Fight or Flight

Photo by blahedo, via Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

I recently flew out of Atlanta — home of the Braves and Falcons, the Jimmy Carter Library, and decades of disappointment (not to be redundant). The Atlanta airport is the busiest in the world, a multinational panic attack prologued by bumper cars at 80 miles an hour.

The airport is named after two former mayors. There’s no need to record them here; they’ve suffered enough. Not that I have anything against eponyms; to the contrary, in my flights of fancy (which don’t leave from Atlanta), I dream of having something named after me, like a cocktail or a nonfatal disease (one marked by clumsiness and logorrhea).

My first plane trip was to New York. The stewardess — in those primitive times they were called stewardesses — gave me a deck of cards and a pair of wings. I was 7 years old and flew alone, adorable in a plaid blazer and Buster Browns. Upon arriving in New York, the stewardess escorted me to my aunt, who was waiting at the gate. This was before body scanners, three-in-one bags, and shoe bombers. Again, primitive times.

Five decades older and back in Atlanta, I found myself standing in the security line (which is like a Harry Potter ride line but without the butterbeer). TSA consists of placing your remaining possessions (your car and luggage are already history) on a conveyor belt so that the guy who used to cheat off of you in math class can X-ray your pajamas. Another man perp-walks you behind a screen and gives you a physical that includes everything but a copay. Joking, I asked for his phone number. Travel tip: Don’t do this.

Gathering the remains of my dignity, along with a carry-on, belt, computer, and wallet (one of which was mine), I headed for the concourse.

The modern airport is a dystopian shopping mall, one that charges an entrance fee to browse merchandise that wouldn’t survive a trip around the luggage carousel encased in Bubble Wrap. I observed a couple fighting between a Scarlett O’Hara bobblehead doll and a Blu-ray of “My Cousin Vinny.” Other travelers played cellphone roulette, a game in which one roams from gate to gate in search of a working power outlet.

For those both desperate and hungry, there are restaurants. The saving grace of airport food is that few people can afford to eat enough of it to be seriously poisoned. More dangerous are the shuttles, electric oldster-mobiles driven by myopic sociopaths. Every so often an average Joe gets run over. I watched the aftermath of one such accident — the idealists stopped to help while veteran travelers sifted through the debris for frequent flyer miles. Nature isn’t pretty.

On the PA system, a woman sounding like Siri with a hangover welcomed us to Atlanta and reminded us not to leave our bags unattended. She did this every three minutes. They should hire her at Gitmo.

Sidebar: I was once on a flight late for departure. We had not yet pulled away from the terminal when an attendant came down the aisle, rolling a piece of luggage and asking, “Is this anyone’s bag? It was left in the terminal.” After a few tense moments, the man next to me wondered aloud if the bag should be on the plane. The flight attendant laughed derisively. “You think it could be a bomb?” she said. These are the people in charge of our safety.

I found my gate and checked the time. Two hours until my flight. Good grief. I raced back up the concourse, hoping they still had “My Cousin Vinny.”

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Christopher Myers lives in Greenville, worships at First Presbyterian Church, gardens poorly, and golfs even worse. His nest is empty except for a neurotic dog and an understanding wife. Email him for more details about his life and to feel better about yours:



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