Friday, November 05, 2010

Five More Thoughts: Air Travel, Yet Again

1. End of the line, pal.
Flying is, as I've mentioned in some other mostly-forgotten post, it's own little universe, an ariport culture that exists outside of normal cultures, with its own bizarre and superstitious rituals, from the security screening to the demo of the oxygen masks (in the sixty-odd years of passenger jets, has anyone ever used these things?), and all the aggressively imported Americana only makes the experience more like a high-stress, undignified, and well-liquored Disneyland. I realize that we can look to the history of air travel for this, but for whatever the origin, it remains a special niche. People are less unwilling to admit they fear flying than other things. I think the usual aviophobia, at least mine, is not so much a fear as it is an anxiety. I don't worry that the thing's going to crash—the odds are with me there; I don't honestly think that it will—but rather it's that exclusion from the normal world, floating in such an otherwise unsurvivable place with so little control over the situation, that makes want to claw at the walls. It's the helplessness which the whole flying experience amplifies. We're herded through velvet ropes and crammed into narrow seats, paraded, penned, and locked in. It reduces humans to farm animals, and under the circumstances, it's no wonder the caged-sheep anxieties tend to leak out. You could forgive Juan Williams, if you could believe that he actually felt bad about it.

That special slow panic of flight is common enough that it's a well-used target for fear. Not just for terrorists, although they sure judged Americans right on that one, but also for those Americans for whom it's convenient to ramp up insecurity of the masses from time to time. And on that note, I want to place a special shoutout to whoever the fuck "leaked" the reveal of a cargo bomb plot, shipped from the country in whose affairs our leaders desperately need some fig-leaf of justification, not to mention something to ratchet up worries on election day. Plot foiled! Security works, but stay scared! USA! Fuck you.

Captive and herded, we go along, and no one is shy to push on those sensitive spots. And so here's one thing I don't understand...why don’t they advertise at us more?

2. Flying creative class
Speaking of which, I sat next to a woman on one leg of the trip (they'd nicely moved me away from the 400-ish-pound fellow who was originally next to me, which was awkward socially, but conceded to be in both our interests) who had ripped out a few pages of a recent Advertising Age. It's an industry rag best I can tell, and as I peeked (I'm not a good conversationalist when I'm flying, or otherwise, glazed looks being more my specialty), was carefully underlining names and important-looking trend statements. Maybe it was a job interview or something. I'm not a fan of being subjected so constantly to marketing, or of the way it influences our society, but I can understand why people consider it to be a valuable service. I consider the role of advertising people to be somewhat overvalued (not surprising considering that folks who are good at promotion will also advertise themselves), but it's not in financial captain territory, and they do still have to work.

Anyway, what amused me was that every headline on those pages was like an assurance of their specialness. "Creativity corner." "Whither the creatives?" Don't they sell stuff that other people create? It's like they're overcompensating for those nagging doubts.

In my industry, the word "innovative" is tossed around with similar abandon. Although not usually as a noun.

3. How I book a flight.
Some of my caged-animal instincts are to resort to borderline OCD behaviors, repeating a script that kept the misery in check last time (even though it didn't). When I get on a plane, one of those nonsense rules requires me to buy some new reading material at the airport. This is wise when you're planning a for a full day of plane travel anyway, adn the trick is to get something far removed from the situation, nothing that's going to angry up the blood too much. This meant that I didn't take Mr. Lewis out of my bag to finish reading about an American-style fascist takeover, but I managed to let the written word ruin my election week just the same.

It's bad enough that half the airports I find myself in offer a forced reintroduction to CNN. Maybe it was only because the great game was afoot, but as I bellied up to the bar for lunch, I found the channel about as aggressively stupid as FOX News was ten years ago. (I concede that it's possible that my allergies have become more acute. I snarl at NPR these days too.) But on Thursday I picked up a presumably anodyne New York Times, not really expecting the Gray Lady to play up the election day gloat as much as everyone else. I mean, you'd think the revolutionary conservative takeover of our politics might have come with some context (or consequence!) of this story comprising about the past 30 years of boilerplate, but somehow the Tea Party has made it all wide-eyed and new.

Reading the convenient summary section that the Times provided yesterday, I see they've already predicted that any government activity of which I might approve --or at least may have been naively hopeful about--is already consigned gleefully to the block. John Boehner is already getting juiced about reviving Bush's tax cuts and balancing the budget (and it's as laughable as it sounds, but to point out the poorly-camouflaged obvious, "balancing the budget" is cover for abolishing Medicare and Social Security, which they are reluctant to admit to their base, but are happy to balance on behalf of my generation), giddy about crippling NOAA and other science and technology programs that produce unwanted facts (it is not clear yet whether they will outlaw evolution), and is sharpening his sword to eviscerate the two or three good things that came out of Obama's insurance booster program (in America, the average health picture may be among the lowest in the first world, but at least it's twice the cost!) The Times informed me that Wall Street (wherein bonuses grow apace) and other carefully protected "free traders" are pleased with the Republicans ascendance, not evidently much concerned about their candidates' complaints about the financial bailout, which, by the way, was also getting to be getting a little more sugar from the Fed. That business-Republicans item may well be the usual lazy journalist stereotyping, since after all, the Democrats didn't exactly give the lenders a hard time.

