lundi, septembre 12, 2005

Chuck de Galled

A typical, hazy arrival in a foreign land, the two of us walking across the tarmac (ah, fresh air!) to crowd into strange airport buses, exhausted from pre-departure responsibilities that precluded much rest, and airline seats that precluded much comfort. We left San Diego on the eleventh of September, and arrived the next day.

September 11th, an anniversary on which I've flown twice now, and this time it was very noticeable how the solemnity of the day had faded to imperceptibility. In all of the air terminals and airline aisles I spent the day wandering, no one seemed particularly mindful of this anniversary, by simple forgetfulness or deliberately, I couldn’t say. The only real marker of the date was TSA’s higher level of emotional preparation and fastidiousness. They seemed consciously up for the responsibility of 9/11 duty (which one of them would not fear being the screener caught on tape handing Mohammed Atta, Jr. his briefcase of boxcutters?); they appeared less visibly defeated than I'd seen during recent air travel, a sense of importance in their mission somewhat restored, maybe a little more communicative with the passengers, and a little more civil in addressing each other. It was like they felt they were being observed a little more closely, a sort of "special inspection day" vibe, which went unnoticed I think, by everyone, except for the unhappy increase in procedural fastidiousness. And this is what had everyone miserable, the insistence by EVERY screener and official on seeing your ticket at every possible juncture in our miserable migration through the metal detectors. Never mind that the TSA flak now asking you for your ID just watched you show it to their partner 3 feet away.

And I sensed for the first time people not only resenting this—which I've noticed people beginning to do slowly over the last two or three years--but seeing the futility of it, for the first time seeing the futility hellish and futile world created by some overall scheme of incompetence and misdirected energy that couldn't be blamed on any one person but suddenly seemed an inescapable part of being American after the wars, the hurricanes, the unceasing violence and the endless continuation of everything we were told would change, the unchanging misery and stupidity that we all hoped would end. People were burdened by this, and it overshadow and even tainted the Sept. 11th anniversary.

To me this seemed a sobering watershed, everyone impatient in our overcrowded security line, the words, "God-damn-it" on the verge of slipping past the clenched teeth of every fuming face. Even I was pissed, and usually I'm very patient with that stuff, always finding jet travel a mortality gut check, reminding myself to imagine how terrible it would be to fall from the sky with hundreds of other helpless folk, and how truly awful it must have been on one of those hijacked planes. But now people are past that, and even for me the horror is fading, and now we just want to get on our bankrupt airline flights and get our damn shoes back on.

So we arrived a day after leaving, 11AM or so on the twelfth, and lingered in the Charles DeGaulle Airport to change travelers’ checks at the AMEX office in the terminal (Dear Wife discovered this convenient place in her preparations for our trip, and it worked great). I suggested we take a commemorative photo of ourselves in one of those great photo-booths that live in the nooks and corners of so many public interiors here.

I think we looked damn good, considering.

We tried to decipher the scant signage referencing taxis, but were confused by what little we found, and I asked an airport worker for directions in what I thought was French-ish, if not actually French. He answered in French (I understood nothing) and then asked if I was Italian. I considered this a moral victory and didn't correct him. We kept wandering—you know the scene, disoriented couple pushing overloaded baggage cart, awaiting disaster....

We drove into La Cité in the biggest mini-van taxi I could find (declining a continual stream of taxis after we'd reached the head of the inevitable queue, waving our fellow travelers past until we were offered a rig big enough for the job—and even this one ended up being a tight fit!). We had a lot of luggage to load--did I mention our luggage? My second checked suitcase (the fourth in our complement of full-sized checked baggage), is one of those hard cases made of hi-impact PVC, and into which I packed everything heavy—like all our books (and we thought we left behind SO MUCH!). This weighed in at 95lbs, and that cost us an extra $125.00, but mercifully all of our other bags were allowed the OLD maximum weight (75lbs?), whereas all four would have carried transit surcharges if they’d applied the new, post-bankruptcy standard. As it was, we had to do with the crimson shame of multiple “HEAVY” stickers applied to every piece of luggage we put on the scales.

I helped the taxi driver by loading some of our bags, but when he moved to lift my monster case (the Porta-Studio), I told him to wait for my help. He didn’t care to wait, and tried to give it a solo heave anyways—I found the look of sudden shock on his face very gratifying.

And thank God they allow us males a laptop/briefcase AND a carry-on!