Travel Nightmare

I hate traveling. I love getting to my destination and adventuring in new cities (or adventuring in revisited cities). I love destination-ing. I just hate the airports and the planes and all of the other people that are inevitably also traveling. When I hear people say “I love traveling,” I think, “Bet you don’t!” Who loves having to remove your shoes, belt, hat, jacket, just to have to get patted down by a grumpy TSA agent!? Not this guy. Who enjoys waiting in line at the gate with people who have totally forgotten all their manners? Not this guy. Who likes being stuck on a claustrophobic metal tube breathing recycled air for hours? Not this guy. Traveling is the worst. But the destination whether it be home or an escape from home makes it bearable. On my recent travels I (surprise, surprise) experienced rude people who had no awareness of other people. What is it about airports that make people unaware of personal space and forget how to be a decent human being?!

When I was in line at security this French couple was standing behind me without leaving any space between my body and their bodies. They seemed to be attempting to make a me sandwich; I was the meat and they were the bread. Every few steps they would kiss—right over my head. WHAT!? I did not ask to be a part of your love. I do not want a ménage à trois. No merci. I turned around to interrupt one of their kissing moments and started to say “Excusez-moi.” But the woman turned and hit me in the face with her bag in the process. She did not apologize. I scoffed, “REALLY!?” at no one in particular and took another step closer to the body scanner. When I got to the portion of the security process where you take your shoes off and remove your laptop, liquids, and a tiny part of your soul, the blonde white man in front of me began arguing with TSA about removing his shoes.

“But I’m a priority passenger—do priority passengers have to remove their shoes!?” He whined.

“Yes, sir. Everyone has to remove their shoes.” The agent said in a tired robotic voice.

“Fine, but I don’t think we have to. But I’ll just do it this time because I’m in a hurry.” He conceded.

Was he serious? Did he think he was special and didn’t have to remove his shoes because he could board the plane earlier or whatever priority passenger meant (I don’t know because I’m just a regular joe schmoe passenger.) He smelt of serious privilege, like he wasn’t used to being told no or not getting his way in life. Then to further my amusement he had to receive a pat down and the look on his face was priceless. Mastercard priceless. And then when I went to get my bag from the x-ray belt, I saw that he was having his bag searched. This was not his day—someone was making it their priority to see to that.

I had a flashback to an experience I had a few years ago with TSA. It happened before my top surgery, which meant I was binding my chest at the time. In case you didn’t know this fun fact about airport security; TSA uses a super gender binary system. When you walk up to the beam-me-up-Scotty body scanner, the TSA agent takes a 3-4 second analysis of you and selects a pink or blue box on the screen. (I. SHIT. YOU. NOT.) The pink box indicates to the machine you are a woman and the blue box indicates to the machine you are a man. Then based on that the machine looks for “anomalies” or “alarms” and makes a yellow box on any questionable area. Okay, where was I? Oh right, so prior to my top surgery when I was binding, sometimes the machine would decide my smashed down breasts were “anomalies” and two yellow boxes would appear.  On this particular occasion, one yellow box appeared on the screen over my left breast area. A male TSA agent was called over to give me a free-of-charge pat down. As he slid his hand over the yellow area his eyes got big and his cheeks flushed. I laughed “Is there a problem?” He stuttered an apology and said that I was fine and could carry on. I imagine what happened in his brain was that he felt a breast where he didn’t expect to feel one. He assumed I was a cisgender male, as did the machine. And therein lies a huge flaw with the security system. This binary system assumes both that everyone’s gender will be clearly expressed and that everyone’s gender will fit into a pink or blue box. It also can’t tell the difference between body parts and bombs. But since I’m not an engineer, I can’t tell you how difficult that is for a machine. Now, I was able to laugh off this awkward interaction because, well my life is full of awkwardness so I’ve just become amused by it. But more often than not, the experiences of trans people at airports is not laughable. It can be mortifying, anxiety-inducing, and scary! TSA has a responsibility to do better for trans people.

Back to the PDAing French couple and the blonde dude having a bad day. On this day I cleared security without any trouble and headed to my gate. When I got to my gate an airport announcement cracked through a speaker above me, “Would a Jay Michael Maddock return to Security Gate C, you left your driver’s license and a personal item behind.” I didn’t know why they had to use my full name like they were my mother summoning me after I had done something terrible. I went to security to collect my ID and the personal belonging that ended up being a pb&j sandwich I had made for my journey. I can’t tell you how the sandwich ended up left behind in the bin with my ID. I can tell you that TSA made me identify the type of jelly and whether the peanut butter was crunchy or smooth to prove it was mine, before returning it to me.

