Posted by: 4initalia | March 18, 2009

Flight Risk

Last week, we flew to London. Once you’re in Europe you can do that sort of thing, you can fly to London like it’s a trip to the deli. A very far away deli that takes a plane to reach, and passports, and luggage, but hey, I didn’t say it was easy. No really, that was you.

Because it’s not all that easy, really. First you have to find the suitcases, which all have developed broken zippers and gaping holes in the sides, and blame has to be assigned to the damage. “You’re the one who insisted on taking five pairs of underwear!!” “For five days!!” And that leads into sub-fights, about who is taking so much that the zippers are blowing out, and who is taking so little that there are public health implications. People who travel while married should never do so in front of the children.

I finish packing. And then I learn that because we are flying on a low-cost airline, we are under a baggage restriction: Laid end to end, the total dimensions of the contents of our luggage cannot exceed 27.5 centimeters. Anything over the limit costs 25 euroes per centimeter, per minute. I have no idea how to comply with this requirement, so I get that look in my eye that tells Andy that to continue this conversation will lead to emotional, and perhaps physical, scarring. He wisely drops it and tucks two extra credit cards into his wallet.

Before we leave, I try to clean up enough so that while we’re gone, the dirty dishes and garbage won’t attract a family of crazed wolverines. We’re running out of time, so I ask Alex, who has been unable to locate his shoes but is intent on a game of Guitar Hero to… NO – sweep the floor. He shrieks in shock: he is pained, he is in agony, he is about to get a free trip to London and he’d better be holding a broom ASAP or he’s going to be flossing with it. Annalise has to be gently reminded, for the fortieth time, to “GO.FIND.YOUR.SHOES…NOOOOOWWWWWW!!” When my blood pressure has risen sufficiently to make me see stars, she actually does it.

A spoon full of sugar, I don’t think so. Let’s consider: in Mary Poppins, did the children decide to tidy up the nursery because the nanny was singing, or because she gave them multicolored drugs? And Mary never said that Uncle Albert was an actual relation, did she?

With a little more yelling, and some threats, the nursery is spit spot and we can go.

Now we have to catch the bus to the airport. The bus to the airport is cheap, and very convenient if you survive getting in and out of the bus. The forward door is fine. But if you walk to the back of the bus, on the left, cleverly concealed to ensure that you don’t notice, are jagged steel steps that plummet 20 feet straight down. The steps end at an exit door; the door opens with a heavy bar that juts out at an angle from the door. The exit bar is a well designed safety feature. It ensures that before you accordian-pleat your vertebrae by landing head first on the bottom step, you’ll comfortably lose consciousness by clocking yourself on the exit bar on the way down. Apparently Italian trial lawyers never take a bus to the airport, or they are all killed when they don’t see the steps.

Along the highway to the Bologna airport, we pass miles of farm fields. Rich brown fields tilled and sown, with a thin white plume of smoke every few acres. The smoke may be the result of a traditional farming soil preservation technique, but I suspect that the plume has a more nefarious source. The smoke is actually created by the Italian postal service. They are torching certified copies of blank pages of American passports because no one actually needs the blank ones, but all of this fine ash is very good for the soil. That’s why Italian produce tastes so good; I like knowing that with every stamp purchase I’m doing my part for agriculture.

We get to the airport and have to go through security. Europeans didn’t catch on that the greatest risk to an airplane comes from weaponry concealed in size seven ballerina flats. So to go through European security I can keep my shoes on, but all jackets have to come off. I am wearing every jacket I own, in order to leave room in the suitcase for Andy’s socks, so removing and replacing my outerwear takes several hours.

While I reassemble my wardrobe, I have time for a quick score check in the War on Terror: I don’t know who won in the European Division. Was it the terrorists, because Europeans have to take off their jackets? Or the Europeans, because they won the part about the shoes? Maybe they’re tied.

I have faith in Italian airport security. For our last sabbatical, Alex had scary allergies, so I took six Epipen syringes in my carry-on luggage. When the bag went through the xray machine, the Italians saw the syringes and opened the boxes; the slim lines could have been six knives lying on their sides, and besides, I had those dangerous shoes. I was grateful that Italian security wanted to see what was in the boxes. When I took the same bag through Germany, the inspectors assumed that mean scowls sufficiently deterred terrorism, and didn’t find six rapier-thin pieces of metal worth a looksee. I think the Germans actually did win that round in the War On Terror. They’re not terrified, they’re not even interested.

After security, we have to stop at the Immigration desk, and show our passports. In this phase, steely eyed skeptics scrutinize your documents. This always makes me paranoid. I must have done something to deserve that look, so I always want to blurt out a pre-emptive confession. “Alright – Yesss – I’m a Soviet…spppyy!!!” Such a confession would not be particularly helpful to the passport people, because technically, the Soviets are Russians again, and no, I’m not a spy, I can’t even work my camera phone. But if they’re getting paid to make me nervous, I’d like to get my money’s worth.

I’m a little peeved because the whole point of passing through Immigration, besides the spy thing, is to get a cool stamp on your passport. In most countries, you get a cool little stamp when you enter, and a different one when you leave. So when the trip is over and you’re sitting at your molded plastic desk at your bleak and lifeless office cubicle, you can fan yourself with your passport and languidly review the little odd symbols for each nation you visited, murmuring softly, but not so softly that no one can hear you, “Aaaah, Tangiers.” If you can’t be a spy, at least you can mope for an interesting reason.

But NO, you’re not going to get any more cool little stamps, because the Europeans took all the fun out of crossing their borders.

When they created the European Union, which is a group of countries that get to sneer at Americans for lots of really good reasons, the EU nations decided that everyone can travel between EU countries without having to get cool symbols stamped on their passports. It’s a huge cost cutting measure; they’ve saved enough money on those little ink pads to fund socialized medicine.

And the elimination of passport stamping ensures the success of Italian agriculture: No matter how many times you travel in Europe, all of the pages of your passport will remain blank, but you’ll have to copy the blank pages anyway, because burning the useless copies is good for the soil.

It’s that kind of one-worldish cooperation among nations that gives Republicans the heebee geebies, and rightly so. Or maybe they’re disturbed because the Europeans called it a Union, and then, you know, there’s the whole socialized medicine thing.

Travel is exhausting. I’ve been through all this and haven’t even reached the plane yet.

I’m really going to have to ask for an apology for that deli metaphor; you were totally wrong about that.

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