Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 8: Sweat and Security

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  So the little baggage attendant person finishes opening the gate, and marches into the holding area to begin the search for Mom’s luggage. Mom, just trying to be helpful but perhaps misunderstanding the protocol in this place, dashes forth as well, only to have the attendant politely shove her back. No, no, Mrs. Ma’am Woman. You do not have authorized access. Please go back over there and wait with your passport-losing, automobile-destroying, very talkative family.

  Thusly, our family huddles in a concerned pack off to one side. Well, most of us huddle. Some of the youngsters are so wired for sound by now that they are thundering all over the place. And some of the oldsters are so desperate for a drink at this point that they are considering sucking down the bottles of hand sanitizers in their purses.

  This is just too much excitement for me to properly enjoy, so I head back outside, hoping that watching other families struggle to get on board properly will distract me from my own troubles. I spy Tiffany leaning against the same wall as before, only having moved roughly two inches, probably so that she could better position herself for random paparazzi photos. “Are we ever going to get on this boat?” she inquires, the expression on her face indicating that the nature of my response just might determine her sanity.

  I sigh. “I don’t know. They’re looking for the passport now. If Roni doesn’t have it, she can’t get on.” (Internally, I’m also thinking that I’m depending on a copy of my birth certificate to get myself on board, and I won’t relax about the possible failure of that whole mess until the cruise is over and we are back in Dallas. But one disaster at a time, right?)

  Tiffany nods her head slightly, a gesture that could mean she grasps the criticality of the situation but is being quietly supportive, or she’s wondering if the guy who left the intriguing comment on her Facebook wall last night really thinks she’s interesting and fun or he just wants her sexually. Such are the quandaries faced by high-fashion supermodels who are waiting for the rest of the world to figure out that’s what they are.

  We just stand for a while, because there’s really nothing else we can go until the verdict is returned by the flower-shirted baggage man. We idly stare at the same cracks in the sidewalk. We grimace at the multiples signs all over the place proclaiming “Keep track of your passport at all times, people!” We sigh as hundreds of other joyous families stomp past us, smiling happily with the comfortable assurance that their lives are completely in order.

  “I hate them,” mutters Tiffany.

  “I want to slap them,” I concur.

  Just then, Mom comes rocketing out of the baggage warehouse like she’s just been shot out of the chute at a local rodeo. “We found Roni’s passport!” Cheers erupt and there is spontaneous celebration. In the midst of the revelry, Roni determinedly wheels her chair over to Mom, snatches her passport out of Mom’s hand, and promptly shoves it at her son, Crispy. Mom has just been relieved of Passport Retention Duty.

  It’s always startling when your children turn on you, isn’t it? One day you’re throwing powder on their butt, the next day they are taking legislative action against you.

  There’s a cry of greeting, and we turn to see Terry, Darrin and Tara returning from the long-term parking lot, which is apparently based in Atlanta, considering how long it took for them to return. (And how the hell did Tara end up with them? She wasn’t driving one of the cars. But I don’t say anything because I did sort of notice that Tara had been missing quite some time ago, but I didn’t bother to follow up on it once all the excitement started with dead batteries and Mom shoving things where they didn’t belong. My bad.)

  But wait, something was still off here. “Where’s Launa?” I inquire.

  The returning trio just looked at me blankly, as if asking “Do you see a badge anywhere on our bodies identifying us as being responsible for the welfare of other human beings?”

  Well, no, I don’t, but she was with you when you left. Wouldn’t it be, oh, proper etiquette for her to still be with you when you come back? Am I missing something here?

  Tara explains. “We took the last seats on the bus. And Launa was still doing something with the van.” (Discovering forgotten travel companions?) “She’ll get on the next bus.” Then the three of them promptly moved on with their lives.

  Oh boy. I didn’t really care for such a behavior making an appearance this early in the trip. Later in the week, when we were all absolutely sick of the sight of each other, it would be understandable to leave people behind, with intentional vengeance. But right now, shouldn’t we still pretend to love one another?

  Mom stopped not paying attention and joined the conversation. “Where’s Launa?”

  Tara sighed. Good God, what do you people think we did with her? It’s not like this is an episode of Law and Order. “She should be on the next bus.” Anybody else want to ask that same question? Should I distribute a flyer?

  Mom looked at me, as if to say “This doesn’t feel right. How could you let this happen?”

  Me? I didn’t do anything, you Irresponsible Passport Person. Wait, I was one of those persons, too. I’d best opt for another response. “I guess we just wait for Launa.”

  Then everybody picked up their carry-ons and walked away, leaving me standing there.

  Hold up. How is walking away considered waiting? Do I just not speak the same language as the rest of my family?

  Tara sighed again, because having to explain things all the time was really getting tiring. “The buses from the parking lots come in down there. That’s where we going.” To wait for Launa. The person you apparently think we strangled and shoved behind a Starbucks somewhere.

