Flight 279 / by vanessa

Preemptive disclosure: I'm about to tell you a story from this morning during the reading of which you might think to yourself, "She's such a dick," and you'd be right. However, my dad used to say that the best defense is a good offense and so maybe now because you already know that I know my weaknesses you'll go easy on me, even though my admission is self-serving, and thereby probably sends me to even deeper levels of dickiness. It's worth a shot.


I was boarding the plane today at Heathrow. A ticket agent (for the airlines? for the British government?) -- an authority figure -- told me to step aside. (And I'd assumed he was standing there to direct foot-traffic.) He pointed me towards a joyless woman who informed me that she needed to search my bag. I had already passed through the gate and my ticket had been scanned. Isn't this past the point of reasonable searches?


Apparently my question warranted no response.

"Why me?"

Before I can even describe the tone in which I asked the question, you probably have already pictured something like a whiny shrill based on your own context. Fair enough. Who hasn't asked the question about 600 times between the ages of five (screamed for being denied a seventh Oreo cookie) and 22 (rhetorically asked to your friends about the fully-warranted C you got in Astronomy which put the nail in your cumulative GPA coffin). So, based on your own historical associations with THE question, you might then think it's not a very adult thing of me to ask in response to having my bag searched and wow, I've really regressed emotionally. It wasn't and I haven't. I was curious.

And this is where it gets ugly. I performed a quick inventory of my appearance: white woman, red knit beanie (cute), polished overcoat, blue APC dress (though I doubt The Authority knew the brand), grey cable tights, saddle-colored boots. What about me triggered "Danger?"

"It's random," she answered, and then unpacked the contents of my bag with the kind of deliberation one would give to detaching the blue wire from the ticking timebomb as if one false move would end civilization for good. I became angry. Worse, she had the power and she didn't like me.

I am one of those people who uses her airline reward status to board a plane at the earliest possible moment. I hate to wait in the terminal. The possibility of having to stuff my belongings into an overhead bin 10 rows behind mine and then worrying for the entire flight about retrieving my bag while fighting off the hoards who are trying to de-plane is the kind of thing that sends me into a total tailspin. I KNOW this about myself, which is why I arrive early at gates in the first place. And now, while she took her sweet ass time searching a fruitless bag (unless she cared about the three "borrowed" Ambien in the right upper pocket) I was facing a storage nightmare.

Didn't I already go through security? What could I possibly purchase in between the x-ray machines and the gate that I would even know how to re-purpose? Look at me! I got a C in Astronomy! The easiest of all science classes.

What is "random" anyway? Do they count off in fives all the passengers who enter the gateway? Me, being number 30 drew the unlucky straw? Or is "random" code for a social profiling (wait for the depths of my shame) that defies common sense? On paper, I am against profiling -- it is an inherently racist practice and wholly antithetical to my liberal fibers. I have argued this very point in response to the debates over the 9/11 attacks and the highway patrol scandals in NJ. But in practice? I surprised myself. I assumed that any numskull could just look at me and know I'm not a terrorist. No precedents have been set that WASPy American females have blown up planes to incite fear or give cause to doubt. The worst we've done (save Patty Hearst) is stage a sit-in on the branch of an old-growth tree. And not to be pretentious (too late) but if I were going to suicide bomb something, I certainly wouldn't wear clothes I liked. I felt judged. Though in my impatience I would have been perfectly happy had the "judgment" been waged on some other innocent passenger.

In the end she found nothing. I wanted to rub it in her face, as if she were responsible.

"Shocking," I deadpanned, "I don't resemble a terrorist."

She glared at me. I was saying this to a Middle-Eastern woman.

I glared back.

After several moments of silence, which I think she thought might have a profound impact on its recipient, which it didn't, she said: "If you have any complaints you can lodge them." I inserted my own pregnant pause. And in my best eighth-grade sneer I smirked as if I had proven a point.

Once seated, I started to think about the interaction. The words settled and I felt like a schmuck. Worse than a schmuck. I felt like a fake. It's no good to find yourself behaving a way you'd normally scorn. There's nowhere to go but inward when that happens. Wish as I do I can't take it back, but I can take it with me. In Jungian terms I could even look at the experience as like, a pot of psyche gold. If I'm able to see my shadow (or the more base characteristics of my consciousness) only now do I have the ability to process and make better, more conscious, more empathic choices going forward. That's hope.