Sunday, June 26, 2011

Notes From an Infrequent Flier

We ventured this past week where only the foolish or the brave dare
to tread. We took a cross-country flight on a commercial airliner.

Oh, sure, we’d read the stories about bumped passengers, lost
luggage, delays due to various volcanic eruptions and computer
glitches not to mention enhanced TSA pat-downs that looked like a
porn movie casting call.

But sometimes you just have to get up and go. So we did. Los
Angeles to Washington, D.C. Flying time, anywhere from four and a
half to five and a half hours, depending on how much the carrier
needed to lie to chalk up an on-time arrival.

Things went smoothly at LAX until we went through security. I have
a pair of knee replacements due to too many years of jogging,
football, basketball, racquetball and many other kinds of ball all
undertaken with great energy while carrying too much weight.

As a result, I set off the alarms at TSA security as if I was
carrying a flame thrower under my shirt. No big deal. A wand here,
a wand there. I’m use to it.

But the pat-down that ensured, conducted by a young man who tried
hard to be pleasant, was more like an autopsy. I felt like he was
poking and prodding my internal organs, looking for one that might be
prime for transplant to another human.

In the past, I believed the hue and cry over airport security was
overblown. The alternative was to turn our commercial airliners
into potential flying bombs. So I endured it with a smile.

I can deal with the new procedures, intrusive and time consuming as
they are. But they are frankly dehumanizing and embarrassing. The terrorists seem to have won this round.

Contrast the hands-on approach at LAX with the scanner at Dulles in
Washington. I know scanners have come under fire as well but after
the groping in Los Angeles it was a relief.

You walk in, put your hands behind your head, and they squeeze off a
picture. It takes about 10 seconds for you to be cleared. If
there’s some TSA agent in a dingy room somewhere salivating over my
image, I sincerely wish them a well-adjusted life.

In a choice between two evils, the scanner ranks lower on the
humiliation scale.

The United Airline plane we flew was showing its age, the upholstery
threadbare, the carpet worn. No headsets were provided for movie or
audio use. By contrast, the same flight back did provide
headphones. Go figure.

The airline magazines were dog-eared, with pages missing and
crossword puzzles filled out in ink by some previous passenger. I
guess I could have double checked his work. I passed and engrossed
myself in the latest Sky Mall offerings, including a security blanket
for dogs designed to ease separation anxiety. Does the owner get one

United is supposed to have passable airline food. I didn’t see
anyone ordering it. The guy next to me pulled out a 3 foot sub he
brought with him and devoured it like he was in a competitive eating

There seemed to be fewer tourists in Washington than I have seen in
the past. But the convention business appears to be alive and well.
The Biotechnology Industry, which says its goal is to feed and fuel
the world, presumably with differing products, was expected to draw
15,000 participants. The Lego Fan Festival is coming up not to
mention the U.S. Air Guitar Championships.

We took in the U.S. Open golf tournament at Congressional Country
Club, a favorite hangout of golfing presidents including the likes of
William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge. The course is the size of
Delaware and with a clubhouse that is bigger than the Rose Bowl.

I was glad to see the National Mall was in much better shape than we
saw two years ago when we were last in town. Then, most of the grass
was dead or dying. Reflecting pools were filled with putrid water.
Sidewalks are crumbling. Improvements have been made but there’s
still a long ways to go.

I guess I missed it when it was announced but a new presidential
memorial is being planned in Washington, this one dedicated to Dwight
Eisenhower. I did a quick mental rundown to determine if anyone
was more deserving.

There isn't. He led America to victory in Europe during
World War II and served two terms as president. I’ll forgive him his
choice of vice president. Remembering back, it seemed everyone liked

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