Like most Americans, I've been hesitant to get back on a commercial jet in the months following 9-11. But now, having flown the breadth and width of our great nation, I'm here to report that airport security has never been so intense or so absurd.
This I know with a rare certainty because I - a smallish, middle-aged, Anglo-Saxon, 14th-generation American mother/wife/journalist - was the single passenger culled from hundreds for surgical inspection on recent flights that took me from Charlotte, N.C., to Los Angeles to New York City.
On each leg - and at this writing I've still got one to dread (look for me in the strip-search area) - I was swept, probed, partially stripped, searched, X-rayed, patted and massaged until I felt like I'd been date-raped by a fraternity of mosquitoes. As I told the flight attendant when I finally got on board after two hours of microscopic inspection, I've had everything but a Pap smear for the privilege of getting on this plane.
Now, don't you feel safer? Not me.
I don't feel any safer than before 9-11 for two reasons. One, when I'm the object of so much time and attention, we're clearly wasting finite resources.
It' s like assigning 50 cops to suburban traffic duty in the midst of inner-city rioting and looting. Two, it's all too clear that one of the job requirements of our airport security force is a complete absence of common sense.
In the brave new world of post-terrorist airport security, machines and automatons will decide our fate and nary a thinking human dare intervene. Mine is a case in point.
The reason I was singled out was a function of a computer decision. Because I was flying from Charlotte to L.A. to NYC, my flight wasn't strictly round-trip.
Ergo, I was a suspicious passenger. Add to that the fact that I had to switch airlines to meet my itinerary, from US Airways on one leg to United on the other. More red flags.
Finally, my ticket - purchased by the television producers who were flying me to Los Angeles - were reserved relatively recently. If they'd paid cash, I'd probably be in jail right now. Instead, I was flagged the minute I tried to check in at curbside.
"Sorry, ma'am, but you'll have to come with us."
I won't drag you through the whole tedious process. Suffice it to say that every particle of my being and my belongings were X-rayed, handled and examined. Not just once, but at least three times before I was allowed on the first plane. I had less trouble traveling to East Germany years ago before the Wall came down.
A little inconvenience for the sake of security is acceptable. Most of us are willing to participate without complaint. But a lot of inconvenience - when common sense could save so much time and energy - is intolerable.
At some point during my processing, couldn't someone have stamped my forehead "Cleared" and let me move along without further delay? Couldn't someone have said, "Oh, Ms. Parker, you were flagged because of your three-way ticket. No problem, go ahead."
Reasonably, one might ask, exactly when was the last time a U.S. citizen fitting my description hijacked an airplane?
But to permit common sense - or actual thinking - is to invite implications of racial profiling. It is to betray what John Derbyshire, writing last February in National Review, called our "fanatical egalitarianism." People like me have to be harassed in order to convey that we don't single out anybody for special scrutiny on account of race or ethnicity, despite the fact that exactly zero percent of hijacking terrorists belong to my race, sex, creed or nationality.
Instead of applying logic and sense to our very serious security concerns, we engage in what amounts to reverse-profiling, frittering away valuable resources to prove a cultural point.
On the other hand, maybe we (start italics) are (end italics) safer on account of such witless waste. Thanks to me and other law-abiding Americans randomly selected for gulag examination, security folks can without guilt or recrimination flag the twentysomething young man of Middle-Eastern descent who perhaps has a bomb inside his electric toothbrush.
That is, if they're not too busy processing dangerous sorts like me.