If you really want to know what modern life is like, and where each of us is headed in the very near future, spend some time at the airport. Do as I have recently spend three weeks in airports and youll be lucky not just to come home alive, but to care that you did.
Damn that 9/11! Not only has it made flying, already a hellish nightmare, a quadrupled hellish nightmare, but you cant even say what you want to about it without people thinking youre being callous, unpatriotic and ungrateful. Taking it too lightly. Not upset enough or respectful wheres the flag on your lapel? It might sound like youre trying to make a joke!
Trust me: The day you fly from Portland, Oregon, to Miami, Florida, by way of St. Louis, Missouri, youll forget that jokes exist.
Its not your fellow passengers who make you crazy in the friendly skies, although any one of them, particularly those with small children, has the potential to snap your rubber band at any point in the flying ordeal. Having made considerable public fusses as a toddler myself, Im prepared to overlook all but the most egregious behavior in Tiffany, Brandon, Taylor, etc. Its their parents I cant fathom.
Couples of America, listen up: A screaming baby is bad, but a talking 2-year-old is worse. Am I clear? They dont belong in public spaces; they should be seen and not heard. I know that most of you are strung out beyond the capacity of tireless mules, trapped in workplaces, mortgages, soccer games and sex lives, but if Caitlin and Conor simply wont stop squawking and shrieking, take your cue from the animal kingdom and cuff em upside the head. It did, and does, wonders for children. Either that or a dollop of scotch around the gums.
I think this is what my grandmother gave me in July 1958, as my brother and I went with her from Pennsylvania to Colorado on the train. We arrived in St. Louis in a heat wave 104 degrees. I had a bloody nose, and we waited for our connection for what seemed like years. As a child, I wasnt easily stifled, but somehow my grandmother did it: My memory fades and wakens to the sight of Mount Manitou, Cripple Creek and the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The ancients drugged themselves ritually for this reason, of course to get over humps.
Nevertheless, as I say, it isnt your fellow oppressed and tormented slaves-on-their-way-to-the-mines who drive you nuts as you face a whole day in a jet-propelled missile, hurtling through space in a roaring canister, of which youve seen so many, so often, blown into fiery pieces. No, its the inability of anyone employed by the airlines to tell you the truth that is to say, the facts of the situation. This is their job that is, not to tell you. They know, and you know they know, and they know you know they know, that your plane wont be going anywhere. You wont arrive at your destination when you thought you would. This might or might not complicate your life, but, plainly, it isnt complicating theirs. This is why you want to kill them.
Oops! Did I say that? A sign in Miami warned me that it was forbidden not just to transport, but to discuss knives, weapons, terrorists, etc., while shuffling to your doom in an over-lit, metal-and-plastic shopping-mall-cum-madhouse. Good citizen that I am, I arrived duly at all my scheduled departures a full two hours ahead, as instructed, only to find in each case that I was the only one who had. How do you kill hours at an airport even when they arent frisking you, opening your pants and lolling around with guns? Again, Im wholly sympathetic, eager, anxious, even, to meet A Nation Challenged halfway. But when youve gone through security for the fourth time because, waiting in vain for your flight, youve needed some Fritos or a pack of M&Ms just to stay alive; when the guards start calling you by your first name and ask if youve picked up any knives or scissors in the 15 seconds since they last saw you; and when you know that your plane isnt going anywhere in the first place well, you want to smoke, dont you?
Hear this: Im through defending the publics right to smoke in times of crisis, as any journey on an airplane necessarily is. Its the same thing with hospitals when else would you want to smoke except when gazing into the jaws of death? For Gods sake, they gave Mata Hari a cigarette before they shot her. But no, God forbid, not anymore.
Look around you the next time youre trapped between a duty-free shop, a vending machine and the fast-food troughs of any airport, and see how many healthy choices you can make when it comes to stuffing your face and quelling your nerves. Caffeine, liquor and fat are your options, but please, help keep this airport a smoke-free zone! Smoke only in designated areas!
Fine where are they? This varies from port to port, but generally theyre in bars or in cages, where I found myself a week ago, with about 20 minutes to spare between three-hour flights, puffing like mad with 50 other smokers in a small glass enclosure, a sort of smoking aquarium, right in the middle of the traffic to the gates.
An idea whose time has come! I cried, suddenly aware that I was back in St. Louis. And there we sat, all 50 sinners, sucking in smoke, coughing, choking and providing an important civic lesson, allowing everyone who walked by us, amazed or outraged, to adopt an air of moral super-iority.