It was my fate to be traveling by air on September 11th this year, and so I found myself spending a fair chunk of time today in the airport in St. Louis. This at least meant I got to mostly avoid the televised ceremonies commemorating the events of six years ago. I'm sure such things are comforting or noble for some people, but telling me I should never forget 9/11 is like reminding me I have feet.
And I sure had plenty of time to contemplate 9/11 as I was standing in a non-moving security line, de-shoeing myself, unpacking my saline solution for proper inspection, tossing my blue blazer into a filthy little tray. Or when I made my way down to gate D4 to await my flight, then walked the length of the D concourse looking for something to eat. Lambert's D wing is a ghost town, a row of shuttered bars, restaurants and newsstands followed by endless unused gates. It is thoroughly depressing to be in an empty airport on a Tuesday afternoon. There must have been some point in the not-too-recent past where this concourse was in use -- I could spot bottles on the shelves in Pastabilities, between the metal shutters -- but it's totally dead now.
I hear it said sometimes that despite the war in Iraq, the American people have not been asked to make any sacrifices to aid the effort, but this seems wrong to me. We're all making sacrifices, every time we have to take our shoes off or throw out bottles of hand lotion for no good reason at all. It's merely an inconvenience, but it adds up: on my way to St. Louis this past Sunday, the two-hour flight was less than half of my total travel time. The number of man-hours being wasted on this stuff is astronomical, and that's before you ask the airline industry about any sacrifices it's had to make.
I think of these hings as wartime sacrifices because instead of developing a coherent, efficient, intelligent anti-terrorism campaign, our government decided to invade Iraq instead. And rather than devote any planning to stopping another 9/11, they just decided to wait for lunatics to develop unworkable crackpot schemes, then stop every air traveler from ever having the chance to confirm that it wouldn't succeed. (On my way to St. Louis, I had a can of Edge, a gel that turns into a foam, confiscated because of the threat it posed to my fellow passengers. I doubt there's a single person in the entire TSA who could explain that one.)
I have no idea what the scanners are looking for when they examine my shoes, but whatever it is, I bet you could take 1 percent of the budget for the Iraq War and develop something that could detect that substance without me having to run around an airport in my socks (and, later, in untied shoes while I look for a place to sit down). Oh, well, I guess I'm just doing my patriotic duty. Semper Fi.