Thursday, July 2, 2009

I just updated my Racial Profile!

Flying home to the Midwest was the usual mass of insanity, uncleanliness, misinformation, and aggravation last week. I am now certain I could have a gallon jug of poison with a stick of dynamite duct taped to it in my carry on and I would still pass through security without controversy. I think La Guardia could care less about safety as long as people are departing with dangerous stuff. "Let Ohio Deal With Some Crap For A Change" is the new slogan I believe.

The remnants of a nasty cold, ever present pms, and not enough sleep quickly became a lethal mix for this nervous flyer. I could be on top of the world-- but the very prospect of air travel reduces me to a morose mess and clearly I wasn't in good form at La Guardia as I contemplated my much longed for visit to see my family and worried over the prospects for my comedy career upon return to NYC. I calculated what it was worth to the flight gods.

Thumbs up or down?

I sat at the gate nervously and sent out my usual round of last texts to friends and family. I already felt more than a pang of pre-flight anxiety when I began eyeballing and shamelessly profiling an Arab male. I didn't initially check him out because he was Arab though, I started zeroing in on him because he was incredibly intense, nervous, and shifty. He would not take off his sunglasses and he obsessively watched every move of the Northwest stewards, pilots, and airport employees. He was young and wiry with a "nothing to lose" air about him which fit into the racial profile rapidly building in my head. That's when I started putting my little panicky puzzle together that he was Arab, flying NYC to Detroit which is a hot bed of terrorist cells according to my mother, AND he had 2 gigantic, black duffel bags which he would not check. Nothing good is EVER in a duffel bag.

I felt annoyed at myself and also at the airport for having to do their job for them.

Sure, maybe I was overreacting to expect everyone else in the terminal to see the red-alert passenger in our midst. I hoped he would be called over by airport security and taken into a private room for questioning and minutes later we would see his bags driven out to the middle of the tarmac and detonated. That was probably a bit much to expect, BUT, if nothing else, could someone have at least called him on his 2, GIANT carry-on duffel bags?!?! I mean c’mon! I catch grief for having a big purse or a bulky jacket on these chintzy domestic flights.

I of course would rather die in a plane explosion than potentially look like an overly paranoid, racist asshole, with a nightly news propaganda saturated brain. The very thought of going up to the counter and nonchalantly trying to let someone know that I thought another passenger was going to kill us all was a bit much. If that guy had no intention of harming anyone prior to this, well, he would now, thanks to my detective work and self-proclaimed knack for sniffing out a blood-thirsty member of Al-Quaeda.

So I silently boarded flight 531 to Detroit with the solo, grim knowledge that we were all going down in a fiery offering to Allah. I almost had a full-fledged panic attack and because I was so busy concentrating on the impending explosion in the sky, I forgot to focus energy on my usual all-consuming fear of a good-old fashioned plane crash into the ocean, or engine failure resulting in the plane plummeting into a mountainside. Now I was juggling all 3 crippling fears AND I had the middle seat with nowhere to rest my elbows.

If anyone looked shady or capable of carrying out a diabolical plot, it was me. I rocked gently back and forth in my seat, became drenched with sweat and shifted nervously. My eyes darted with every movement and noise and I got up to use the bathroom far too many times. I certainly seemed like I was up to something.

We of course landed without instance and although disappointment would certainly be the wrong word to use, I was looking for some kind of validation to assure my worried mind that it had not also become a bigoted, prejudiced one as well.

Maybe this guy was terrified of flying. Maybe he didn't trust the system either. Maybe it freaked him out that LaGuardia is the biggest dump in the world and they've lost his bags a million times and so, like me, he refuses to check them anymore. Maybe he kept the sunglasses on to hide the terror in his eyes. Like me, maybe he scans the crowd of airport employees and pilots trying to pick out the ones who exude confidence, sobriety, and safety to inspire peace of mind. Maybe we were both riding on the same emotional rollercoaster but this guy has to deal with an extra level of worry because he is Arab-American and subject to the prejudices of not only airport employees, but also Brooke Van Poppelen.

I felt stupid. But then that emotion was squashed with the fear of having to board another plane to make my 40 minute connection to Northern Michigan. The whole emotional upheaval would begin again in just a few minutes and I needed to prepare for it by sending text messages to my loved ones in case it was the last they ever heard from me.