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Doing time in an airport cattle chute

A cab driver picked me up outside the Waffle House in Little Rock last Sunday and said so sweetly, "I hope you enjoyed your breakfast" — elongating the "joy" slightly and slurring the k in "breakfast" — and I said yes, but honestly, I don't really associate breakfast with enjoyment. It's chow. It's a standardized meal meant to fortify you for the day's maneuvers and you square your shoulders and sit down and eat it. This particular breakfast was grits, eggs over easy, country ham, and biscuits with gravy, a meal that will fuel you right through five o'clock, but enjoyment?

In my parents' home we sat down to our Cheerios and toast and ate it and conversed in small declarative sentence fragments and jumped up and out the door, and I still do, and that's why I don't intend to retire: What do you do after breakfast? Do you have to hang out for hours with other geezers and geezerettes and reminisce about the days when it was fun to fly from place to place — remember? I don't care to.

Although when I went through airport security in Minneapolis on Monday, it was an object lesson in something — a line of a hundred people twisted around in the cattle chute, 16 men and women in the white TSA shirts with the epaulets, an obese young woman shouting at us to take our laptop computers out of our cases in a voice she learned from a prison camp movie; one metal detector in operation, two closed, and the guardian of this narrow gate was a man who carefully read each boarding pass as if proofreading it for misspellings, though it had already been checked by his colleague at the head of the line. And then a poor old guy rolled up in a wheelchair who had to be made to walk through the metal detector, though he could not walk. But he could sort of shuffle, an inch at a time, so we got to watch him do that.

The line inched along, four supervisors stood watching blankly, the fat lady barked, the gentleman operating the scanner was very jittery about shaving kits and computer batteries and needed to have every other bag checked, and in the lifetime it took to go through, you started to sympathize with all the Republicans who've complained about government inefficiency, except it is a Republican administration that runs this operation, but never mind. Details, details.

And also it seemed to me that I was the only one in line who was grinding my teeth. Everyone else was quite chipper, as if they were heading off on the class trip to Excelsior Amusement Park. So if I had spoken up and the shirts had thrown me to the ground and Maced me and stuffed me into a holding cell to await arraignment under the Patriot Act, I doubted that anyone would've come to my defense. They would've figured I must have had a shoe bomb on me or something.

These were my fellow Minnesotans in line and we are docile in April, at the end of our long winter. On Sunday the 20th of April, temperatures were in the 70s and the crocuses were about to bloom, and then on Friday the 25th, a half-inch of snow fell. People didn't talk about it. There it was, plain as the nose on your face, but it was just too awful to discuss. It was like your old husband getting blitzed at your parents' 50th anniversary and trying to get everyone to sing All You Need Is Love. It's like your child announcing that she's written a memoir called Spirals of Shame. Don't talk about it. Move on. Talk about your tomato plants and your good children, the ones who do not write memoirs, who don't remember the terrible things you did to them, they just remember your birthday and when it comes time, they will pick out a wonderful nursing home for you. Breakfast is from 7 to 10 and they serve nice omelets and all the coffee you can drink. Nobody rushes you. What were we talking about? Little Rock.

© Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.

Doing time in an airport cattle chute 04/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 2:05pm]

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