December 28, 2013
Going through airport security is an inherently terrifying and degrading experience, particularly if you happen to be a sleep-deprived paranoiac with neck tattoos and a penchant for hobbies that tend to veer on the grey side of the law. I wash my baggage and thoroughly clean my wallet and cards before traveling, and still get nervous when they swab my hands, boots and passport for residual traces of cocaine and Semtex. I never have anything that could potentially get me hauled into some dimly-lit back room for hours of strippings, beatings and interrogations - but it terrifies me regardless. Who knows what the hell I touched on the Skytrain during the ride there? Did I step in something as I was wading through the ankle-deep detritus of cats and leftover party supplies whilst leaving the house? Had I unknowingly fondled some kind of makeshift crackpipe between my front door and the departure terminal? I can’t remember what airport security was like pre-9-11; I don’t remember much of traveling as a child. People used to get away with weird shit like smoking in airplanes and rolling through security hiding kilos of heroin behind a couple of folded shirts in their carry-on luggage, and now nail clippers are confiscated as potential edged weapons and Naked X-Ray scans are a norm. Only a moron - or a particularly desperate moron - would consider the hideous shit-rain of grief and misery from actually being caught with anything worth the gamble.
Oddly enough, the last few times I’ve shown up at an airport looking like a ludicrous caricature of a lesbian vegan anarchist - all-black tactical ensembles, military boots and shaved, tattooed skull - I’ve been nonchalantly waved through the gates while the conservative blond mother behind me has her baby bags torn apart and her hair searched with a flashlight for razorblades. My passport photo looks like a particularly gruesome mugshot of a rapist ripped to the tits on PCP. It seems possible, eventually, to tip the sliding scale of suspicion to such a point that all they have to do is look at you, shake their heads and think, ‘too easy.’
My flight was delayed, so I went to find booze. Some of the strangest folk you’ll see in various states of inebriation lurk the corners of drinking holes in international travel hubs; at the right time of night and in the right type of psychic climate, any airport bar has the potential to be the Mos Eisley Spaceport cantina. I sat down, ordered a caesar and a coffee with a shot of whisky in it, and unwittingly made a brief friendship with a South African cruise ship worker who felt comfortable enough with his anonymity after twenty minutes of idle chatter to drunkenly confide to me that he may have contracted HIV cheating on his wife in Brazil. ‘Those favela girls,’ he told me, ‘they like the foreigners, you know?’ I nodded in acknowledgment, sucking down half of my caesar.
Within the last few years, YVR has purged itself of all smoking lounges on the premises - the goal being not only to remove the mere sight of someone holding a cigarette, but to establish to an international audience that Vancouver is a HEALTHY city, a city that refuses to abide its citizens and those visiting it to poison themselves with anything other than exorbitantly-taxed alcohol. Soon, post security rape-conga, it will be mandatory to attend a twenty-minute hot yoga class before boarding the flight itself. Reusable Lululemon bags emblazoned with inspirational slogans will be handed out to participants while Japanese businessmen vomit in corners and roaming children gnaw on pots of wheatgrass. It makes perfect sense: deprive drunk, panicked nicotine addicts of a safe place to alleviate their increasingly desperate withdrawal symptoms - and then, once they’ve slipped into a weeping, incoherent rage-funk, herd them onto a cramped, pressurized aluminum tube, strap them to a chair and ply them with more booze. For twelve hours.
If the small child sitting on your lap is pulling the hair and kicking the seat of the adult in front of you and screeching for juice refills in between stumbling jaunts up and down the aisles, you’ve failed as a parent. It’s not like anyone expects the person in charge of the creatures to slit their throats to keep them from screaming - their ears hurt, and their nervous systems are too primitive and underdeveloped to react in any other fashion - but at the very least, they can be prevented from physically abusing the grown-ups around them on top of the psychic torture of the noise pollution. We rank higher than them on the food chain. Respect is demanded.
