Travel writing can get awkward. That was what happened yesterday. Sorry ’bout that.
In my defense, I was recovering from stress. The trip home from West Hollywood didn’t go smoothly, and I was exhausted. In retrospect, some of the incidents were amusing, some understandable and some horrifying.
There’s a relatively easy, if time-consuming, way of getting from West Hollywood to the airport in Long Beach. The process went smoothly, at first.
FedExing my larger bag went well. Everything fit into a small box, and the bag was folded and placed with the other items. It weighed just under seven pounds — cost efficient to ship, instead of paying the airline to check the bag. I remembered the FedEx clerk from my visit last year, and she was still a sweetie.
The county public transit lines were running just fine. No complaints there.
When I arrived at Wardlow Station (on the Blue Line, in Long Beach), I was ready to call the taxicab company from my cell phone. I’d planned ahead, so the company was listed as a contact.
The live dispatcher I’d spoken to last year was no longer available. She had been replaced by an automated system that couldn’t hear what I was saying. However, after several attempts, the computer and I connected. We became friends.
Before anything else is shared, it should be emphasized that no animals were harmed during this adventure. Only humans.
The taxicab pulled up to Wardlow Station, and I opened the door to the back seat. I announced my first name, since that was the name I gave the computer. It reminded me of the scene in the 1995 movie Heat, when that thug had to identify himself before the big rig driver would let him in.
The taxicab was driven by a Polonius type who spoke at length about good moral character. He took the long way around, and by the time I reached the airport the car fare was ten dollars higher than I’d paid in the opposite direction on Monday.
Cab drivers are losing passengers to other car services, and their employers are going broke. I reminded myself of that, and didn’t ream the guy a new one. I just paid.
The greeting inside the terminal was fine. I was directed to the correct security line — the one where you have to take off your shoes — by a courteous TSA employee.
Then things got really weird.
One of the screeners who scrutinized carry-on items was having a bad day, and she was willing to vent on passengers. I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with her. She was rough with the items she handled, and rude to passengers. My two purse-sized bags were singled out for secondary screening, and although she didn’t do a careful search (didn’t even open one of them) she made a point of showing her disdain. Briefly, she touched the relatively new, clean shoes, and looked as if she had found a garden slug.
There was no garden slug. I swear it. However, if someone asked her I know what she would have said.
My body wasn’t touched during that exercise in stupidity, and I was grateful. After the TSA screener deigned to return the bags, I took careful inventory of items in the bag that was opened. She hadn’t stolen my cell phone, two wallets or anything else. Given her attitude, I didn’t know what to expect. Her back was turned to me while she was going through that bag (the bin was placed on a counter against the wall), and I tried to position myself to watch her. I was able to observe her reactions, but I couldn’t always tell what she was doing with her hands.
After putting on my shoes, I decided I’d better use the restroom. Call it stress, but I had to pee when I shouldn’t have had to pee.
I should probably mention that I’m agoraphobic, so I deal with ongoing fear every time I travel very far from my apartment. It takes courage to go on a so-called vacation, and I’m proud of every time determination has outweighed anxiety. I live in San Francisco, and on several occasions I’ve flown to New York City. For someone in my situation, that takes real guts. When I’m away from home, every act of kindness or basic courtesy is appreciated. Any act of cruelty feels even worse than it really is.
I thought I was calm. Really. I thought I was fully aware of my surroundings and ready to face the world of the fifteen dollar airport meal before my flight.
I remembered where the restrooms in that airport were located, and went on autopilot. You can figure out where this is heading, so I’ll skip further details and just admit I wandered into the men’s room.
A man was on his way out, and he and I exchanged a brief deer caught in the headlights look before we both burst out laughing. I apologized, and found my way to the ladies’.
The fifteen dollar meal wasn’t bad. The protein helped me find the right restroom when I mistakenly thought I had to pee again, so it was worth every penny.
The flight ran only a little bit late, and I got to my seat immediately after the Group B passengers were called. No problem.
The plane took off, and my ears blew up like balloons. That isn’t unusual during take-off, but each time I yawned or swallowed to clear them the ears just inflated again. It was that way during the entire flight.
Although I didn’t think of it at the time, I probably wasn’t the only passenger to have that problem. Two babies were in the row behind me — one on each side of the aisle — and they screamed during most of the journey. It should have occurred to me that the cabin pressure was a bit off, although not bad enough to cause breathing problems. The oxygen masks didn’t drop, and as far as I know no one issued a complaint.
Apparently, those poor babies were in pain, and I should have known what was going on with them. If I’d been thinking, I could have called the flight attendant or just peeked over the back of my seat to alert the parents that their children’s ears were being put through a wringer.
I don’t want to pass the buck on culpability, but the trauma with the unhinged TSA screener threw me off-balance. I was too rattled to find the right restroom, and after eating I was better but still not a hundred percent. I should have thought of speaking to the parents, but there wasn’t enough room in my head to think properly.
We hear about abusive airport security personnel, and I don’t know how often unfit employees are dismissed. Most airport screeners are very professional, and I sense they’re decent people. They just want to do their jobs, and they aren’t taking advantage of anyone.
The Department of Homeland Security tells the public we’re their additional eyes for identifying safety threats. If you see something, say something. I don’t want to think about how many passengers are too messed up to be observant after an unnecessary trauma at the security checkpoint. It’s counterproductive.
Supervisors should be present at these checkpoints, but I understand they aren’t. Screeners are on the honor system, and after Thursday’s trauma I can find comfort only in the fact that most of them aren’t butt heads.