While flying to and from Florida last week, I had several revelations.
I used to love flying with the airlines. Then 9/11 happened, the federal government responded with invasive, almost torturous security measures, and the TSA (which according to popular jokesters stands for "Touchin', Squeezin', Arrestin'," "Taking Scissors Away," or my favorite, "Tough Sh** America!") became the new way to fly.
Over the years, I've reconciled my hatred for the TSA measures and the inane security checkpoints, and have even developed a sense of humor about it.
When my daughter was getting the full body patdown on Sunday, I tried to offer the bright side.
"Just think," I told her. "At a Vegas massage parlor, this would cost you $99."
Then you have the new full body scanners, where you have to perform the TSA version of "The Hokey Pokey." You start by playing hopscotch, making sure your feet land in the exact position indicated by the shoeprints painted on the mats leading to the device. Once inside, you have to make the "touchdown" signal. (For you St. Louis Rams fans out there, that's when the official raises both arms over his head. I know you haven't seen it for a few years, but I'm sure you've heard about it.)
I usually get patted down every time I go through the scanner because my suspenders set off the metal detectors. I console myself by remembering that it's way less embarrassing to have a stranger grope me in public than the alternative, which is for my pants to puddle around my ankles in front of a long line of people when I raise my arms. I can also tell it's time to lose some weight when it takes an entire team bigger than a NASCAR pit crew to pat me down.
I believe the TSA checkpoints also make a wonderful training ground for budding comedians. One of the requirements for being a TSA Patter Downer is you must have your sense of humor surgically removed. There are even some fondle stations that have signs which specifically forbid joking about things like bombs, terrorists, or hemorrhoids. If you can make a TSA agent laugh, you're ready to perform at the Improv.
But on this trip, I realized that it's time to get rid of the security checkpoints. Instead, the TSA should implement intelligence testing.
For starters if they were to start using an airline version of the Wonderlic test and bar anyone with an IQ less than 12, they could reduce the long lines at the ticket counters by at least 30%, because I learned that there are some people who are just too stupid to fly.
On this trip, I sat behind a woman who thought her seat on the plane was a ride at Gilley's. Her seat bucked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth (repeat this phrase 18,000 more times) as she continued to adjust the tilt non-stop through the entire flight. If you ever read the manual, you'll learn that the seats only have two settings: "uncomfortable," and "in the upright position with tray tables stowed." For the passenger behind one of these airline seat rodeo riders, the settings are "headrest smashed against your face" and "headrest smashed against your chest." Unfortunately for me, this bronc buster managed to stay on for the full eight hours.
Then when it was time to get off the plane, we wound up behind one of those Good Samaritans that you want to strangle, set on fire, and beat with one of the 42 golf clubs the jag-off in seat 9C insisted was carry-on. For starters, her ears had more piercings and holes than a big box of Krispy Kremes. When she went through the metal detector, she must have set off alarms loud enough to be heard in Taipei. Apparently, all that stainless steel in her head must have interfered with her internal navigation system, because she couldn't seem to find her own "forward" button after jumping up and into the aisle with the first screech of the landing tires. This brain lock caused the line behind her to back up like Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam. The first 20 rows emptied before she started to move, leaving those of us in the Rosa Parks section of the plane with nothing but a prayer that our connecting flights would be "on time," which in American Airlines parlance means "45 minutes late."
During one leg of our trip, we also received a Berlitz crash course in Mandarin Chinese, because the eight landlords from Beijing in the middle of the plane insisted on yelling a three-hour conversation across four aisles at a volume that made the Boeing engines seem like a distant, gentle hum. During the lesson, I learned there is no English-to-Chinese translation for the word "manners" or the phrase "shut the hell up."
To be fair, Americans haven't mastered the art of politeness either, especially those who breed then want to unleash their demon spawn onto the public.
While standing in line waiting to board (a process that seems to take longer than an SAT exam because gate attendants just can seem to master that whole "row one-row two-row three" algorithm), one particular rugrat was doing laps around the waiting room chairs and kept scaling our carry-on baggage like it was a rock-climbing wall at the gym. The mother, who thought it was cute, explained that she liked to let junior "burn off all his energy" before he got on the plane. I applaud her thinking, I just didn't enjoy serving as one of his lap pylons, or watching her miniature Schwarzenegger use our underwear carriers as his own personal Nautilus.
I know these annoyances and the blatant rudeness aren't limited to airplanes. You can find bad behavior like this at any Walmart in the country. But it's different when you're trapped in a sealed aluminum tube at 30,000 feet, with no recourse but an indifferent untipped airborne waitress who has all the authority of a cineplex usher. And if you dare to say anything to the offending parties that might cause a scene, you'll be Alec Baldwined so fast by sky marshalls it'll make your handcuffs spin.
So until the TSA starts checking intelligence quotients with the same vigor they check crotches, take my advice when it comes to flying across the country: Don't! Whether it's rude airline passengers, brain-dead parents of hyperactive toddlers, or the TSA's training program for future Catholic priests, it's just not worth it.
Stay home and watch reruns of the History Channel's "Only In America With Larry The Cable Guy."
The sanity you save just may be your own.