Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It Has Changed Me, For Better Or Worse

Today I traveled again to San Diego.  Sunny San Diego where it is a few degrees cooler than my home state and definitely a few % points less in humidity.  I spend between 15-30 hours a month traveling on airplanes.  It is strange really, that after 9/11, my job seemed to demand this kind of travel from me more and more. 

After 9/11, I made a concerted effort to watch who was boarding the plane with me, where they sat and what they were carrying.  Was that paranoid or just being more concious of possible problems?  Are those two concepts the same?

Today though, I was extra tired.  I had stayed up late the night before finishing my "Blood for Oil" treatise and had to get up extra early to catch my flight.  I was late getting to the airport and thus the gate.  When I got to the gate and went through security, my stainless steel watch and silver rope bracelet decided to set off the metal detector.   Usually, I take them off and put them in my purse to be scanned, but I was in a hurry.  The nice female security guard on the other side of the gate asked me to step over to the extra screening area.  I complied without complaint.  It was not the security guard's fault that I was running late and had forgotten to remove my jewelry.  As a matter of fact, I really felt no angst at all as this was not the first time something had set off the alarm and I had been asked to be "wanded".  Traveling so much has made me accept these things as norm and I knew, the quicker I complied, the quicker I would get it over and on the plane.

Of course, my shoes were on the conveyor belt going through the x ray machine, so I padded over in my stockings and sat in one of the chairs provided (note to would be travelers...if you do not want to be embarrassed by your shoes, make sure that the inserts are not cock-eyed and that you put odor eating powder in your shoes to protect your fellow passengers and guards and keep them from setting off the "smell sensor" that detects gun powder and other residues).  I have done this exercise several times so I knew what to expect.  I lifted my right foot even as the security guard was going into the spiel of what was expected.  She laughed a little and we made small talk about the routine of this kind of procedure while we proceeded through the process.  I stood on the little matt that has an outline of feet.  The "foot" marks are designed to make you stand in a spread eagle position for better wanding capabilities of the security folks.  Some might find that a little intimidating or even humiliating, but again, I didn't mind because it was routine.

After wanding my wrists and identifying my two main pieces of jewelry, she proceeded to wand my shoulders and back.  If you are a woman and wear a bra or a guy that knows anything about women's underwear (hopefully not because you wear it yourself), you would know that women's bra's are torturous devices with metal clasps and underwire, designed to make you look good and feel bad about it all at the same time.  As the lady security guard wanded me, the metal in my bra proceeded to make the wand beep.  If you know anything about security at all, you will know you are now about to be touched by a stranger in places you wouldn't normally allow a stranger to touch (at least one that wasn't six foot tall, broad shouldered, strong chin and hands, carrying two dozen roses and repeating "I think I love you" over and over again).

It was over in quick succession, the guard thanked me and I replied "you're welcome", which brought a smile to her face while she escorted me back to my bags.  When I got to the conveyor, the next problem presented itself.  I was originally going to check my traveling bag and only carry my computer on board, but since I was running late, I decided to carry it on board and, thus, had to send it through the x-ray machine.  Guess what was in my bag?   A small maniucre set that I always carry with me which included a stainless steel "cuticle pusher" (men, if you have never had a manicure, these are also torture devices; if you are unsure what this is, ask your wife, girlfriend or any woman you meet that has manicured nails and they will explain the "no pain, no gain" concept of these devices), "cuticle clippers" (see also, "torture devices"), nail clippers, giant emory board (nail file) and a small bottle of clear, cuticle oil.  Basically, I was the security guards' traveler from hell.

The guard had screened my bag twice and now proceeded to ask my "permission" (definitely a euphamism) to search through my bag.  He proceeded to go through the regular spiel of not reaching into the bag or otherwise trying to interfere with their search (I guess some people are just stupid and must argue with these people as if it will make one iota of difference or speed up the process).  He asked me if I had anything sharp in the bag which immediately reminded me of the manicure set.  At this point, I was frustrated with myself.  The gate was now over head paging me to make it to the plane before they closed the door.

