Big Brother is Watching OC Weekly

In case you were wondering, air travel still sucks. Flights are more crowded and dirtier than ever (I could swear that stain on my courtesy pillow was blood), and even though transatlantic flights now have video on demand, the equipment for it takes up precious milimeters of legroom, already a scarce resource, one that even the joy of watching “300” over and over again can't quite distract a passenger from.

Still, I got to see the ending of Shrek 3 without paying for it. It wasn't terrible.

Flying directly between London and Los Angeles generally takes about 9 hours. But silly me, I wanted to save some money and went indirectly, via Charlotte, NC. That amounts to a total of 13 hours flight time.

In the UK, security is swift and efficient. As you wait in line to be scanned, signs tell you exactly what you need to do while you wait. A stunningly simple idea we haven't put into practice here. Plus they don't make you take off your shoes any more. They're still uptight about liquids, but once you pass through, you can buy liquor and other stuff on the gate-side area. This, however, becomes an issue upon reaching the U.S. -- as I will be transferring to a new plane to Charlotte, that perfectly safe bottle of Scotch I bought at Duty Free must now be transferred to my checked luggage, because god forbid I might have managed to dump out the contents and replace them with explosives somewhere on the plane or in the airport.

So after going through customs, reclaiming my checked suitcase to send it off again to Charlotte, I opened it up and inserted said bottle. Moments later, I was approached by a security guy who asked to see my passport. I complied.

“Come with me,” he said. So I got escorted into the back room. Was this random, or had my bottle switching maneuver been seen as suspicious? I never found out. I'm growing my hair and beard out at the moment, so maybe I looked like Taliban John to the guy, I dunno.

There's lots of making you stand over someplace very specific, lots of question that seem really intrusive, like how long I've lived in California, where I lived before that, where I went to school, all made more difficult by the fact that my questioner has a very odd and thick accent, possibly Mandarin. My interview is interrupted as this questioner is called over by a coworker to investigate a suspicious liquor bottle that looks thicker than your average drink. The apparent possessor of the alleged booze looks like a reality TV star – blond, fit, semi-faux-hawk, white T-shirt. It looks like he's gonna have to lose the booze. I wonder if it maybe isn't some fun these guys are having, taking their shit out on a guy who's better looking than them.

In the London airport, I had picked up a book that looked interesting, an autobiography of a former radical Muslim exposing some of the secrets of his former brothers-in-arms. It's a good read, but the absolute LAST thing you want when Homeland Security is searching your bags is for them to zero in on a book entitled “the Islamist.” The dude leafed through every single page of the book, like I might have hidden poison somewhere in it or something. He asked me if it's a good book. I replied that I hadn't read it yet but that it caught my eye. Then he fixates on a DVD I have, a series of short ad spoofs that I've had packaged as though it was a classified marketing document made by my fictional character, an accountant named Jasper Boring. Security guy naturally takes the “Classified” labeling seriously, asks what it is, then asks, “Who's this, Jasper Boring?”

If you've seen the Jasper Boring shorts, you might appreciate the humor there. But when you're being interrogated, not so much. Thankfully he bought the explanation that it was my fictional character.

Earlier, I had been asked what my job was and I said I write for a newspaper. Sometime later, he comes back to this concept. “Who do you write for?” I tell him OC Weekly.

I kid you not, he actually wrote “OC Weekly” on the back of my customs form. Then he goes through all my luggage and asks where all my toiletries are. I'm a dude, and clearly not shaving right now, so who knows what he's looking for. But finally I get to go.

Here's the messed-up thing – after all that, I then have to go through security AGAIN to get the Charlotte plane! And it's stupid security too. They check your boarding pass upon entering the line, then, when you walk through the metal detector, they ask for it again, only you've already put it in the scanning basin because you're meant to do that with everything, so now you have to go back and get it. Then, even though you clear the metal detector, they see a bulge in your pocket, which turns out to be allergy pills and tissues, so they make you go back AGAIN and put the allergy pills and tissues in their own separate basin for x-raying.

The only bright spot was that after all that, there's a great barbecue place in the Charlotte terminal that serves Mello Yello.

When I finally arrived at LAX, my ride had forgotten all about me, so in the remaining 45 minutes, I finished reading 'The Islamist.” It was interesting.


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