It was a cold morning about 3–an ungodly hour, the likes at which I had not dragged my drowsy skull out of bed in half a decade at least. But today was different. I wasn’t getting up for work or to find out what that noise was in the backyard; I was catching a flight to San Francisco. I was excited, and though I hadn’t gotten a bit of sleep, I had energy enough to shower, shave, and pack the last remaining essentials. My friend Chris picked me up at 3:30, for which I was thankful, as I didn’t know how my wife and kids would handle a ride to the airport during the same small hours that plagued Emily Rose…creepy. I was also thankful for the heated seats in his Tahoe. We loaded up and hit the road.
The drive to the airport takes an hour-ish, give or take, depending at what time you’re driving, and Chris and I talked about all manner of things, though I can’t recall any of them. My brains were scrambled from a lack of sleep and the impending trial that lay ahead…the TSA. Dropping me off, Chris offered me some water that I couldn’t take because entering an airport with a bottle of water is tantamount to burning the American flag on top of an Alaska Airlines desk…”No I won’t be checking this, thanks.”
Anyone who has had the misfortune of flying both pre- and post-9/11 (never forget), realizes what has happened to what was once the majesty of air travel, one of the rare times when the common man could get a taste of the good life. No more. Those days are gone, and while the new system levels the playing field in its own sick way, it gives me no joy to see the bourgeois forced to walk barefoot like me. The young will only know airports the way they are now…passengers processed for incarceration, the perfect example of “toe the line” humanity judged guilty without trial. Guilty? For what? Who knows… And who the hell are you to ask? You’re not in America anymore, you mindless worm, you’re in the airport! Those who have no prior experience against which to compare it are lucky. Dutifully, I took off all that was asked. I shoved all of my belongings through the machine. I presented my papers. I allowed a full-body x-ray of myself, arms in air. I received my number, tattooed on the inside of my left forearm. I grabbed a cup of Joe at one of the seventeen conveniently located Starbucks and headed to the gate to board my plane.
My seat was next to a nice couple who were also flying down to San Francisco for a conference. Not a writer’s conference like me, a teacher’s conference. They were going to learn how to become better at their craft, shaping the future of our country. It was stunning to see examples of two different vocational sects, both of whom are grossly under-compensated for their efforts, and how differently they allow that information to form their work ethic. There is a stunning chasm between the attitude of the American teacher and the TSA worker…mayhaps it exists because teachers know that they’re needed, and TSA agents know that their jobs are akin to playing war against a pretend enemy in the woods. Eventually you get tired of being ready to show force against an enemy who never shows up and the people on your team start to suffer. Regardless, these teachers were great to talk to; they had been married for many years and taught in school districts that were 200 hundred miles and worlds apart from one another in Eastern Washington. This was my first trip to San Francisco and their fifth so I asked them some basic info on what to expect, which they happily gave me, and which I happily forgot. I was overwhelmed, but the conversation helped the trip fly by (How dare you! Of course that pun was unintended…What am I, a clown? Do I amuse you?). We landed at SFO without incident.
After much searching and following of vague signage, I found myself at the loading dock of the Bay Area Rapid Transit train…the BART. I had no idea for what I was in store. I found a seat and away she went. That horrible snake screeched its way through tunnels, over railways, into the heart of the Golden Gate city with nary a rest or breath. “Why does it squeal like a stuck pig?” I yelled, over the noise, to an Asian gentlemen sitting on my left. “They say she first started screaming like that because she was hungry for the blood of the common man,” he replied, “but now the blood is too salty and full of fat for any right-thinking transit system to ingest. Now she just screams in horrific mourning of days gone-by.” There were a couple of respites from the screaming. We sat in a tunnel for around half an hour while the tracks were inspected for damage after a minor earthquake that I never felt. Then I was at the bottom of a hill named Powell Street and walking up to my hotel. I had had two months to think about this trip, and still had no idea why I was here…