To speed up the process and to keep the guy from having to paw through my underwear and other personals in front of every body and God, I quickly indicated where the manicure set could be found.  I was a little annoyed with myself because I was sure that it would now be confiscated and the contents of the manicure set had been assembled by me at no little cost.  Another security guard was standing close by (kind of pudgy guy, couldn't tell if he was there for back up or if he was just a voyeaur with no other traveller to annoy), when they paged me a second time, I asked him nicely if we would wave to the gate and let them know that I was standing in the security check point and, please, please, please, don't leave without me because I was supposed to be meeting my boss on the other end and this would not be good.  He did so and the gate personnel came over with my tickets.

At the same time, the other security guard located my maniucre set and proceeded to pull out all the parts.  After explaining what each item was and testing the oil for him, he put it back in my bag and told me I could go.  I was momentarily surprised, but decided not to push my luck.  I grabbed the bag and ran for the plane.  I guess a 5'4" woman in a business suit did not look like a terrorist that needed her" pointy objects" taken away.

I sat in the last seat available.  This was Southwest, the airline of the "cattle calls".   Again, if you are a non-traveler, the seating is first come first serve.  If you are the last poor slob to get on the plane, you are likely to be getting a middle seat between a fat, smelly guy that takes up his seat and part of yours and doesnt know that square, terry cloth ties went out in the eighties and, really, combovers don't hide anything (better to shave and go bald; it is sexy),  a woman with a 2 year old that is going to scream your entire trip, kick and pummel you as they inform the entire plane of their distress or a grandmother that will insist on telling you about her latest paranormal experience the entire 4 hours of flight (this has really happened to me folks).  When you have only had 3 hours sleep, these are NOT top on your list of traveling companions. 

I was fortunate today.  A really cute, if hopelessly younger and married, man was sitting by the window and a nice lady, reading a book, were mine.  Bliss as I sat back and proceeded to catch some shut eye before the long day ahead (my boss is notorious for holding meetings all day long and into the wee hours of the night).  But, no such luck for me.  I did not notice that the woman with the distressed 2 year old was sitting in the seat across the aisle.  Soon as the plane lifted off, the poor child proceeded to exclaim it's angst for the entire plane to hear.  For the next hour and a half. 

I can't say I wasn't a little huffy about it, but really, what was the mom supposed to do when a baby can hardly understand how to clear it's ears when the cabin pressure changed?  I knew sleep was lost, so I got out my book that I have been trying to read for three weeks (usually, I read a book a week: half on the way to wherever and half on the way back, but I haven't been traveling the last 3 weeks so the book has been languishing) and tried to read.  No rest for the wicked.  Or is that the weary?

Plane landed in Phoenix to let passengers off and pick them up.  This is where my boss got on the plane and proceeded to sit next to me for the remainder of the trip.  Someone else you really don't want as a traveling companion after only 3 hours sleep.  Your worst nightmare is trying to string together coherant sentences and converse with the guy that will give you your next review.  There is no sleeping then.  Suck it up.  You need this job.  You love this job.  Besides, you have definitely worked for people that you would gladly kill and stuff their bodies in a garbage dumpster.  He doesn't even come close to that mark, so you can make the effort.  But still, I had only 3 hours sleep.

We were behind schedule when we landed.  We  both had conference calls to attend to in less than 45 mins and had no breakfast or lunch yet.  We grabbed our bags and walked quickly to the area where we could catch the rental car buses.  My boss was chatting about something as I scanned the rows of buses for our rental car company's logo.  As we walked down the line, I saw "him".  A thin man in jeans and a blue dress shirt.  He had dark skin, a thin, hooked nose in a thin, rather patrician face.  His beard and mustache were trimmed with a little grey.  On his head, he wore the traditional skull cap of many muslim sects.  He wore black loafers and no socks.  I swear to you, he looked like a young bin Laden.

Can you tell by my description that I was staring at him?  I did.  Not, too long, but long enough.  Long enough for me to notice that I was staring.  My boss and I got on the bus and I sat listening with half an ear as he continued making small talk and I stared out the window.  I was just a little shaken by the incident.  Not because what he looked like.  Not because I was afraid, though his appearance had given me pause.  Not because I thought he was a terrorist and he should be reported immediately (he wasn't doing anything but sitting there).

