CIRCLE OF HELL

Travelling has become less of an art and more about surviving the vagaries of airlines and the ever-changing TSA rules, as I was reminded this past week-end over a trip to the East Coast. It was my first time going through LAX since the new, much maligned body scanners have been put into place – you know, the ones you are forced to stand in, get a healthy dose of x-rays while somebody, somewhere, gets a good look at the contour of your body, your orifices and anything you might be hiding in funny places.

Well, it goes like this. After you have scrambled to place the pile of your belongings, your coat, shoes and belt, laptop out if its case, in bins that permanently run out and then on the conveyor belt (and, if you are stupid or have lived in the wilderness for the past 10 years, after your water bottle has been confiscated), sandwiched between fellow “inmates” trying to hurry the process along, you are waved to a booth, opened on two sides, where a faceless drawing intimates you how to stand, legs apart and arms up.

While still in my socks, the TSA officer sitting in some remote cubicle radioed Bright Blue Latex Gloves TSA lady that she has to perform a body check, specifically on my left wrist and chest. Before you go there, no, I am not sporting brand new implants. I know all this because BBLG TSA lady repeats in a microphone what she must have just heard in her earpiece. I am moved to a pad where Big Foot’s imprint signals where I should put my feet. BBLG lady notifies me she needs to pat me down and can I please raise my arms out, palms up. And would I like for the check to be carried out in private? I am tempted to respond in the affirmative just to annoy them but, after having seen my friend  moments before go through the same check and the blue gloves touch all around the inside of her jeans waist, I am curious to see what my fate is.

The latex gloves reach for my left wrist where, nestled under my sweatshirt, is my twenty-year old watch – I am of the generation that still wears watches, probably unbeknownst to faceless 20-year-old TSA officer sitting in his cubicle. The same blue latex gloved hands reach for the top of my chest, where I wear a couple of necklaces, and then proceed to pat down, rather forcefully, the top of my boobs. Mind you, I am not insinuating for a moment there was anything sexual about this exchange, I am pretty certain BBLG lady disliked it as much as I did, but I was surprised at how invasive the whole procedure was.

I love travelling, more than most other activities on earth, but I was left to ponder on the misery of going through airport security (on the way back, my fellow passengers and I were left stranded for 40 minutes, waiting for TSA officers to arrive so we could proceed through security, thus creating a mad scramble to board everybody on time), the crammed in-flight conditions, the ever diminishing number of flights and their ever-increasing fares, the $50 essentially added to my ticket so I could check in my luggage, the $10 spent on a crappy movie I broke down and purchased 2 hours into my flight and on and on. Fifty years ago boarding an airplane must have been a pleasure and a luxury. Now it’s a cattle call with nary a feeding time. I typically pack my food because I won’t stoop so low as to pay for inedible sandwiches but I was prepared to pay for a pillow, in a fit of desperation – I was told the plane didn’t carry pillows or blankets. At least, I was flying Virgin where the crew are very nice and the aircrafts are brand spanking new. And it tends to be on time.

I am grateful to all who keep us safe but, last night, I was ever more grateful to collect my bag, zoom home and shower off the whole experience.

And, should the Indian couple sitting in the row in front of me be reading this post, one carry-on bag means one carry-on bag, not a suitcase and a bag each. And I did see the third bag you Indian girl whipped out, in a Russian doll type trick that clearly worked. You managed to monopolize the overhead compartment of 4 entire rows. Not  nice. Just saying.

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