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July 1, 2009


I have been flying more days than not lately, and sometimes the process of checking in, lining up, boarding, riding, and waiting can take 13 hours or more--door to door. During that time, there is a constant background of trudging crowds, inane chatter on overhead TVs, music, repetitive warnings, commands, bellowed cell-phone conversations, mechanical welcomes, beeps, pings, shrieks. Sometimes it all seems like an intentional insult. They're saying: You are so mindless that you're better off with the stuff we broadcast than what might otherwise be inside your brains.

On Monday, CNN was covering a live car chase on the highways near Dallas. It had been going on for a long time, and the anchor had been joined by a Texan lawman as the color commentator. The two men occasionally remarked on the seriousness of the situation. "When you have a fugitive traveling at high speed, it's never optimal." "No, we never like to see this." But the chase was entertainment gold. The whole AirTran lounge began to stare at the monitors, faces tipped upward, until the sudden end. I'm not sure exactly what happened, because I wasn't watching the last moment, but I believe the fugitive left his car and was flattened by a truck. CNN showed instant replays with somber commentary and then switched to something else.

Tuesday, another lounge in another city. I'm on the floor with my laptop plugged into a rare socket. My flight is already three hours late, heading for five. Suddenly an offstage voice with maybe an Oklahoma accent barks out: "The remains of a serviceman are being transported. It would be appropriate to stand. Active service personnel and veterans, salute! Civilians, cover your hearts with your hands!" Soon everyone is standing in clusters around the concourse windows, staring at the tarmac. "Present arms!" Paunchy guys in shorts and flipflops salute the glass.

We go back to our air-traffic delays, with maybe a sense that frenetic noise is better than silence.

July 1, 2009 7:34 AM | category: none


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