I was shaken because I was reminded that there are some people that had taken airplanes and rammed them into buildings.  I was shaken because, this act, which I so detested and swore would not deter me from flying, changed me in a way that I had not recognized until the moment I stared at this man, the same way I realized I had stared at people of middle eastern decent for the last 3 years.  Not in that, "oh, look, somebody who is different.  Wonder what interesting place they come from" stare.  But the look that says, "I am suspicious of you and if you make one false move, you will get clobbered with a heavy object."

Frankly, as I write this, the same feelings came over me, inlcuding the last feeling: anger.  I was so fucking angry right then.  I'm angry right now.  These bastards had changed me in a way I thought no one could.  They have made me paranoid.  They have quite possibly subverted my usual acceptance of people at face value and turned me into, what I call a racist.  Even as I try to justify this to myself, that really, I'm not a racist, I would never exclude anyone or denigrate anyone for their race or color, I know that I have made an exception in my subconcience and now my concience, that this might exclude middle eastern people.

Even as I cheer on the Iraqi people and hope for their better, brighter future.  Even as I read other webblogs from Iraqi citizens that talk about freedom and share many of the similar ideas of myself and fellow citizens of the US.  Even as I share comments with these same folks, I realize that some where, I have put a modifier on my acceptance.  Because of their race, color, religion, place of origin, I am waiting for them to prove to me that they are not like "the others".  AS they pass this proof, I have accepted them and, in the case of my fellow bloggers, placed them near in my heart like brothers and sisters, fearing for their safety.  Insisting that I read their blogs each day to know that they are still alive by seeing that they have posted today.   In some ways I recognize that I have done this as a defense mechanism to try to stem the tide of my own bigotry, lest I become them, those 19 men on the planes.  That bastard who believes he is curing his region, his religion of the infidels.

Right now, I wish these bastards in hell, burning and screaming like their many victims.  Burning for making me recognize this thing in me.  Burning for changing my world.  Burning for changing me when so many things, so many people before have never been able to do so.  I think I hate them like I have never hated another human being in my life.  I want to destroy them for destroying a part of me.  This is no impersonal revenge or justice I require for killing 3000 of the worlds citizens in my country; for making me watch people jump from 110 stories of a burning  building; for making me see thousands of people carrying pictures of their dead loved ones; the eerie silence I still hear in my mind, echoing with the high pitched siren sounds that indicate a fireman has fallen.  These things require our action.

No...this is personal.  I want vengence for the piece of my soul that has been taken; the piece of me that has been destroyed.  I said once that I woke up on Sept 12, 2001 to a different world.  On July 20, 2004, I woke up to a new me.  Someone I am not sure that I am ready to deal with.

As I write this, I begin to believe something very strongly.  The best punishment for this bastard and his followers is not a quick death by a missile from an unmanned predator.  It is life.  It is the witnessing of the thing that he most feared.  A new birth of a free and prosperous nation.  Freedom that he so loathes.  The spread of this freedom from country to country until it squeezes him into a corner where all he can see above the bodies of his dead compatriots, is the the thing that he most feared:  Freedom staring him in the face.

Then and only then may he find surcease in the fires of hell at the tip of a tomahawk or a MOAB or the assassins bullet.

Tomorrow, I must get up and go to work.  Recognizing that I have been changed, for better or worse.


Tammi said...

Wow. I found you via comments at Questing Cat and so very glad I did.

I also travel a lot with my job, and recognize much of what you have written here. I too, hate the changes I see in myself in the past few years. Before 9/11/01 I would have never dreamed I'd be so cynical, so questioning, so biased. I hate the changes, but even more I hate those that changed me.

What a great site! I'll be back.

Sean - Silicon Valley, CA said...

It would be nice if Saddam made it past Iraq's first celebration of independence. Force him to watch tapes of the celebrations from all over the country. Life imprisonment watching the spread of democracy in the ME would be just punishment, but I don't think that realistically it is in the cards for him. I think about a month and a half after independence day would be a good time to let the Iraqi's bury their ghosts.

