Do You Feel Safer?

Travel memory is very selective, at least mine is. I tend to let the stress and aggravations settle to the bottom and let the street scenes, people’s faces, and interesting landscapes rise to the top like heavy cream. That’s the way it should be; those are the main reasons we travel – at least when travel is elective. But traveling on business is another animal entirely. We do it because our jobs require it and it adds another level of stress. While the recreational traveler can get upset at a cancelled flight or making a wrong turn on the way to the airport it is more of an inconvenience than a serious problem. For the business traveler it usually means disrupted relationships, meeting cancellations, and stress on both ends.

I experienced a little of that yesterday. Like everyone I hate going to the airport these days. For a two hour flight to Oakland I had to be at the airport two hours before departure. And now that security precautions are so draconian there are almost always long, long lines at check-in and long, long lines to clear security. Business travelers have the drill down better than their vacationing counterparts – no checked bags, no liquids in their carry-on, no scissors or pocket knives, etc. So, we go directly to the head of the line and check in with our e-tickets. I don’t like much about post-9/11 travel but this is one thing I do like. I don’t have to deal with an overworked, snarky agent who had a fight with her kids before work or who doesn’t like the look of my carry-on stuff. I just tap the screen, put in the confirmation code, print the boarding pass and Whammo I’m off to security. I probably saved myself 40 minutes and untold anxiety yesterday by being able to cut the line at check-in.

But, security is another matter. I’m as patriotic as the next guy, an ex-Marine whose son fought Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. But, I don’t get it. The climate of fear that provoked this mind-numbing cluster of “security” procedures is preventing us from either catching the bad guys or developing an efficient system of airline security. Anyone who has traveled home to the US from Europe or the Far East since 9/11 knows that check-in, passport control, and customs procedures are simple, thoughtful, efficient and effective. Traveling in the US is different. Does anyone think that rifling through my shaving kit is doing anything more than wasting two peoples’ time? Do my shoes or anyone else’s really pose a threat to national security? Does treating every person entering the US (citizen or foreign visitor) like a criminal really make us safer? I don’t think so. I think it says a lot about the fact that even though we live in a global society a very vocal minority of Americans (including a sizeable number of legislators and bureaucrats) are still provincial rubes who think owning a gun is more important to their survival than extending a hand in friendship. “Homeland Security” at airports is a time consuming waste of resources and time. We can do it better. Let’s get on it. Be careful, be vigilant, be aware but get real. Our culture, productivity, standard of living and life expectancy are not what they used to be. In many ways we’re living on our laurels. We need to be better world citizens and stop putting the wagons in a circle to fend off the redskins. The airport travel mess is a symptom of the greater disease.

Yes, this is a rant, but it’s only a rant about a broken part of the system. A German friend chided me about being so negative about America. She loves America and the way Americans have welcomed and treated her. But, my gripe isn’t about Americans it’s about this airport security mess and the way it is painting us all with a bad brush. It makes it look like all of America is stupid and paranoid, and I don’t think that’s right. Is every decision maker scared to upset the lunatic right-wingers who think that if we build a fence it will keep out illegal immigrants? Check in with the guys who built the Berlin Wall. There are ways to make ourselves safer, but going through my shaving kit is not one of them.

Oh, by the way, on the way to my 10 o’clock appointment I got on the wrong BART train and went to San Francisco instead of downtown Oakland. Sometimes the pain of modern travel is self inflicted. It’s not always the other guy’s fault when things don’t go as planned.

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