The Unfriendly Skies

This is being written in an affluent suburban community somewhere within the endless of sprawl of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, rather than at our usual humble heartland location, and this radical change of venue was accomplished through the miracle of modern aviation. Air travel is one of our least favorite modern miracles, and we don’t recommend it to anyone, but sometimes it cannot be avoided.
Our aversion to flying is partly a simple old-fashioned phobia – we are strictly terra firma people, and as the old joke goes the firma the ground the less terra we feel – but modernity has also done much to make the experience ever more unpleasant. There are all the annoyances of that have been diligently added by the Transportation Safety Administration, of course, but also a number of indignities resulting from the democratization of airline travel.
At this late date there is no use complaining about the politically correct but logically indefensible policies of the TSA, but the right to do is included in the high cost of a ticket and we will therefore avail ourselves of the opportunity. Just before the security checkpoint we noticed a large display of items that are not allowed on board an airliner, which ranged from a hand grenade to a normal-sized can of shaving cream, and although the prohibition on hand grenades seemed sensible enough we could not fathom what threat our container of Barbasol Beardbuster might pose to our fellow passengers. Nor could we see any reason why we should be required to remove our shoes before being allowed on the plane, as they are ordinary footwear of little destructive force. We recall that several years ago somebody had weaponized a pair of sneakers he wore onto a plane, quite ineffectively as it turned out, but we also recall from the grainy press photos that he was conspicuously deranged-looking and of one of the more terrorism-inclined ethnicities, so we see no reason that TSA agents shouldn’t be allowed some discretion in deciding whose sneakers warrant further investigation.
The passenger arbitrarily singled out for more intensive scrutiny was a petite 50-something woman who looked to be of Native American ancestry, so she could hardly be accused of being a damn foreigner, and there was nothing about her demeanor that aroused our suspicions. She endured the groping and fondling and untoward wand-wavings of the TSA agents with the same resigned stoicism that her fellow passengers displayed when partly disrobing at the checkpoint, and although this is the pragmatic response to such nonsense we hope that the traveling public will eventually grow more restive. Not on our flight, of course, as that would cause insufferable delays, but at some point when we are happily ensconced at home.
Those TSA agents have become more efficient in harassing the people they are charged to protect, at least, and in short course we were on board the plane and heading towards Denver. Even the most casual students of American geography will immediately note that the quickest route from Wichita, Kansas, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, does not go through Denver, Colorado, but such detours are the burden of flyers from mid-sized cities with few direct flights to anywhere. The itinerary required a long hike through the immense Denver airport to another boarding gate some 50 or 60 miles away, or so it seemed, and took us through what looked to be an upscale shopping mall teeming with downscale customers. Our idealized notions of airline travel were formed back when George Jones and Tammy Wynette were proudly singing “We’re Not the Jet Set” as proof of their proletarian bona fides, but these days the jet set apparently includes even George’s and Tammy’s most beer-bellied and under-dressed fans. Everyone was talking on cell phones and hauling the latest in wheeled luggage, with that very self-important look that people have when engaging in such formerly elite behaviors, but clearly the glamour has gone from air travel. The inside of our plane to Philadelphia could have easily been mistaken for a Greyhound bus to Tucumcari, New Mexico, during the Dust Bowl, and we think we might have even spotted a carry-on goat or two, so it should not be surprising that airplane have largely disappeared from popular song ever since Merle Haggard sang “Silver Wings” all those years ago.
Having taken the precaution of staying up very late prior to our early morning departure from Wichita, which was made all the earlier by the irrational demands of the TSA, we managed to snooze through most of the flying. After an even longer hike through the even larger Philadelphia airport we were greeted by our Okie parents who have somehow turned into big-city Pennsylvanians. We have since commenced a week of family reunion and thanksgiving, and expect it will be well worth the trouble. It might even yield a few interesting posts on this strange and vexing part of the world, but if not we’ll try to think of something else to say.

— Bud Norman

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