Illustration by Bob AulI don't like clerks who act like kings, and I sure as hell don't like the morons who run our nation's airline industry. I'm talking to all of you, from the lowliest luggage herder to the CEOs seeking federal bailouts, but mostly I'm talking to the guy behind the desk at John Wayne Airport who wouldn't let me meet my kid at the gate. First, your airline bumps the boy from an early-afternoon departure to a midnight flight; suddenly, a teenager flying with a group of other teenagers will be flying solo at night from an unfamiliar city with the threat of snow on the horizon. Then you stick him on a plane in a snowstorm, keep the plane on the runway for 90 minutes while you de-ice the wings, and treat him like a galley slave because there's no one to defend him and he's too young to know better. (Can he please pee? No, he can't pee. Sit down.) And then, when I arrive at John Wayne, you tell me no, I can't meet him at the gate because, though he's a minor and (thanks to you) traveling alone, "no unticketed passengers are allowed in the arrival area." I know we're at war. And I know I'm expected to do my part. But part of my part is protecting my son from polyester emperors like you and the rest of your colleagues at Sodomy Airways. So I calmly point out that I'm not the terrorist type, I just want to make sure my kid—who, thanks again to you, is traveling alone, late at night, etc.—is greeted by a friendly face. You wave over a policeman. Ah, I think, reason will be restored. Balance is at hand. Wrong.
Officer Rambo waves over an airport security guy with a wand. They empty my pockets and tell me I'm a security threat. I have not raised my voice. I have not (yet) impugned anyone's intelligence. I have asked, not insisted, that I be allowed to exercise my parental responsibility. Now I'm being threatened as a threat. In my pocket, they find keys; attached to the key chain they find a Swiss Army knife with a blade smaller than George W.'s attention span. "Hand over the weapon," Officer Rambo says. "Weapon?" I ask. "Are you resisting a direct order to drop the weapon?" Rambo asks. "The keys, you mean?" Rambo pulls out his nightstick and points it at me like Tinkerbell with a wand. He calls for backup. Other people are watching. They are afraid. We have an incident here; they have seen this on Cops. But you, Clerk of the Month at Testeskick Airlines, you smile. You look disappointed when Rambo lets me off with a stern warning to follow the rules. "The rules," he says. The rules appear to be these: keep your mouth shut; do as you're told; forget the Constitution; and never, ever question the most powerful man in the world, the airline clerk.
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