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Scenes from an airplane - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2006-10-14 03:35
Subject: Scenes from an airplane
Security: Public
Tags:personal, travel
Couple of things to note about Thursday night's red-eye to DC...

I'm not accustomed to being objectified in face-to-face encounters. I'm 5'11" (1,80m) tall, I'm white, I speak unmarked/mainstream US English. Service people perk up when I walk into stores, I don't get run down on the sidewalk by other pedestrians, I am granted a degree of automatic credibility in most encounters -- all the unspoken privileges of being mainstream, white, male and reasonably tall in American society. (Yes, these are occasionally offset by my choice of hairstyle and wardrobe, but those are conscious choices on my part.)

So lillypond and I were at the head of the security line at PDX Thursday night, shoving our belongings into the x-ray machine, when this guy walks past us and tries to go through the metal detector. The TSA gal monitoring the scanner stops him and tells him to put his cell phone, etc. into the x-ray machine, then says, "Also, if you're going to skip ahead in the line, you need to ask the people in front of you."

His reaction bordered on the bizarre. He didn't acknowledge what she'd said verbally, though he did stick his stuff by the machine. He wouldn't look at me or lillypond even though I was trying to catch his eye (at first, to tell him I didn't care). She told him the same thing twice more, and he simply didn't respond. If I hadn't been in the middle of the security zone, I would have grabbed his arm and said, "Am I a real human being to you?" -- his affect wasn't troubled or confused, it was "I'm too important for this line shit."

Mr. Big Time was eventually sent back in the line, where I think they pulled him over to the 'SSSS' line -- that's the latex-gloves, "please hold perfectly still, sir" line. He certainly didn't reappear while we were clearing security. I was absolutely fascinated by how he had utterly depersonalized me and my sister, for the sake of his own convenience.

Sadly, the moral of the story isn't that it's a bad idea to objectify your fellow human beings (what was I going to do about it?), the moral is don't ignore security people who have the power to detain you more or less indefinitely.

On the other side of security, my toothpaste was seized. Turns out the three-ounce rule (which I hadn't thought about because I normally check my toiletries in my main luggage) applies to labelling, not contents. I had a pathetically empty six-ounce tube of Colgate, which was deemed a threat to airline security, though I have to say the TSA guy who appropriated my toothpaste was quite funny about it.

Later, while on final approach to DCA (Washington National Airport), my flight was ordered off while they closed the airspace for about 75 minutes so the USAF Thunderbirds team could practice a Pentagon flyover in connection with the new Air Force memorial being dedicated this weekend. I had well over an hour of looking down at Northern Virginia farmland and suburbs, chatting with my delightfully interesting seatmate Jorge about the boutique hotel business, while lillypond (who'd been on a different flight and arrived just before the closure) and my mom cooled their heels in the airport. I have to say I don't quite understand the logic of shutting down a major airport in the middle of a business day for well over an hour so a few F-16s can hotrod around, but maybe that makes me a Bad American or something.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2006-10-14 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You were there and I was not, but from your story it sure appears that the OhSo Important Person who zipped ahead of you in line would likely have done that to anyone, so he was not invisiblizing (howzat for a new word?) you in particular.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-10-14 15:25 (UTC)
Subject: being invisible
On the outside I am a short chubby grandma. Invisible. On the inside I am an endurance athlete.

There are two shoestores in my part of town where I can buy my walking shoes. In one I have always been greeted and served as an important customer. (sometimes us grandmas have discretionary income y'know...) They care about my marathoning and are always happy to see me. A variety of clerks, not just someone who happens to know me.

At the other I am invisible. If there is someone younger, stronger, or more stylishly dressed within a block I might as well not go in. So I dont anymore.

Being invisible is pretty strange, but it happens a lot.

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Kelly Green
User: saycestsay
Date: 2006-10-15 03:29 (UTC)
Subject: Re: being invisible
I've been shouldered aside and ignored so often that I find I've grown quite assertive (took me a minute to decide on that word!). I'm tall and fat and hard to ignore unless you just have that much privilege on your brain that you just don't see me. Which happens with far too much frequency.
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S Lynn
User: robling_t
Date: 2006-10-16 10:06 (UTC)
Subject: Re: being invisible
I'm short and stocky, and lately I've had to resort to a lot of pushing back and knocking shoulders when people try to walk through me rather than momentarily fall back behind their two-and-three-abreast strolling companions. I'd start muttering about "kids today", but I'm only 36 and half of 'em are soccer-moms my age... {sigh}
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Jen Volant: eyes
User: tacithydra
Date: 2006-10-14 23:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I almost wonder if the guy had some kind of mental issue... not to excuse all the asses in the world, but even if you are A Very Important Person, what are you doing trying to prove that in the middle of an airport security line?

Perhaps he's just recently gotten it into his head that if he's A Very Important Person then he can invisibilize people at whim, and the universe is now in the process of disabusing him of that notion.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2006-10-15 19:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This reminds me of the maxim that anyone who has to demand "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" usually is someone who thinks he's a lot more important than he really is.
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Jen Volant: eyes
User: tacithydra
Date: 2006-10-15 20:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Which in turn reminds me of the apocryphal service-person's revenge story, in which the ticket-person/waiter/register-jockey turns to the world at large and announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please! There is someone at the head of the line who has forgotten who he is - if anyone knows the identity of this person, please step forward!"
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Sherwood Smith
User: sartorias
Date: 2006-10-15 04:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Plain middle-aged woman--guaranteed invisible. I won't shop anywhere that doesn't have "take a number" because I get so tired of being cut in front of, and if I try to speak up, abused nastily. In fact, I don't like to shop or deal with crowds period.
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Rose Fox
User: rosefox
Date: 2006-10-15 09:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's interesting, reading these comments. I don't generally get snubbed in such a fashion, but I think that's mostly due to my customer service background: I know how to present myself as a customer who will be enjoyable and easy to help, which nine times out of ten is what customer service people are looking for. I'm also not at all shy about approaching salespeople if I have a question, and prefer not to be approached by them (I'm quite capable of reading the signs all by myself, thanks), so if I'm being treated as though I'm invisible, I probably vaguely register it as a lack of annoying pushiness and otherwise don't notice not being noticed. *)
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User: mevennen
Date: 2006-10-15 12:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't get that much, although some waiters and bar staff are good at professionally ignoring people, in which case they find me suddenly standing beside them asking them to take my order. It's extremely rude. I'm sorry you had an experience with such an arsehole.
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User: yourbob
Date: 2006-10-15 19:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Though taller at over 6'4", I present somewhat like yourself except for a more 'conservative' look - but I am routinly invisible. I am also the one people walk in front of when walking across a line (queue). I'm the one cashiers choose to take a break just before. I'm the one where they choose to change the register tape just before. I'm the one they answer the phone during. I'm routinely ignored in stores, even stores that sell on commission.

I've never been able to figure out if I'm ignored because I'm scary. And if the little shits that cut me off are trying to prove themselves.
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premature anti-fascist: hedgehog
User: anansi133
Date: 2006-10-15 20:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This makes me think of Larry Niven's Gift From Earth: as I read the comments, I remember how often I become invisible in a retail envirnment. It's not my looks, I'm a six foot white male. It's my agoraphobia. I think it's obvious at a subliminal level that I would rather not be there, so I'm treated as if that were so.
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