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High Anxiety: Padre Steve and Flight Delays

 

I am not as good of air traveler as I used to be. I get anxious when I travel by air now.  Sometimes when I fly it feels like I am Mel Brooks at the beginning of the movie High Anxiety http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_phD__FPsQ or Robert Hays in Airplane. The only thing missing from modern air terminals are the incessant bands of religious zealots that used to be a staple of large airport lobbies back in the 1970s.

Almost every time I travel by air I have the title song from High Anxiety going through my mind: “High Anxiety, it’s always the same. High anxiety, it’s you that I blame. It’s very clear to me I’ve got to give in, high anxiety, you win.” 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grLM1WrivPA

Despite the absence of those bands of zealots, who I almost miss going to the airport is never fun. It starts with long lines at the check in counter and through the TSA checkpoints, endure more lines at the gates and get stuffed into a packed aircraft next to someone who insists on taking up their seat plus a third of your seat. It finally ends when you pull out of the parking lot after waiting an unbearable length of time at the baggage carousel of doom for the checked bag that may or may not arrive when you do.

However I have this miserable experience down to a science.  I make sure that everything in my pockets can fit in my baseball hat, I wear shoes that come on and off easily and may backpack is set up so that my computer can be taken in and out quickly. I don’t carry any liquids whatsoever even those that are allowed by TSA. I find the trouble of bagging tiny containers in quart size plastic bags to be too much effort to make it worth while.  My backpack which has accompanied me since Iraq fits well in the overhead compartments of most aircraft and I only carry it so I don’t have to check anything at the gate.

Today has been another adventure in air travel. At Houston Hobby Airport the TSA operates the new scanning devices which enable the agents to look at your naked body. This is not new technology. I saw it used the first time in the movie Airplane. Somehow the thought of my naked body being exposed to anyone other than Judy is not comforting. I wonder what TSA does with these images.

Today I flew out of Houston on the American Airlines subsidiary American Eagle. To make it to the airport I had to catch a cab from the hotel and build in enough time for Houston morning rush hour traffic, so I was on the road by 0720. I had, the operative word had a flight that was to depart at 1020 and be in Dallas by about 1130. My connecting flight was scheduled to depart at 1335. That would have been great. Two hours to make connections right? But no, the scheduled aircraft had a mechanical problem and the replacement did not arrive in Houston until 1145. By the time I took off it was 1225 by the time I landed it was too late. I missed my flight by about 5 minutes. It was pushing away from the gate when I got off of the Sky Link train. I was able to get a picture of it as it left.

Now I get to wait until 1830 local time to take off to arrive in Norfolk about 2220. That is 10:20 PM to the no-military types. Thankfully I was able to get some Tex-Mex food and a couple of beers as I wait out the nearly 5 hour interval between flights. At least I don’t have Robert Hays’s “drinking problem.”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl4plPGRG8o

By the time I get home, Lord willing, or as my Iraqi friends say “Inshallah” it will be nearly midnight, about 18 hours after I left the hotel. I could have driven Judy’s Mustang straight through in just a few hours more.

Oh, High Anxiety, you win… looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue…

Oh well… c’est le vie.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, film, Just for fun, Loose thoughts and musings, purely humorous

Travels and Tribulations: Padre Steve’s Thoughts on Airport Security and Shared Sacrifice

Your Papers Please…

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

it is going to be a busy couple of weeks. I will be on the road a lot and doing a lot more time going through airports than I like doing.  I will be heading off for my denominational clergy and chaplain conference tomorrow morning flying from Norfolk to Houston Texas. Then I will return to Norfolk next Monday and then go to Germany for a Military meeting the following Tuesday and return on the 28th. It will be the most I have flown in a two week period since I was with Marine Security Forces back in 2006.  I hate flying or at least going through crowded airports.

Now I am an old hand at air travel especially in the post-911 everybody is a potential hijacker world. I have been accosted in full uniform by TSA agent and nearly made to strip despite having orders and ID for my travel in uniform back during the Bush administration while people that were obvious foreign nationals passed right by me and through the screening process. I have been groped, scanned and nearly stripped and personally I think that we have gone overboard and that in the end that it is bad for the country and for civil liberties.

When I returned from Iraq I had to take off my boots and nearly miss my connecting flight because of the tight connection. You would think that the bureaucracy would have the sense to figure out that guys coming back from a combat zone should be treated with a little more care. Thankfully despite the hassle I made my flight and the people were nice. However the ridiculousness of hundreds of returning combat vets just back from the combat zone being told to remove their boots and belts on their return to the United States is not just ridiculous but humiliating.

