So I'm standing in line at the airport. What airport? Doesn't matter. The lines are ubiquitous. Instead of being called flying, it should be called waiting around. You stand in line to check in. You stand in line to clear security. You stand in line to get a sandwich or a $3 bottle of water. You stand in line to process through immigration. You stand in line to collect your baggage, which always seems to take a lot longer to get to the baggage area than you do, even though it's moving on a rolling cart and you waited at the back of the plane for the incredibly slow line to disembark. And then you stand in line to go through customs.
Once upon a time airports were relatively comfortable places. Your loved ones walked you to the gate. Theirs were the first faces you saw when you got off the plane. If you arrived too early for your flight, you could have a leisurely meal and a glass of something refreshing in relative peace—without standing in line.
In those days, sufficient legroom didn't require you to fly first class. It was taken for granted that human beings need to move their legs around a bit to keep from getting a blood clot. When the individual in the seat ahead of you reclined, you weren't able to determine how recently he'd washed his hair.
Airlines then served food and beverages, even on short flights. I recall once flying from SFO to LAX, with the flight attendants scrambling to get us peanuts and soft drinks before landing. Flight attendants looked happy. Probably they weren't, but they looked it. Everyone wanted to help you. Information was readily available. You could check your luggage for free, and if the airline lost your luggage, they did what they could to remedy this egregious mistake. Now, I understand, even should they lose your luggage, the airline will keep what it charges you to ship it. It was, after all, shipped. It's just that nobody knows quite where it was shipped to.
Not too long ago, on an Air France flight, a flight attendant demanded that I lower the shade on my window. Why? She didn't say but the look she gave me told me quite a bit about her mood. I looked around. There were no television screens and anyway no light coming through my window at that altitude, nothing to conceivably interfere with whatever anyone else was doing. When I refused to comply, she reached over me and slammed the shade down. I lifted it and she slammed it down again. Had she been American, I probably would've been arrested when we landed. Being French, confronted with a rude American, she merely confined herself to the game of you lift it, I push it down. With my knees under my chin on a cross-Atlantic flight, I felt little compunction to act like an adult and call off the game.
Flying, in other words, has driven all of us to extreme rudeness. So I'm wondering—while I'm standing in an endless line, watching people remove their coats, their sweaters, their shoes—watching them step onto the dirty floor in socks or bare feet—watching them place their belongings in plastic bins as their wallets and laptops and iPhones disappear into a curtained box (anyone thinking of Houdini?)—I'm wondering about the freeway.
On the freeway, if you cut someone off or if you merely drive a bit more slowly than someone behind you wants you to drive (even if you're in the slow lane), you risk being the target of anything from a game of cat-and-mouse to bullets. You might only receive a middle finger salute, but chances are you will not escape unscathed. If to err is human and to forgive divine, we have moved far beyond any hope of divinity. In fact, unless owning a gun in order to increase our opportunities to kill another human being can be considered a form of forgiveness, I suspect we're pretty much doomed. (And now a couple of states are seeking to make it legal to carry guns into schools. Hmmm. The family that preys together stays together?)
But back to the airport: We're all standing in line for hours. Our feet and backs ache. Maybe we brought too many suitcases and we're trying to jockey them one-handed while fishing for our passports and boarding passes. Smiles are rare as four-leaf clovers. It occurs to us, looking at the cattle guards that keep us from sprawling beyond the control of our masters, we have been reduced in some ill-defined way by this experience. We have lost something we might never recover, and I'm not referring to the items broken or snatched from our checked luggage by sticky-fingered "security" personnel.
Yet we don't protest. Last week I included a link to a video of a six-year-old child being mauled by airport security while she wept. We don't protest. On the freeway, we do. Some scream obscenities (on a half-hour stroll through downtown last summer, I overheard seven instances of violently loud, driver-issued profanities), and some whip out a gun or their fists. So why don't we resist the indecent treatment we receive at the airport?
The classic definition of a bully is someone who picks on those who can't or won't fight back. In selecting our targets on the roadways, we become have bullies:
...road death and injury rates are the result, to a considerable extent, of the expression of aggressive behavior ...those societies with the greatest amount of violence and aggression in their structure will show this by externalizing some of this violence in the form of dangerous and aggressive driving...
What creates a bully? A person who is abused (as we are at the airport) but who has no means of defending against that abuse (as we perceive ourselves at the airport)? After all, we're warned not to even make a joke in line or we could be carted off to the pen. Given current treatment of federal prisoners suspected of messing with the USA, we figure we might wind up in a condition well known in many Latin American dictatorships of the past: disappeared.
Better to take out our resentment on some little old lady poking down 101 in her Buick.