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Hope For The Future

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If there is one thing you hate, it's packing for a trip. But you're a trouper, so you do what needs to be done, stowing extra clothes in your bag as well as the various toiletries you'll need. Razor blades you elect to leave in the cabinet because you don't want any kind of delay at the airport. Thankfully, at the last minute, you take a final look through the side pockets of your suitcase and discover a Swiss army knife carelessly tucked there during a previous trip. Grateful to have found it, you toss it onto the bed and zip up the bag.

You're finally ready to leave. Your bags are packed, your papers are in order and the cat is fed. You gather your things and pause only for a moment in front of the full-length mirror to admire the final fruits of your morning's ministrations. Damn, you say to yourself, I am one sexy thing! And you head out the door.

You have to be at the airport two hours before your flight takes off. Being your usual overzealous self, you've scheduled yourself an extra hour "just in case," as your mother always said. It turns out she had a point because this morning traffic is atrocious. The radio indicates there's a malfunction at the ID checkpoint, so you settle in for a wait.

As you sit in the line in front of the checkpoint, you listen to the radio. The newscast mentions that Congress is considering additional measures to increase security within the United States. You nod to yourself. For weeks, ever since you read about it in Popular Mechanics, you've been telling your friends that a computer chip implanted in each person's arm will solve many security issues in the country.

Luck is with you this morning, and you're only delayed for about half an hour. Once you reach the checkpoint window, you hand your ID card to the weary girl inside the booth. She glances at you quickly, checks your card, double-checks your face, then punches the button that opens the gate to let you through. She's irritable and you can't say you blame her. After all, since the computers that are supposed to run facial scans are always on the fritz, her job is pretty much one big nuisance.

Once you finally reach the airport, you choose one of the long-term parking lots. Before you can enter it, you must present your ticket, your identification card, and your new interstate passport to an armed guard. She scans everything carefully, then directs you into the lot.

Although you could elect to take a shuttle to the airport building, you decide to walk because it's such a nice day. You sling your bag over one shoulder and your extra-large carryall over the other. The carryall was a birthday gift from your mother and it came with a matching gas mask, which tucks into a side compartment.

As you head toward the airport, you're stopped at several checkpoints; each time, you hand over the appropriate paperwork and wait patiently as you're confirmed as a relatively harmless passenger. Once, you're stopped by a plainclothes guard who asks to see your ticket before you're allowed to actually enter the airport.

You are required to check in at the front desk, so you step into the airport and glance around to find the appropriate spot. It's not hard to find the desk for your airline since only two airlines operate out of this airport anymore. You get in line.

It's a long wait. You notice that several of your fellow passengers turn and glance at you suspiciously as they wait for their turn at the desk with the harried-looking young man in charge of check-in. You, in turn, notice a young, leather-clad punk join the line behind you and think that airport security should probably run an extra background check on such obvious troublemakers.

Once you finally reach the front of the line, the young airline employee accepts your paperwork and then questions you about the various numbers (social security number, driver's license number, passport number), as though it's an interrogation. He finally takes your bag and directs you toward the gates. By the time you turn away, a security person is already rummaging through your checked bag.

You and your carry-on bag make it through the metal detector and x-ray machine. You see your own skeleton on the wall beside you as you pass through the human x-ray machine. Although there is the danger of radiation poisoning from too many x-rays, you figure the risk is more than worth plane safety.

Finally, you manage to get to your gate. The plane is already there, and the crew is doing the extensive pre-flight safety check. You shake your head as you remember how planes would frequently land and then take off again almost immediately in the still-recent past. The passengers for your flight are beginning to gather at the gate, so you all stand around and glance at each other suspiciously.

The passengers begin boarding right on schedule. At this point, you've been at the airport for about two hours. You hand over your paperwork one last time, and cross the tube into the plane. As you duck inside, you notice the woman in line behind you whispering to the security officer in charge of boarding.

You locate your seat, stow your carry-on and try to find a comfortable position to sit in on the cramped plane. The other passengers trickle on board and the flight attendants start checking the inside of the cabin for take-off. You still can't help but notice the holsters they wear around their hips. The holsters are supposed to contain stun guns, but you've heard rumors that they're really loaded pistols.

Even though the plane hasn't taken off, you begin to doze as the pre-flight check continues. Soon, though, you're awakened by the poke of a security officer's finger.

"Excuse me. You're going to have to disembark from the plane."

You sigh. Last month you would have argued. Today you meekly follow the security officer off the plane to the interrogation room, where they'll ask you questions and probe your background. They still may not allow you to go ahead with your flight. You've been through it all before.

And you almost understand it. But you still can't help but feel deflated as you're escorted off the plane. The other passengers stare at your black hair, olive complexion and dark eyes as you pass, and they make assumptions, guesses, about your presence on the plane. One assumption they never make is that you're an American citizen, the same as they are. And they don't guess that you're from New York City and, in fact, lost family members and friends in the World Trade Center attack back on September 11, 2001.

"Freedom is fragile and must be protected. To sacrifice it, even as a temporary measure, is to betray it." -- Germaine Greer

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