I hate going through airports now. I don’t feel safe. Yes it is part of my PTSD as with the exception of the ballpark crowded places scare me to death and the “security screening” process does nothing to help. I know that I have bitched about this before and I have been criticized by pond scum “national security” fascists that have never even served a day in uniform who have told me that I need to realize that we are “at war and that terrorist want to kill us” and that we all have to “make sacrifices.” My personal feeling is that those that spout this stuff and advocate more “pre-emptive wars” need to blow it out their ass. Otto Von Bismarck who by the way was not pacifist said “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” 

I tell you what, those that spout that kind of crap piss me off to no end. When we actually resume the draft and something more than 0.5% of the country’s population actually bother to serve in the military and go to war then I will agree about all of us making sacrifices. Until then I think that all the talk about shared sacrifice is so much bullshit. The only people that have made the sacrifice are the military, those employed by the military and our families.

The real truth of the matter is that very little of this country is at war. It is not enough just to put a bumper sticker that you “support the troops” on your car or be able to quote some patriot bullshit out of a war movie. It actually means being connected and part of the war effort. It means paying taxes and volunteering to help the troops… wait even better join the military.

Back in the Vietnam Era the American film icon John Wayne went on Rowan’s and Martin’s “Laugh In.” In line that I will never forget Wayne walked on stage with a red white an blue flower in his hands. He began: “A Poem: The Sky: The sky is blue, the grass is green. Get off your butts and join the Marines.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp6_–RqzdM

We are not a nation that even acts like it is at war. We ignore the fact that Americans and our allies are fighting and dying in Afghanistan because we are more interested in our political party’s agenda or our personal economic bottom line.  Really, how many people even realized that a bunch of Americans were killed in Afghanistan during the past week or that the Taliban attacked supposedly secure areas in Kabul including the US,  Russian and German embassies as well as the Afghan Parliament building? Actually to read the news unless you follow MSNBC, CNN, NPR or perhaps BBC or Al Jazira you probably didn’t see it in the Drudge Report or other “conservative”media outlets. In fact it was’t mention by Drudge. I guess that it is not important then.

So tomorrow I will begin my travels and since I don’t do well in airport crowds after my time in Iraq and fond those places terrifying I will remember that any humiliations that I endure at the hands of the TSA are all for the war effort and to make everyone else feel better. At least I can have a beer at the sports bar in the airport for breakfast before I go through security. That will make me feel a bit better.

I hope that doesn’t sound too cynical but I have seen too much of war to listen to those that think that strip searches, genital fondling and scanners that show one in all of their naked glory do little for the actual security of the country.  It does make the average person feel better but it does little in the way of national security.  I mean really…

Think about it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fly the Friendly Skies….The TSA Way

Well, I used to be a frequent flier because of my military assignments.  Back in those days I became quite good at making sure that I presented as little trouble to TSA screeners as possible.  I planned and organized every part of my trip to make sure that the screening process would be quick and painless to all involved. Everything I did was done to make things easy for the TSA screeners because I figured that they had a thankless task dealing with irate travelers already pissed off about long lines, baggage fees, flight delays and generally being treated like chattel every step of the way. On rare occasion something would occur that caused me to get pulled aside, maybe it was my field communion set, my oil stock or some other religious item.  These were generally minor inconveniences that were resolved quickly and in a usually friendly manner.
However on one occasion I was subjected to the most humiliating public humiliation of my life. I was travelling in my Khaki uniform.  Of course I had me rank and ribbons on and my USS Hue City belt buckle.  Where I live we have a very large military population that frequents our airport with many having to fly in uniform.  Thus the screeners tend to be respectful of military personnel in uniform.  One day back in 2003 well before the current “Say Cheese” and “Grope on Sight” order went out.  I took everything out of my pockets, took of my shoes and presented myself for inspection. Of course as I went through the scanner my shiny big belt buckle, shiny rank and multi-colored stack of ribbons set of the scanner.  I was ushered aside and told to remove everything and even told to unzip my trousers.  The agent in full view of hundreds of people then went through a hard pat down that included my “junk.” Meanwhile people who were obviously foreign and wearing clothing that could hide a truck bomb walked by without getting groped.  I was stunned, embarrassed and shocked. I had just completed a combat deployment and this idiot was treating me like a criminal.  When I got home I wrote a letter to the head of the TSA requesting an apology. I got no reply.  This soured me on the TSA even before the new draconian rules went into force.
You see I am a patriot, I want to see terrorists killed off like vermin and I don’t want to see another American or anyone else harmed. However it seems to me in their haste to look like they are doing something in the name of “security” that the Department of Homeland Security is willing to trample over the rights of self respecting, law abiding citizens using methods that the Gestapo would have had wet dreams thinking about. Back in 2001 civil libertarians warned of the dangers inherent in the cleverly named “Patriot Act.”  We are now seeing how an agency created by that act is willing to abuse citizens, and yes groping qualifies as abuse especially in the absence of probable cause.  But wait, probable cause is given when a person refuses to go through a high powered x-ray machine that looks through their clothing to expose their nakedness to TSA employees who in some cases have laughed and made fun of their subjects and some of which have found their way to the internet.