  Oh. Got it. Great idea, that, waiting for someone in a place that they would show up. Good thinking.

  So we clatter our way down to the other end of the loading area, and we set up temporary camp. As each bus arrives, we personally inspect every single occupant that descends the steps. All of these people keep turning out to not be Launa. They also turn out to not be impressed with a pack of wild-eyed Oklahomans staring at them with dissatisfaction that they are not someone else.

  This goes on for a while. How many buses are there? How many parking lots? Did Launa decide that all of this was not really worth it and is somewhere on the Interstate, thumb out, ready to ride what she must in order to escape?

  Mom gets worried. “I’m gonna walk back over where we were in case Launa is there.” She starts to trottle off.

  Um, no, we don’t need another sheep straying, especially one that is not going to win any awards today for keeping track of things. “She’d have to walk past us to get there. We would have seen her.”

  Mom gives me another look, one saying “if only you hadn’t broken your lunch thermos in the second grade, none of this would be happening.” But she stayed.

  And we sweated. It was really hot out here on this concrete, a situation made even worse by all of us having to lug around over-stuffed carry-ons and other bits of business that we didn’t want baggage handlers handling. And the humidity? Ugh. (It does not yet dawn on me that if the humidity is bad now, wait until we’re in the middle of the damn ocean.)

  Tiffany catches my eye. “It’s the middle of October. I shouldn’t  be this moist in October. Do something to rectify the situation immediately.”

  “There she is!”

  All of us turn toward the latest disgorging bus, and yep, it’s Launa, trudging our way. We whoop and holler with far more exuberance than one normally expects when simply successfully exiting a bus. She looks at us and our obnoxiousness with slight suspicion, as if contemplating strolling right past as if she’s never seen us before in her life. (And I believe she even glances at Terry, Darrin and Tara with a “you couldn’t wait two seconds for me to fetch my bag of snacky peanuts out of the car?” Hmmpff.)

  Anyway, we are once again a complete unit, and we head toward what looks like the official entrance to the building. As we near, a woman sporting a Carnival outfit feels it necessary to entice travelers inside. “Come on in! It’s air-conditioned!”)

  What, does she think she’s working at a movie theater in the 1940’s?

  We stumble into the welcoming area, and notice two things. One, Home Girl at the door was right, it’s definitely air-conditioned up in here, with chilled air gushing about in a manner that is almost erotic after the heat outside. And two, there’s a serious amount of people milling about. My normal aversion to crowds awakens in my brain, stretching and yawning and hinting that things are about to get a little uncomfortable.

  We wander around a corner, following vague signs, and enter another, much larger room, and the aversion beast in my head fully awakens. There are people everywhere, jostling to get into one of several lines that lead to Carnival people checking boarding passes and identification. Beyond the checkers, there’s a twisting mess of people and baggage getting screened at 20 or so units.

  The scene you encounter when you arrive at a busy airport during peak times, and the mass of people waiting at security is overwhelming? Multiply that by a factor of five. Stir in a sizeable amount of people who think that shoving and cutting you off is perfectly acceptable behavior. And top it all with the anxiety of not being convinced that things are going to be okay with me not having a passport.

  I sigh for about the fortieth time that day.

  But we get in line. What else can you do but endure? Lo and behold, it’s not very long before there’s a general realignment of the crowd, and Terry and I notice that the lines are uneven, with one of them now being very short. (People just don’t pay attention, one of the founding principles of getting ahead in society. Take advantage of it when you can.) We dash to that line, and it’s our turn very quickly.

  We start shoving things at the woman, but all she really wants right now is a photo ID of some kind and a boarding pass. This is just the initial screening. The fun stuff comes later. We query her about my situation. What do I do if I don’t have an actual passport?

  She pauses only briefly, then primly smiles. “You’ll have to talk to the people upstairs.”

  The people upstairs? That sounds like a Wes Craven movie or something you overhear at a Baptist Revival when the offering plate comes back empty. I don’t want to talk to people upstairs, that sounds unpleasant and East Berlin-ish.

  “How do I get upstairs?”

  “Oh, you have to go through security like everybody else. They’ll look at your paperwork when you try to check in.”

  Notice her sly use of the word “try”.

  Great. So I have to claw my way through all of this mess, and I still may not be getting on the boat. Depends on the people upstairs. Yay.

  We march past Photo-ID Patty and approach one of the screeners. It’s just like the airport, you have to pile things in bins and make sure there’s not anything overly-metal on your body, like intense jewelry or Kitchen-Aid appliances. I hoist one carry-on onto the conveyor belt, and it is quickly whisked into the little tunnel. I take my laptop bag off my shoulder, and I’ve barely set it down when the belt stops moving and a hand appears on my bag. I look up to see a security person.

  “I need you to take everything out of this bag.”


  “Everything. Now.”

  What the hell?

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