Pat in NC said...

Kat, I empathize with you. Since I am retired and never have to fly I still worry that the islamofacists will again try to use a plane as a weapon. I really do not think you a racist since your fears are based on the facts of 9/11. The fact that you care about the Iraqis and other oppressed people in this world no matter what ethnic or religion they belong to shows you are not racist. I guess it is a human flaw, shared by all of us,to fear what is documented regarding people who wish to kill us. Saddam never did a thing to me, but I have imagined just punishment for him--tatoo his forehead, cut off his ears, hands, tongue and beating him rather than one relatively painless bullet to head or heart. This does not make me a racist. It merely means I am fallible and do not have a pure spirit. Thankfully, my faith makes me realize that "vengence is mine, saith the Lord" and I try to clear my mind. I wish you many relaxed flights and that in our lifetime this terrorist madness will be overcome so that none of us need to harbor paranoid or violent thoughts. Peace!

Kat said...

Thanks guys for readiing this. I know that was a little emotional.

I realized that you all might have thought the "bastard" I wanted to have get a MOAB in his snout was Saddam, but I was atually talking about Osama.
He's the one I want to be able to run around for awhile and watch as his plan for the nation of Islam under the Islamofascists goes down the drain. then, we moab him.

Kat said...

As for the traveling thing and the muslim guy, I realized while I was writing the entry that it was unlikely that these guys would be so obvious in the selection of headgear if they were staking out the place. That's what made me kind of angry that I even had to consider it for a second while I was trying to go about my life, traveling.

Honestly, I don't feel anymore or less safe than before. I am just more vigilant. I further don't think that they would be able to get away with the similar 9/11 episode as the passengers are less likely to "sit quietly" and go along with the plan. Bombs on planes are more likely and even more likely will be low tech car bombing kinds of things because cars are just so common, who notices one that is sitting someplace for a couple of hours?

ALa said...

I really enjoyed reading this post--I think you have acurately transcribed what many of us feel. You are further along than me as I have yet to step foot back on a plane (pre-9/11 taking many flights overseas) and can't see myself doing so any time soon. My husband and I were in Ocean City, NJ that day (we live in Philly) and stood motionless on the beach for what seemed like forever...watching the thick black smoke overtake the horizon.

Robert said...

Ah, I missed this post. Let me comment now ;).

"Frankly, as I write this, the same feelings came over me, inlcuding the last feeling: anger. I was so fucking angry right then."
Sometimes it just comes over you, for no apparent reason. Why not be angry at the atrocities you hear daily?

Back around the time of the Madrid bombing I ran into one of these infuriating moments. I read an article about how someone was dragged from their grave and torched (or some other method like this) in Spain. And for some inexplicable reason I was just furious in a way I hadn't been before. There was something that just... that just set me off.

And I don't know quite why that set me off, but it did.

I try and balance myself. Personally, I need to read blogs like LGF. Why? Because I have to realize how our enemies think. The absolute bankruptcy of their thoughts. The base attitudes they hold and actions they take.

On the other hand, I do read blogs like Iraq the Model.

The anger I feel is not directed toward Arabs, but toward people that would kill me, my family, my fellow countrymen, or Western Civilization.

As fervently as I hope that no American will be hurt, just as fervently I hope for the well being of Iraqis.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. Anyone who thinks we truly want war is deluding themselves. I'd love to be able to just ignore thinks like Iraq, but I don't think thats possible or responsible.

Kat said...

Robert you just gave me an idea for my next posting. Thanks!

Robert said...

No problem. I look forward to your next post then. ;)

Frater Bovious said...

Kat, thanks for reposting all these in chronological order. I am carefully reading through them. You write will and with passion.

I'd also like to thank you for how your blog is laid out. I have reviewed the source code for your pages, and figured out how to do things like post a teaser post, and have a link to the full article, etc., and it keeps things tidy.

I'm really appreciating what you are writing here. Thanks again. fb