I never get happy at airports. Being at an airport deeply, truly engages my Irish Catholic sense of foreboding. I’m very fatalistic about what could go wrong in the air, of course, as I imagine most passengers are on some level. Being a photog, I actually get more stressed about what could happen on the ground.
Like the other day. I had angst right from the get go, mostly ’cause I was flying an airline I never use, had no real idea about their policies, and I had a bunch of excess bags. (Go figure.) But it started real well. The lady at the Air Canada counter couldn’t have been nicer, and took care of things with dispatch. Overage rates were of course paid, but then she went the extra mile and put priority tags on the stuff, even though Drew and I were flying economy. My buddy Bill, who’s my editor at National Geographic, where we fly economy all the time, gleefully refers to this as flying “chicken and goat class.” He’s very ill. One of these days, I’m gonna take him on location with me. Maybe stuff him an overhead luggage bin. Give him the location work full monty:-)
Went through security, and for some reason, they ran my Ipad twice, and then chemical swabbed it. That’s a first. I speculate it’s because I just loaded Rambo movie on there so it’s now considered potentially dangerous.
Got through security on one concourse and were directed down a long, ominous looking hallway to another. This brought us to a glass walled corral, from which there was no exit. Other passengers were also accumulating there and we were all rattling around like marbles in a jar. I felt like all of us had suddenly joined the marching band in Animal House, and were merrily pumping our knees and sliding our trombones even though we had been led to the end of a brick walled alley.
Through the glass I could see another screening operation. I tapped timidly on the window, seeking an exit, an answer, or an explanation. During the shouted conversation through the thick glass I was told the area would be opened “right quick.” When would that be? The answer, “Right quick!” came again. I was tempted to simplify my question. “At ‘right quick’ where is the big hand and the little hand?”
Instead I breathed deeply. We trudged back down the hall and found another security person presiding over an exit, or “sortie.” He explained that the concourse for our gate was closed. I told him that wasn’t exactly an exclusive piece of news. Then I popped the ultimate question, the one that always befuddles all concerned in these periodic follies life presents. “Why?”
He folded his hands, drew himself up in righteous fashion, and quite literally became twice his normal size, right there in front of me. He said two words, quite simply. “The Americans.”
Well of course. No further explanation required. The root of the problem pointed out in exquisitely precise fashion. Being, as the English would say, a “cheeky bastard,” this line of discussion connected to my long nurtured resentment of authority faster than JPEG basic through a Firewire 800 cord. “Would that be all Americans? Or just the Republicans?” I inquired. “Or perhaps those of us who prefer baseball to hockey?” I mean, sadly, I guess, there are a lot of us. Could it possibly be that all Americans were over on that concourse? I had no idea the airport was that sizable.
He looked at me hard. His eyes narrowed and grew slit like, and he remained in his fully engorged state.
He went on to attempt an explanation that had something to do with the flights to the US from those gates and the security screening operation at one concourse, and there weren’t enough people, so they had to shut down those gates, and they’ll be open later, when they turn on first one and shut down the one that’s open now, and there’s lots of changes everyday and they don’t tell me diddly.
He concluded by saying, “It’s asinine.”
No argument here!
So we waited in ever growing numbers at his area. Every person, literally, who came there kept proceeding down the hall, oblivious to the fact that their destination was unobtainable. Which meant he had to bellow from his position, “Gates are closed!” endlessly. I thought about asking if he ever thought of putting up a sign, or was he just enjoying himself too much.
But then I thought that might be construed to be antagonistic, and would elicit from him a series of hoots, clicks and grunts that would undoubtedly reassure us all of his dominance.
A nice Canadian lady, intuiting from my discomfiture that I was yet another impatient, irascible American smiled at me and said, “Pretty weird, huh?” I agreed. Then she said, “Almost as weird as the TSA.”
I had to chuckle. I tried to remember when the last time was that I had encountered a situation quite as futile. Oh, yeah, Kennedy Airport! No matter where it is, no matter who runs it, there’s nothing like an airport to start your day!