Look, I don't retain much faith in the integrity of the system, but given that I am stuck here, I do have to say that I find it precious that our oligarchs feel so uninhibited about taking that extra step from selfishness into assholery. I mean, we may lose hope in the ability to change the world, but couldn't we at least deign to work with evidence-based outcomes? (he asked rhetorically). In the rest of the civilized world, at least they get fucking health insurance to go with their institutional graft. I suppose I shouldn't be this upset by the Republican takeover, and I suppose it comes down only to a matter of style. We've lost one set of leaders that hems and hedges our way into the abyss, and replaced it with the one that marches triumphantly in. I'm not a big fan of parades.

4. Anti-anxiety.
My brother concurs with taking a Xanax on the plane, but this violates other OCD scripts of mine. He also has a system of smuggled nippers that he suggested I take, bagging them carefully within the legal fright-limit as if they were deadly toothpastes, and I refused these too. I never used to buy booze on the plane because I never had cash, and I don't at this point because it became something I don't do. If that makes sense. In the airports, however, I don't usually waste the opportunity to load up if the boss isn't around. Why yes, please, I'll have that second pint with my mayonnaise-smothered grease-fries. A third? I might just have time.

Obviously you don't want to risk getting airsick, but on a long flight, a good buzz makes perfect sense. Not just for the point of relaxing you. The three or four times you get up to pee is a good opportunity to stretch your legs, and it gives you something to do. That much stasis, and feeling yourself slowly growing sober (controlling your boozy odors, beginning to taste that godawful lunch again, slowly regaining focus) is almost interesting. Sobering up becomes an activity.

5. There ought to be a law!
Or let's just say it'd be a small and inarguable step in world decency if airlines would agree to generous standards for carrying musical instruments on board. The Senate was debating as recently as August on the FAA reauthorization bill, and there was a petition to include such language in it (here, if you are given to signing such things), asking that regs be standardized so that people carrying instruments could at least more easily plan.

I didn't have any chance for a conversation with the guy, but I did spot one mandolin case in the airport. These aren't difficult to fit in the overhead bin, but one argument with a flight attendant a couple years ago discouraged me from taking mine with me again. Guitar players have it worse, but there is no reason not to allow those things up on top at the expense of one or two of J. Random Traveler's obscenely large carry-on bags. Obviously other instruments are less negotiable, but how can you not encourage erring on the side of preservation? You don't really want 'em bouncing around in the baggage hold if you can help it.

9 comments:

Belle said...

Great post. I hate flying and always either drink or take some ativan. I am trying not to be furious at the "swing voters" whom I call "the stupids." It isn't good for my soul to be that mad.

Keifus said...

Hi Belle, thanks for reading.

I can understand anger at the system, and can't really condemn a strategy of voting the bums out. What gets me is the idea that we're going to try the exact same bag of tricks that we have not ignored for 30 years (in the current stretch), while we've coasted toward greater inequality, immobility, and personal debt, not to mention constantly wagering against environmental and resource preservation. It's not normally part of the popular analysis though. Or to put it another way, how on earth did they let 'em get away with the "deficit spending" line? Don't they know who invented it, and how, and for what?

Belle said...

They must not know. Maybe they get all their news (if they watch it) only from Fox or Rush Limbaugh. A guy on MSNBC said that "swing voters" don't read and they don't know what is going on in Washington.
They say if someone says a lie enough times people believe it is the truth. The Republicans keep saying they are against big government and spending, when they are the worst at it. They lie, lie and lie about everything, and I guess these people believe them. They are always saying they are patriots, meanwhile they are gutting the middle class. I think they want the old feudal system of Lords and serfs. Basically, it is all about money for themselves and their friends the businessmen.

Aaron said...

Preach it, brother-man! I dislike air travel, too, and for many of the same reasons. I'm not afraid of flying - it just sucks. I can't get why anyone would bother to fly from Seattle to Portland. Between all of the BS and rigmarole you have to go through, you could drive down there faster, and carry more gear with you.

Keifus said...

Hey, Seattle is where I just was. Kind of a whirlwind tour, though. 2 days out of three was traveling...

Cindy said...

What - no innovators in your industry? :)

As usual: pithy, pertinent and (en) pointe!

I have a daughter who went to school in Seattle. We had to fly out a few times. Drove to the graduation this summer. MUCH better trip.

Did you catch the Nicholas Kristof op-ed piece about Banana Republics in the NYT? Good read.

Not as good as reading you, but still....

Keifus said...

Everyone here is an innovator (or an "innovator"). I don't know any innovatives though, whoever they are. I might be going too far from eavesdropping half a page of an insider rag, but as I gather, a creative is a very precious artist type that has sold his/her soul to the industry, in natural state of constant opposition to a managerial I guess. I am not unsympathetic.

Haven't read the Kristof piece.

Cindy said...

Ahhh, I see the difference now. I wasn't being very focusive.

Now that I have Sarah Palin to interpret economic policy and fiscal issues for me, I might get to the point of being understandive of the new corporate globalism ahead.

I have a feeling it will be very combative with lots of ammunitive points, as per our 2nd Amendment rights.

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