Edgar J. Steele warns: No more Mr. Nice Guy

"Public domain" article

Editor's note

Mr. Steele refers to this article and its accompanying graphic, both of which have been circulating on the Web, as "public domain" items, and he urges their widest possible dissemination.

Nicholas Strakon
November 30, 2001

Air rage
No more Mr. Nice Guy




Okay, that's it. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

For seven years I have been flying on a near-weekly basis, commuting between San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Spokane. Before that, there were several years in the late '60s and early '70s when I commuted every couple of weeks between the Left and the Wrong Coasts.

I can't use my frequent-flyer miles fast enough — the current balance is within striking distance of one million miles. I have a sheaf of free first-class upgrade coupons that is literally an inch thick; I throw away more than I use.

I spent so much time in East Coast rental cars, perusing those dreadful little maps handed out at the airport counters, that I still get confused about the direction of the ocean (it's to the right, so north must be that way ... no, that way .... no, it's to the left ... no ... turn the blasted map upside down ... no ... arrgggh!). It didn't help that I served Uncle for two years in a ship, plying the East and Gulf coast waters, eyes glued to the charts or radar every moment I stood underway OOD [officer of the deck — ed.]. I should just give up and move back out there, I suppose, before I end up Chappaquiddicking myself, because I just can't keep it straight that the natural direction of the water is to the left.

I would have to drive, though, because I'm thinking seriously of giving up air travel altogether. Yes, as a result of 911. No, not because I'm afraid of terrorists. Because the air-travel experience has become so gruesome.

John Madden makes road travel look like fun. Of course, he has a TV crew, roadies, groupies, and all that. I have a wife, three kids, 11 cats, a dog, four goats, some cows and wayyyyyyy too many horses. Wonder whether three-trailer semis are allowed back East ...

Next week I fly again, after a month off. I dread the thought.

Air travel, with delays, cancellations, bad weather, and lost baggage, has always been a struggle, one made tolerable by the opportunity to read and deal with e-mail (755 items, 161 unread today). No more, though. I have studied the evolution of increased FAA security and found it more than wanting. The recent federalization of security personnel is too Orwellian for me to bear.

I have never suffered fools or tyrants gracefully. Some of the more petty are found among those who have been operating airline security in recent years. While I have yet to miss a plane because of an interchange with one of them, it is simply inevitable that I will be sidelined for Special Treatment in the near future.

A month ago, I was going through the full-bore pat down at the Burbank airport. With the vertically challenged Latin rodent's paws in my crotch, I smiled at the granny lady next in line and said, "Don't worry, I won't be much longer. They've already done my body-cavity search." She grimaced nervously while the wand-bandito stared furiously at me for my impertinence. My response? "Sure am glad you're wearing those rubber gloves." If he could, said his glare, he would summon one of the uniformed National Guardsmen loitering nearby, M16 in hand, and have me summarily executed.

It's just a matter of time. That's why I have never taken flying lessons. Or skydiving lessons. And why I sold my motorcycle when I was 24. The way I do things, it's just a matter of time before I kill myself, so I've managed a triumph of good sense over adrenaline. I can't park my mouth so easily, though.

And it's not just that. Arriving two hours early and just barely making a flight that takes 30 minutes? Do the math. It's quicker to drive. And cheaper.

And you can stop to pee anytime you like (don't forget, I'm a man, therefore the world is my urinal), unlike the guy on a recent flight on the wrong coast who felt a pressing urge 15 minutes before landing, tried to get to the w.c., and wound up being thrown face down by a sky marshal. And manacled. The other passengers? They were forced to put their hands atop their heads for the remainder of the flight.

Flying has become the modern EST seminar, the original "no-pee" training for personal growth. It wasn't fun then, and it isn't fun now.

Another thing. If you drive instead of fly, you don't have to submit to having your car searched simply to park it.


I fail to see what all this has gained us, anyway.

Some of Osama's ragheads with razor blades are alleged — come on, what proof have you seen? — to have hijacked four planes and nailed three buildings. That was a one-time event, never to happen again now that we passengers all realize we die if we don't do something. Why, even the fourth plane went down short of the mark, possibly owing to the heroics of passengers ("possibly" because it came apart in midair and crashed primarily in two locations, miles apart, suggesting it was shot down).

They all had ID. They all had Social Security cards. (Then why weren't any of them listed on the passenger manifests, by the way?) The box-cutters appear to have been pre-positioned. Nothing that has been imposed since then would have prevented what occurred September 11. Yet the government forges ahead with more rules, more bureaucracy, more delay, more inconvenience, more expense.

It's not such a problem for the once-a-year traveler. Kind of a lark, actually, to see all the commotion we've been hearing so much about.

But for us true frequent fliers? Whole 'nother story, boys and girls. We're not happy. And we're not flying anywhere near as much. Many of us are rearranging our lives to make that permanent, too. Once a week is history. Once a month is too much for me to bear, too, given the way things are — I'm going to whittle that down by telecommuting, driving, and just plain doing without. There are lots of people just like me. We have been the backbone of the air travel industry, and we are through being abused.

November 27, 2001

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