I have seen videos of TSA agents patting down tiny children and watched in horror when the traumatized children were crying.  I’m sorry that is as close to legal sexual abuse of a child as you can get.  But then to keep us secure it’s okay for the TSA to do things that would get a teacher, pastor, scoutmaster or anyone else thrown in jail and forever listed as a sexual predator.
When I came back from Iraq and was going in my Marine Corps pattern camouflaged uniform after an arduous return which culminated in an 18 hour flight from Kuwait to the States I was welcomed home to an airport on the East Coast. Customs agents were kind and we had a small group of really nice people welcoming us home.  As I ran to the connecting flight accompanied by my trusty assistant Nelson Lebron we got to the TSA screening checkpoint with minutes to spare.  We got our gear through the machine and then it was time for us.  I had to remove my shirt, my belt buckle and my boots and run to the aircraft gate with my boots untied because they were getting ready to close the gate.  At least the screeners were not rude but even still, for crying out loud, we just came home from Iraq.  Is there something wrong with this picture?  Have we lost our minds?  Welcome home from TSA.

Now if you ask me I think that the complaints of people are entirely justified. On the absence of being able to bring home Osama Bin Laden’s head on a platter we now assume that everyone is a terrorist and those that complain must be sympathizers. Well I tell you what, as someone who has seen the ravages of what terrorists can do dating back to the 1980s when the Red Brigades terrorized Americans, NATO allies and Germans bombing and killing.  However even the thorough Germans never subjected their citizens to this type of humiliation.  I think that they learned something from the Third Reich, something that we seem to have forgotten. The “Greatest Generation” went to war to defeat Nazi tyranny and free Europe from the evil of a police state.  Now it seems that our own TSA deems that we the people are the enemy.  I figured that out in 2003 and again in 2008.

I think now with the abuses being heaped upon Americans that people are finally taking notice.

Until things change let’s all just sit back and enjoy the groping, enjoy the friendly skies.  Your papers please.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under national security, state government agencies, travel

Night Flight

in a 53Stuffed into a Crowded MH-53E in Iraq

I slept through most of my flight in the steerage section of my United Express CRJ-7 taking advantage of the open seat next to me to stretch out since in the last row the seat will not recline.  The flight from Norfolk to Chicago was uneventful, good weather all the way across ensured a good flight.

I still am not a fan of flying or crowded airports.  Thankfully due to the lateness of my flight I did  not have to deal with lots of people, I cruised through the security point manned by our local branch of the Federal Sicherheitsdienst.  I am very good at getting through these checkpoints quickly, the key is to go through the checkpoint as close to naked as you can get without causing yourself too much trouble and ensuring that anything unusual that could cause a Sicherheitsdienst officer to search your bags and do an body cavity search placed in your checked baggage.  I remember once after 9-11 when travelling through San Fransisco in uniform being nearly strip searched while obvious foreigners, to include those of the ethic group that had crashed into the twin towers go straight through. Thankfully as a  Kriegsmarine Officer my ausweiss gets me through our local checkpoint without too much trouble.

I slept through much of the flight, aided by the 2 pints of Sam Adams (Patriot, Brewer and Friend) Boston Lager that I had while waiting for my flight.  I do hope that the 2 pints of Goose Island Honker’s Ale that I am finishing off in Chicago has the same effect, beats the hell out of Xanax if you ask me.

I was awakened as the aircraft decelerated and began its descent into Chicago.  I looked out the window to my left and saw a panoply of lights in the distance with a dark void which happens to be Lake Michigan.  I have not flown commercial at night  in a long time and the last time I did took me over no major metro areas.  Seeing the lights I was instantly taken back to flying over Ramadi at night, which I did on a fairly frequent basis while in Iraq.  Usually those flights were uneventful except the one time when the Army MH-47 lifted off popped flares and the tail gunner started shooting at something on the ground. I was sitting just across from the tail gunner and knew that this was not a negligent discharge of a weapon.  The Army denied that anything happened on the flight when I asked about it two days later, but still, it was a bit sporty.

So flying at night, seeing the lights takes me back to Iraq.  I did feel some sense of anxiety that I had not felt earlier as we descended into the airport and when I got off the aircraft was able to start deescalating my stress level.  I find it interesting to see how almost “hard wired” that reposes to danger in combat situations can become.

It is time to finish my beer and start heading down the way to the boarding gate. About 2330 Pacific time I should be on the ground and with any luck by 0100 be safely at my parents home.

Peace, Padre Steve+

 

 

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