American Odyssey: Part One — Planes

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Recently I did something outrageous, outlandish and downright brazen. It was something so ill-advised that it imperiled my life and that of my son.

We… and I shudder at the thought… flew on an airplane, not just one, but several! That’s right, I took my son, whom I call The Boy, on a trip. We faced luggage inspections, passport checks, hours of discomfort and the possibility of being blown to smithereens! I hear it’s all the rage. And to ratchet up the risk factor, we flew back to the United States of America

Like Frodo and Samwise, we faced the ordeal with fierce conviction in our eyes and bold spirit for the adventure to come. Somehow, by the grace of God, we did not explode in a fireball.

For a number of my readers, I realize that this is a great disappointment. Sorry, I can’t please everybody.

Why did I dare to return to the home of The Bush and the land of the afraid? That’s a good question. What can I say? One cannot stay on a tiny island forever without getting off once in a while. If you don’t, you’ll go savage. From what many of my friends — and some readers — have told me, I already had. I needed a break. Besides, I wanted to see if America was still there.

Unfortunately, travel from the Cayman Islands to the United States involves flying. I hate flying and for good reason. It’s simply a major pain in the arse.

We all know this to be true. First the modern traveler must get to the airport two or three hours early all the better to wait in boredom. Second, strangers with latex gloves poke and prod us and our baggage, in hopes of finding some telltale stains remaining in our underwear. Third, everything gets X-rayed to death to protect us from death. It reminds me of those Science Fiction movies where Mary Joe and her boyfriend Scooter are being probed by aliens after the prom.

Most of us are condemned to Coach Class where we’re crammed into tiny seats, near screaming children, and are offered insipid movies not half as fun as the one with Mary Joe and Scooter; and, if we’re lucky, we are served a turkey croissant for which we must pay extra. The surly, uncaring flight attendants are as charming as East Los Angeles bus drivers. Most frightening of all, one never knows whose colostomy bag is filled with explosive liquids hooked up to an iPod! What a great way to travel!

The Boy and I splurged and flew First Class. We even sat across the isle from a former has-been rock star. Fortunately he didn’t recognize me so I didn’t have to sign any autographs or engage in any superficial conversations.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. The plane landed at Charlotte, NC.

Then the real fun began. The Boy and I had to go through US customs and another baggage security check. A monstrous line coupled with an urgent need to answer nature’s call led us to Checkpoint Alpha, the dreaded passport exam and Mr. Happy.

Mr. Happy: "Who’s this child with you?"

Me: "My son."

Mr. Happy speaking to my son: "Who’s this guy?"

My son thinks: Why is this scowling man asking me this ridiculously obvious question? "Uh… My dad."

Mr. Happy: "Uh huh… Bringing in any alcohol, tobacco or soil samples?"

Me: "Soil samples? Uh… No." [You mean to house my collection of vintage earthworms?]

Mr. Happy: "Uh huh."

Hey thanks! Where was the u2018welcome back’? It’s great to be home. Sieg Heil!

Uh oh, what’s the red mark at the top of my customs form? Never mind… I know what it is. I’ve been red tagged… again.

Now, I will tell you, our baggage contained the dreaded substance known as… are you ready… clothing! God forbid! But because the flight originated in the Caribbean, Mr. Happy at the passport check found it impossible to believe I didn’t have rum or Cuban cigars. I have no use for either since we all know that they both mean the end of American Democracy, as we know it, and they are a direct assault on our freedoms. Why he asked about soil samples is beyond me. As a rule, I don’t pack dirt. Besides, actual dirt is worth its weight in gold on the Cayman Islands but it’s worth next to nothing on the mainland.

So, I was red tagged. No big deal. It happens every time I fly. I must look like a subversive. It just means an extra trip to the X-ray machine. Well, I can’t blame Mr. Happy. After all he has a tin star and is on a Mission from God to clean up this town.

Let’s not forget the wonderfully uplifting PA announcements at American airports! Every five minutes we heard a female Borg’s voice calmly announce: "For your own security please do not accept packages from strangers. Make sure all your personal belongings are within eyesight at all times to prevent the introduction of harmful substances. Report suspicious characters and behavior to the nearest police officer immediately. Enjoy your flight." How the hell do we enjoy our flight now that we’re scared to death?! Suspicious characters? In airports? Surely they jest! I thought those people were all in Washington, DC.

Did she mean the guy with the three-foot dreadlocks, the swarthy gent in the silver pin-stripped suit or… or… me? I have learned to shave prior to flying. Still a beardless face doesn’t quite get me off the hook. Mr. Happy will attest to my suspicious demeanor. I’m reasonably sure anyone seriously intent on blowing up an airplane won’t be wearing a prison regulation orange jumpsuit and have a crazed look in his eyes. I always make it a point of wearing my most outlandish Hawaiian Aloha shirt blazoned with images of The King. NO! I don’t meant The Shrub! I mean Elvis Presley! Hey, if that doesn’t prove I’m a red-blooded American what does? You don’t think that’s the problem do you? Maybe I need to add a Dale Earnhardt #3 cap.

Anyway, the female Borg’s announcement might as well have included; "Fear is your friend. Suspicion breeds security. All Muslims hate you for your freedoms." What friends? What security? What freedoms? What Muslims?

Well, so be it. This is the state of air travel these days. In the pursuit of safety Americans are blessed with rampant paranoia and suspicion. Of course from time to time a new terrorist plot is thwarted, often before an election. Some of them might be real and if so, thank God they have been stopped. We can be thankful that paranoia and suspicion not only are keeping us free and safe but also have infested only our horrid air travel system and not our government! Ooops! My mistake, too late.

Elizabeth Gyllensvard edited and contributed heavily to the article.

Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo, Japan as well as Los Angeles working in the entertainment industry. He is the primary caregiver of his eleven-year-old son and currently resides on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.

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