I boarded the plane and found my seat. After reaching a “cruising altitude of 10,000 feet,” the guy seated in front of me reclined his chair—asshole. He seemed to think his chair was a lounge chair at a pool, as he had fully reclined his seat into my bubble and then kept leaning back with his whole body weight trying to make it go back further. Did he think his coach seat was going to fully recline into some sort of bajillion dollar upgraded first class bed-seat? What a dick. I vowed to spend the rest of the flight daydreaming about passive aggressive actions I could take against him.

    1. I could knee the back of his seat for the remainder of the flight.

   2. I could grab his head as I stood up and then apologize, but in a tone that would make it clear that I was NOT sorry.

   3. I could spend the rest of the flight opening and closing the tray table over and over.

  4. I could put my foot on his arm rest.

  5. I could lean forward and whisper weird sweet nothings into his ear; “I like the way your hair smells—I can smell it because it’s so close to my face.”

Related the guy across from me yelled at the guy in front of him for reclining his seat before take-off. The irony? The guy yelling? His seat was also reclined. He either wasn’t aware of it or is the ultimate asshole. I do agree with asshole, you aren’t supposed to have your seat reclined before take-off. And whether that makes sense or not—that’s the rule the airline has made. And I don’t know about you, but I’m following every rule they tell me. We are in a heavy metal tube that is flying thousands of feet in the air by a science I don’t understand or trust. So you better believe I am following every rule they tell me. Big electronics turned off? Check. Phone turned to airplane mode or off? Check. Tray table up? Sure is. Seat in the upright position? I’m sitting up straighter than I ever do. If a flight attendant told me that I had to hum the jaws theme the whole flight while rubbing my tummy and patting my head, I would be a humming fool! I don’t know how we’re staying in the air, but I do know I’d like us to remain there for the duration of the flight.

Of all the horrible types of passengers, babies and small children are the WORST. I love kids and I think they are hilarious and adorable and delightful—on the ground. But up at 30,000 feet when trapped on an airplane? They are the worst. Every time I board a plane I say a small prayer to the traveling Gods, asking for minimal turbulence, minimal delays, and NO CRYING CHILDREN! I had lucked out the last several flights, so I knew I was overdue for some crying babies. I had just run across the airport to make my flight and was one of the last to board. As I scanned the aisle for my seat I saw one empty seat next to a business man and a grumpy teenager—not my seat. The next empty seat I saw a young smiling woman next to a bearded man, as I counted the rows and got nearer I saw that it was my seat and as I looked down I saw a smiling baby in the woman’s lap. I tried to not let my disappointment and panic show as I put my bag in the overhead compartment and slid into my seat. The baby poked me with a wet finger. I smiled a forced closed lip smile at the baby and the mom and dad.

Then to my shock and delight, the baby slept the whole flight, like a quiet, adorable angel. I kicked myself for being so harsh and judgmental—airplane babies weren’t the worst. Then as we started our descent the angel baby turned into Mr. Hyde and started screaming like a tiny opera singer—except less musical and more blood curdling cries. I felt bad, poor guy’s ears must be hurting because of the change in pressure. Then he suddenly stopped crying and looked at me with a tear still caught in his eye. He opened his mouth and became the tiny baby exorcist. His mom spun him around and his puke acted like a sprinkler across the seats. She kept him pointed at her husband and the majority of the projectile dumped into his lap. Ah, the joys of parenthood. I looked down to discover that the right side of my shirt was covered in baby puke. Then, the little demon child cooed and said “uh oh” with a quivering smile. His mom and dad apologized profusely to me and offered me a package of baby wipes. I told them not to worry about it as I accepted the baby wipes—I mean what could they do about it? Though inside, I ashamedly was cursing at the baby.

I exited the plane with my half-puke covered shirt and ventured to the nearest airport shop. I bought a $25 airport shirt that said “Minnesota” and had a moose on it after the cashier gave me a strange look when I asked if they had rain jackets. I changed and wrapped the puke shirt in the plastic bag. I then bought myself a $12 airport beer and waited for my next flight, never realizing until I got home that I still had puke in my hair.

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