burst into sobbing tears of angry frustration and her husband say, "Oh now that's just great! That's all we needed!" It was wonderful not being officiously treated like a perpetrator, a bother to disregard, a malefactor in waiting. It was the best, and I miss it so. Maybe if you work hard enough in the Ownership Society to own your private jet, it gets better.