And how should I begin?

Friday got off to a slow start; took me 15 minutes to find my checkbook. And then I discovered that I hadn't paid February's rent. What with one thing and another, I didn't get to work significantly earlier than usual. Stayed about an hour late all day. More or less met my 2 p.m. deadline (kind of) by 3 p.m.; rushed home; decided I had almost enough time for a haircut if there was no wait; got to haircut place, discovered that I would have to get haircut from annoying haircut guy who always asks me lots of personal questions, turned around and walked out. Wasted probably 15 minutes getting to and from haircut place. Packed frantically. Luckily, Kam was taking me to the airport (thank you again, Kam!), which made it feasible for me to get there not much later than 2 hours before the flight.

At some point I'd like to write about airports. I know lots of people who've flown a lot since 9/11; nothing any of them has said came close to preparing me for the experiences of the San Jose and Los Angeles airports. I hate hate hate having people in authority yell at me, even if they're not really yelling at me, even if they're just yelling "All airlines, all gates!" and shunting people into one of two directions. I hate situations where there are a lot of things moving at once and I have to make snap decisions about where to go while someone in authority is yelling at me. I'm not even terribly fond of loud noises or crowds in general. The whole thing made me very very tense, and made me dwell a lot more on the terrorism issue than I have in the past couple months.

The jury's still out on whether the new security systems made me feel more or less safe. Certainly people in camouflage with guns make me nervous (um, I'm talking about the official airport guards here, presumably on loan from the military or National Guard); certainly I don't feel that a Southwest Airlines flight from SJC to LAX is a likely target of terrorist activity; on the other hand, I have to admit that they've finally "improved" airport security to the point where I can't see trivial ways to get around it. (Doing thought-experiments about how to break security systems of various types has long been a hobby of mine. I'm far too Rules-oriented to have any interest in actually breaking such systems; but I can't help noticing when there are big glaring holes in them. I always figured that pointing out the holes would either get me branded as a troublemaker (do I have an FBI file yet?) or result in more draconian airport security measures; since I always figured the point of airport security systems was to soothe and allay the generally-groundless fears of the general public and make them think it's safe to fly, I always figured there was no need for more draconian systems. Perhaps I was wrong. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that there aren't fairly easy ways to defeat the new systems; so these, too, may have more value as PR tools than as security systems. Or maybe they're really CYA tools; they let airlines say "We're doing everything possible to prevent bad stuff from happening," whether or not that reassures anyone. But I think the new more stringent measures do probably reassure most people more than they alarm most people; I have to admit that it's in many ways comforting to be a sheep and just go along where you're herded. Letting someone else take responsibility for making the decisions. Boy would I hate to have a job in airport security these days; I wouldn't be able to take the stress, the burden of responsibility, knowing what's at stake if I make a mistake in the wrong way at the wrong time.)

(I have two big problems with being a sheep, one political and one practical. The political one is obvious: I'm not thrilled with any system that gets people used to unhesitatingly obeying any order that comes from someone in a uniform. The practical one is simply that most people aren't good at giving instructions, especially instructions about specific physical motions, and I over-interpret the ones I get, with the result that despite my best intentions, I often end up not doing what the instructor wants, which makes them mad and makes me want to go hide. Somewhere deep in my psyche is embedded the instruction: Thou Shalt Not Piss Off Those In Authority. I leave the reconciliation of that statement with my aforementioned pacifist anarchist tendencies as an exercise for the reader. Or perhaps for the trained psychologist—kids, don't try this at home!)

When I start to tell a story, things have a tendency to go alinear. Where the hell was I?

Right, the airport. It was nice to hear the two seasoned business travelers behind me chatting and joking with the cute city cop who was helping things move smoothly at the end of the line. It was really nice to see most people working together to try to smooth out what was a stressful process for everyone concerned. (I except from this those involved in the episode of the couple ahead of me who got shunted into different lines; the husband said "Can't I even go with my wife?" and the cop looked from one to the other, opened the way with a sort of roll of his eyes. The wife shoved past the cop with some kind of snide comment about the cops. The cop yelled after her, "Relax, lady! I didn't know!" and kind of laughed. I think nobody concerned was real happy about that, and I imagine the cops have to go through similar things a dozen times a day.) It was great to see this incredibly long line take only ten minutes to get through. It helped to try and remember that all these cops and search-people and military people are just people, all trying to do a difficult job, all trying to keep people safe. It helped that in SJC, there were large clear signs about certain things posted well in advance of the actual checkpoint, so by the time I got to the conveyor belt I had everything ready (though I almost dropped my computer, which would've been really bad).

Oh, forgot to mention that all this was after I'd gone and checked in at the desk, because I had to check a bag, because (a) I had two bags (though it does seem that you can fly with two bags as long as one of them could plausibly be a computer bag) and (b) more importantly, one bag had sharps in it— razor blades, Swiss Army knife, etc—and so had to be checked.

So after all that, I ended up in line at the gate about an hour and a quarter before my flight, and didn't realize for a while that the sign said you couldn't check in 'til an hour before the flight. After a bit of a wait, I ended up with boarding pass #3 (this is Southwest; if you aren't familiar with their weirdo boarding procedures, the gist of it is that they give you numbered plastic boarding passes, and then they call groups of numbers (1 through 30, say) and you go on the plane and choose a seat (no assigned seating)). So I sat down to wait, and then found out the plane was delayed.

The flight itself was fine, though without Southwest's trademark wisecracking (but I have a vague idea they were cutting down on that last time I flew with them, long before 9/11). Rented a car, got to my brother and sister-in-law's place about an hour after I'd planned.

They'd already eaten, but we all walked down to the beach, and along it, and back up a bit to a Fusion restaurant (Sun and Moon, maybe?) with yummy Japanese/Californian food. Spent much of dinner talking about terrorism and travel, probably much to the dismay of the people at the next table.

I'm babbling; if I go on at this level of detail, this'll take me all night. Suffice it to say that we all went back to J&H's place and went to sleep; very early the next morning, J&H headed out, driving up here to the Bay Area for the weekend. So I didn't get to see them much, sadly, but I did get to stay in their astonishing house.

More next entry.

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