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Fly the Friendly Skies

Point Blank Perspective will be a blog addressing common places, events, and experiences that we encounter in life.  These are described in a column-style with a blunt and one hundred percent upfront attitude.  

Writers are fans of people watching.  It makes for a perfect hobby for those most interested in observing the human condition.  Some of us seasoned observers have our favorite spots, others claim indifference since ‘people are interesting everywhere’, which is true; you can find some material anywhere if you look long enough, even in a 65 and older Bingo night. As someone who has been flying since they were a year old, I can safely say that the pinnacle of people-watching locations is without a doubt an airport.

Because where else can you pay $4.50 for a pack of 11 pieces of gum that expired last year?  

Naturally, you’ll be able to engage in some enjoyment just by sitting inside the building of one of the lovely hubs of air travel.  Though if you really want to gather sufficient research on the experience, it’s best to buy a ticket yourself and join the cattle call through security lines.  Before moving to Maine, I was under the impression that arriving to airport security later than two hours before your flight left was what we in California called ‘risky’.  In my travels across America, I have arrived at the conclusion that the Portland International Jetport is extremely unusual in that you can arrive approximately 30 minutes before your flight leaves and be just peachy.  As a result, I will not be using this particular airport to illustrate your typical people watching journey.

On your way to security, you may encounter some ‘minor construction’ and if you’re in the Oakland Airport this means taking fifteen years to redo a ceiling in one of the most populated airports.  Keep walking folks, the wires hanging over your heads, draped over the beams exposed due to the missing ceiling tiles, are only flammable if you hold a lighter too close to it. And you certainly shouldn’t be smoking in an airport, now should you?  Watch your children closely, now, the electrical sockets are currently exposed and being rewired.

Then, we reach the line.  This is where, arguably, your first abundance of subjects for observation appears.  Your first clue that you have arrived at this monumental checkpoint are the signs separating the Peasants from the Royalty that have earned their crowns through thousands and thousands of hours spent sleeping on a plane instead of at home in their beds.  Those separated into Royalty or as airlines refer to them, ‘Priority’, ‘Business Class’, and ‘Pre-Check’, will get to skip some of the lines–some, not all because we can’t make any experience at the airport completely positive–and they will also be ushered into clubs with free meals and hot chocolate bars.  Warning: if a Peasant is caught in these clubs, easily identified as the one sneaking chocolate chip cookies into their purse, they will be escorted from the area.

For the sake of a realistic representation, you’re a Peasant for the day.

It’s in this security line that you will encounter a myriad of folks, the finest example of the Melting Pot at work you will ever see: take it in.  

There’s the couple covered head to toe in jewelry because, of course, one of them owns a company for such merchandise displayed on every visible appendage, and what better place to advertise than one that mandates the removal of all metal before proceeding through the vicinity?

Directly in front of you, you will see one of my personal favorite examples of the human population: the CEOs.  These are the families that only travel during the holidays and spend the rest of the year forgetting how to navigate through an airport in a timely fashion.  You can count on them to take twenty minutes to ask the TSA agents why they need to remove their shoes and ‘Does Susy have to take hers off too, because it takes a while to get her out of the stroller?’ which is shortly followed by ‘We have to send the stroller through this metal detector too?!’

To your left you may notice the ‘Ready for a Surprise Photo Shoot ’ who will insist on teetering through security in stilettos, have a purse dog on one shoulder–don’t worry, drugs are mandatory for them to fly so he won’t yip–and a Louis Vuitton that’s bulging with makeup and hair products to be used at the nearest bathroom (There might be a hair dryer in there too! You just never know, it’s like a treasure hunt!).  She won’t be much of a problem through security but not to worry, you will encounter her at a later date when you are both trying to get through the Starbucks line and she has absolutely no spatial awareness and smacks people out of her way with her bag of beauty products. She will then create a traffic jam behind her wide load propelled, ironically enough, by legs that fit into 00 jeans, by walking most precariously in heels across the sweaty, and therefore slippery, tile floor all the way to her gate.

If other passengers weren’t enough to scare you away from this immersive experience chalk-full of material, perhaps one of the newest regulations will.  

When liquids over 3 oz were outlawed on planes, people were up in arms.  But then TSA thought more, thought hard, on how they could irritate Americans even more, ‘Where can we hit them the hardest?’.  Then one especially self-aware employee spoke up with the golden answer: ‘deprive them of food’.

If you try to slide through security with so much as a granola bar in your bag, you will be stopped and pulled aside, along with all the other hungry and frugal individuals flying today, for at least an hour.  Your bag will then be searched for the culprit that set off the scanner machine.  Because someone decided to try and sneak a bomb inside a Pop Tart, you can’t bring a snack on the 7 hour flight.  Terrific.

‘But not to worry!’ you’re assured by the airlines promises, ‘There will be an in-flight delicious homemade snack.’ What is this especially tasty and comforting snack for your troubles, you may ask?  8 stale peanuts or pretzels if you’re lucky. You may ask yourself if those are really worth the $300 you paid for the ticket? This important question will surely be followed with: what scale was used to determine these as delicious?  Who baked them at home? What’s more, when were they baked there? Because the dust at the bottom of this bag looks suspiciously close to the dust Steinbeck took 400 pages to describe in Grapes of Wrath.  Now completely corralled in your seat, and the stuartist off to assist someone who really should have checked their bag but insists on stuffing it into the overhead compartment, you have no one to turn to for answers but your seatmate.  So, you lean over to the person sitting next to you and ask if they, too, can taste the Depression in these peanuts. On the off chance that you get a rather optimistic or naive travel companion, they may try to reassure you by saying, ‘No, ‘that’s just salt! Extra flavor.’  

Funny. That’s what my father used to say about the lumps in my Cream of Wheat–a tasty additive.

But who you sit next to is honestly a lottery with very few prizes you actually want to win.  You might not get the optimistic grandma who welcomes all snacks and turns negative comments into compliments with her innately matronly attitude.  You might get the snorer, the elbower, the perfume shop, yet another prime example of the ‘I Don’t Need to Check this Bag’ type (they will mark their territory by spilling into yours, pinning your feet against the wall or another person’s bag, if you’re unlucky enough to have a middle seat).  Perhaps you will get someone who will tell you their entire life story; now that’s some material right there, but only if you can keep your attention through the entire 9 hour flight to Hawaii.  Good luck, brave traveler. Maybe still, you will get none of these people. No, this is not the part where you are lucky enough to be seated next to a businessman who travels with nothing but a laptop and headphones and works, silently, the entire flight.  No, those are up at the front of the plane with the rest of the Royalty, remember? No, you probably won’t get one of those people, however you might get lucky enough to sit next to a rather aeromatic individual who is anxious to get home to Colorado so that he can continue reading to his plants.  They’re at home, in their tin foil house, and they might get lonely without a bedtime story.

And if, by the grace of every ounce of your patience, you make it through security, the flight, and every tedious cattle call in between checking in and baggage claim, you will have accomplished the Olympic Gold Medal of people watching.  Congratulations. While you’re congratulating yourself on this immense feat, allow me to hit you with a question to reflect on when you have recovered from this productive yet traumatic affair: isn’t it interesting how 200 years ago, traveling was a glamorous affair?  

When did it become nothing but permanent graham cracker crumbs crammed between seats that smell cheaper than school bus benches and cantankerous people plagued with impatience, low blood sugar, and the desire to pee inside a bathroom larger than a college dorm closet?

Food–not to be taken on your next flight–for thought.

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