The Oatmeal’s suggestion of a soundproof child-only kennel tucked away in the backs of international flights is still a massive leap forward in social technology I’d very much like to see implemented. For those traveling on a budget with either a high pain tolerance or a tar-black masochistic streak, any remaining seats in the Toddler Ghetto for a half-day international flight could be filled with relative ease. I can picture it now; the plane lands, the well-rested Elite in First Class file out, followed by the small, contented crowd in Economy Plus, followed by the weary, spine-aching and exasperated rabble from Coach - and, at the very end, a daycare’s worth of shrieking larval monsters stampeding out in front of bedraggled caregivers staggering along behind them, followed by a weeping contingent of dead-eyed callow youth ranging the spectrum of unfortunate dreadlock situations. It’s a set of circumstances where nobody traveling economy truly wins - but everybody manages to lose just a tiny bit less.
What I saw of Hong Kong outside the airport windows was obscured by thick blankets of smog swirling over piles of garbage in the looming darkness - though I’m sure it’s lovely come springtime. A greasy herd of human bodies shuffled through the gates to their connecting departures like zombies, mumbling darkly. I hadn’t brushed my teeth or slept in 36 hours, and I shuffled amongst them, drooling on myself and moaning. A small child lurched in circles, screeching, the noise rising and falling like a siren, snot bubbles frothing out of its nose. Its owner was nowhere to be seen. The line stretched on into the bottleneck of the security checkpoint like an Auschwitz cattle car. Everything was terrible. I was waved through in a bleary-eyed cotton-mouthed funk and stumbled straight into a bewildering array of duty-free boutiques selling high-end watches and 2,000$ bottles of scotch, designer scarves and overpriced chocolates. None of this interested me; I wanted bottled water and toothpaste. My needs were simple and cheap, and therefore uncatered to. Holy shit, is that a store selling nothing but Japanese candy?
Turning a blind corner, I found a kiosk stocking basic supplies before darting into a conveniently placed nearby metal box to huff toxic fumes in a shameful, rigid silence with everyone else. Scuttling in and out, eyes darting like cockroaches, staring blankly at the sports-thing being broadcast in Chinese to avoid the awkwardness of forced conversation or interaction of any kind. ‘I’m not a smoker,’ I whispered to the man next to me. He avoided eye contact and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The air around us was blue with formaldehyde particles. I waved my Djarum in his face solemnly. ‘I only smoke these. They taste like Christmas.’ I inhaled, shooting thick jets of smoke out of my nose like a dragon. He took a drag of his cigarette, frowning into the ashtray. ‘Want some Japanese candy?’ He ignored me. I shrugged, cramming half the pack of Hi-Chews into my mouth. At this stage in the game, my brain needed the sugar. I lurched up and out of the box towards my departure gate.
A major fear amongst tourists traveling to Thailand seems to be the paranoia of arriving, unmolested, to your tropical paradise holiday, confidently striding up to the luggage carousel to claim your bag - only to learn that some mischievous bastard has somehow planted ten pounds of uncut heroin in your suitcase between connecting flights, and the frowning men surrounding you and brandishing nightsticks are now expecting a detailed explanation. Unfounded fears of being made an unwitting drug mule notwithstanding, Thai Air is quite easily one of my new favourite airlines. Bottomless alcohol refills, pleasant service, decent food, and a colourful interior layout that makes the cabin look like the inside of a giant Easter egg. Due to civil unrest, rioting and general mass chaos currently washing through Bangkok, tourism has dropped sharply; in response, the airlines go just that little bit further to accommodate the Farang passing through the city’s gates.
Greg picked me up at the airport. He’s currently teaching in Greece, but made it over for the new year to see all of us. A wall of steam slammed into me the second I stepped out of the train, and we wandered down a set of stairs and into a bubblegum-pink taxi. I was too stupid at this point to do anything but gawp at the riot of lights, colour and irresponsible driving all around us; it was roughly 24 hours past my bedtime. Snax Klub was reunited at Ronna’s apartment, upon which all three of us promptly passed out. Tomorrow was a new day.