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Flying While Irish
With that out of the way, I'd like to say this: Canadian author Rohinton Mistry is a big fucking baby.
Mistry canceled his U.S. book tour in early November after he was pulled aside for supposedly "random" security searches before boarding a handful of flights. Mistry, born in India, believed he was singled out because of his race. Although he admits to seeing "other" passengers searched (read: white passengers), Mistry insists this was done "only to keep up a facade of randomness."
One of the events that Mistry canceled was a reading at Seattle's Town Hall. To protest Mistry's treatment at the hands of those drooling racists who poke through people's bags at U.S. airports, the Elliott Bay Book Company hosted a public reading of Mistry's work on November 11. Seattle liberals came together to cluck their tongues about the evils of racism and bask in the glow of their own high-mindedness and shared commitment to anti-racist airline boarding policies.
But guess what? Mistry wasn't singled out because of his race. He was singled out because he was on a book tour. How do I know this? Because at the exact same time that Mistry was flying around the U.S. promoting his new book, I was flying around the U.S. promoting my new book Skipping Towards Gomorrah. I'm not dark-skinned and, unlike David Shields, I don't appear to be Semitic--and guess what? I was searched in every airport I passed through. My bags were turned inside out, my shoes were inspected, I was patted down, I had to empty my pockets, I was made to open and sip from the bottle of water I carried. And, yes, it was a huge pain in the ass.
Unlike Mistry and Shields, I couldn't leap to the conclusion that my race was the reason I was being singled out. It was highly unlikely that Irish Catholics were being subjected to racist "random" searches. It didn't take me long to uncover the reason I was being searched--and the reason that Mistry and Shields were being searched. We were all authors on book tours, flying all over the country on one-way tickets that we didn't purchase ourselves. The 9/11 hijackers, you'll recall, were flying on one-way tickets, tickets they didn't purchase for themselves. And according to information freely distributed by the airlines, people flying on one-way tickets should expect, as a matter of course, to be searched.
The kind of airport screenings that Mistry, Shields, and I were all subjected to probably won't prevent the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil, which, as Shields points out, is unlikely to be a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. (Of course, those al Qaeda bastards must know that it would be a huge blow to the air travel industry, the U.S. economy, and our faith in the federal government's ability to protect us if they managed to pull a similar attack.) The screenings are a sort of performance art, meant to put air travelers at ease. "It won't happen again," the pat-downs assure nervous fliers, "no box cutters are getting on this flight!"
Unlike Shields, the screenings I was subjected to didn't make me sad or mad; and unlike Mistry, the searches I was subjected to didn't make me cancel my book tour in a snit--and I was subjected to a hell of a lot more of them than either Shields or Mistry, as my book tour took me through 22 cities. Instead I figured if I was going to be searched every time I got on a flight, I would make the best of it. I had coach seats (Stephen King and Dave Barry fly first class, the rest of us fly in coach), but when they called the first-class fliers to board, I marched my about-to-be-searched ass up to the front and told the gate agent that I was flying on a one-way ticket and wanted to get my search out of the way. Not only did I get to board earlier, but grateful gate agents bumped me up to first class twice.
Finally, since I wasn't stewing about being searched, I was able to do something that Mistry and Shields apparently didn't bother with--see the working-class folks whose job it was to open my bags, inspect my shoes, and dig through my dirty clothes for what they were: hard-working folks doing a job I wouldn't want to do. Far from racist goons intent on harassing fliers, most of the men and women who searched me seemed like nice enough people. One screener had even read my book. And like a lot of people who work in airports, most of them were African American and Hispanic.