Back safe and sound, you'll be glad (you will, won't you?) to know. A flight to Los Angeles, a flight to New Orleans, a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth and not a bruise or scraped place to show for it. However, no tweezers either, no scissors and no corkscrew.
A brief report from the travel front. Last Wednesday, there are no lines at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. No people, either. Luggage in hand, I proceed to Delta's ticket counter two hours before flight time, produce identification, routinely check a hangar bag, show identification at the X-ray machine, pass without hindrance to the gate -- and read the newspaper for nearly two hours. A routine boarding follows. Less than half the plane is occupied. The LAX touchdown is right on time. At the meeting I attend, many have canceled, unable or unwilling to fly.
Return flight on Friday -- booked long before Sept. 11 -- is 6:40 a.m. The shuttle service tells me that passengers are expected to arrive not two hours ahead of time, but three. Off we set from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel at 2:30 a.m. At 4:30 a.m., the line looks like a call for karaoke volunteers on Oprah. Am checked in by 5:15 a.m. Otherwise, same procedures as before. Plenty of time for coffee. Then another less-than-half-full flight, arriving on time.
Connect at DF/W with Nancy Taylor Murchison; we're off to a meeting (really) in New Orleans. But first, for her, a frisking with that security wand you see security people waving around. We land, again, on time. But where are the usual revelers? The New Orleans International Airport echoes like, well, a tomb. But, hey, the car rental companies are handing out fabulous deals, too good to turn down.
To my meeting, 170 have committed in advance. Around 30 fail to show. But the French Quarter seems to be going full blast, and restaurants are very -- some exceedingly -- full. Osama Bin Laden can't keep New Orleans completely down.
Then the return. To make a long story short, security discovers and confiscates a pair of tweezers in my wife's luggage (tweezers that passed without incident through D/FW). I make it through unscathed. But -- a very large "but" in New Orleans -- no bar is open near the passenger gate. The terminal is that quiet, that ghostly.
We return to the main area for libation, then back once more through security. Same procedures, different result. I am caught red-handed: a small pair of scissors in my shaving kit. I hand them over. That's not all, either. A corkscrew in a plastic cylinder is detected. We Episcopalians always carry corkscrews, in the event a bottle of wine comes to hand! Nevermind: It's the confiscation of the tweezers that causes the most head-shaking. Tweezers as a weapon of aggression? There is naught but to accept the impositions of the moment. Still, we must hope the moment will be brief.
We are in, it would seem, the overreaction phase of our present crisis, when everything -- a pair of tweezers, a highly screened airplane flight -- can seem risky. Let's hope the war on terrorism shows early results. We don't want to live this way indefinitely. America isn't a garrison state. Yet the talk now is of possible chemical and bacteriological warfare and of national ID cards and camera surveillance.
Open societies are by definition risky, even dangerous; but
closed societies, a la the Taliban, suffocate and strangle. What an irony if, to knock open the closed societies that hate us, we were to make ourselves more like them! Please, no.
I can't conclude without a word of thanks to the airline crews (Delta and American, in my own experience), for which none of this can be easy. Their sheer normality, their attempts to make life on an airplane as agreeable as possible, should encourage us all. And likewise encourage us to fly. My advice: Fly. Check your tweezers through at the ticket counter. Stick it to the Taliban.