I used to be an asshole. An airport asshole, to be precise.
I was always a polite asshole, the kind that overanalyzed everything but never made a scene. Yesterday I traveled from Charlottesville to Nashville via Atlanta and my asshole-ness was revealed to me. I forgot I had a yogurt in my purse. The TSA agent searched my bag at the security checkpoint and displayed the offender for everyone to see. Embarrassing? Yes. But it was the I-am-sorry-but-not-really-because-seriously-lady-have-you-never-traveled-before? look on his face when he kindly but firmly rebuffed my argument that Chobani yogurts are almost solid (it’s the high protein content, no doubt) that brought it home. Here I was, flying for the first time in nearly a year, being the asshole who holds up the line, attempts to argue around the rules and inevitably loses. Never mind that I had packed all of my less than 3.4 fl oz liquids in a Ziploc bag and remembered to take my laptop out of its sleeve.
I have done a fair bit of air travel. Twelve years of annual if not bi-annual commuting back and forth between the US and France, a trip to Hong Kong, another to Japan, and even a Paris to Pointe-a-Pitre back in the days when smoking on the plan was allowed in a designated section of the main cabin. My most vivid memory of my trip to Guadeloupe? Holding my breath and crying my eyes out while swimming through a dense fog to reach the self-serve beverage cart in the back of the cabin. I’ve checked luggage; I’ve carried on. I’ve flown direct, indirect, backwards, in business class once but mostly in coach. I went five years ordering vegetarians dinner meal ahead of travel, but it turns out it is no better – or worse – than the ubiquitous pasta option.
I used to believe I had travel all figured out. I used to feel gleeful when I arrived early at the airport and was all checked in two hours before my flight. I thought I had superior knowledge of when to take the airport transit rail and when to walk based on the crowd (always walk when there are more than 3 strollers in sight, unless the men in those traveling parties are wearing Baby Bjorns). I believed I had a sixth sense for finding neglected electrical outlets nearby low traffic departure gates. My travel outfits were the best outfits, broken-in jeans and an extra pair of socks for on the plane because it’s no fun being cold on a seven-hour flight. I had no sympathy for the lady in three inch heels and my shoulders tensed up at the sight of flip flops and tube tops – no, I really don’t need to know that you just came back from a ten day cruise in the Bahamas and it was awesome.
So yesterday when my yogurt was rightfully confiscated, I was served a heaping dose of travel karma. I hadn’t hoped to sneak a yogurt past security, I forgot that yogurts were liquids and liquids greater than 3.4 fl oz are not allowed. I simply forgot. With that realization, I stopped playing travel police. I had been such an asshole to fellow travelers. I will never again sigh at the mother of two young children and three adult-size carry-on bags who doesn’t let me go by on the express walkway. I will smile at the pilots, for they may be my pilot, and at the vendors at the Sharper Image kiosk who never seem to have any costumers. I will smile at fellow travelers – well, except the ones who hole up in the glass-paneled smoking rooms of the Hartfield-Jackson airport, that’s just incomprehensible. We all get on the best we can in this life. And sometimes the best we can includes forgetting to unpack a yogurt.
I think I was ready for this lesson anyway, because I broke my travel outfit rule and wore tartan ballet flats with no socks on this trip.
We go on many journeys, but those that bring self-awareness are especially sweet.