Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why am I surprised?

Written 25 August 2008

We’re travelling again. The Honda is still in the shop, but Bertha has recovered (and at about half of what we expected to pay) so she was our chariot to the airport early Friday afternoon.

Even though we don’t live in the US, we still have to deal with airport security. Just like in American airports, we have to queue up, put our hand luggage through an x-ray unit, and step through metal detectors before being allowed to enter a boarding lounge. And so it happened, a queue of impatient people gathering behind me wanting to get to their boarding gates, and I beeped going through the metal detector. The unsmiling guard directed me to “wait right here” until a female security agent could search me.

I retrieved my handbag from the x-ray machine and the guard scowled at me, so I returned to the spot he had designated for me to wait. A few seconds later a smiling black woman approached me and began to pat me down. And suddenly I was jostled…first lightly, then firmly…and then I was shoved most unceremoniously by a scrawny little hunched over man who was muttering something about me being in his way…as if I had chosen to park myself in his path…and as if he couldn’t see a large uniformed black woman running her hands all over my body. And it really wasn’t that I was in his way…I was exactly where I was supposed to be…he simply was unwilling to stay in his own line to the end of the x-ray conveyor and was trying to go around the people who were taking their turns. Unfortunately for him, the security agent has stationed my not inconsiderable bulk beside his queue for her search.

“That was really rude!” I said to the security agent, who appeared to be as surprised as I was, but the culprit ignored me. Like a twitching little weasel, he scurried over to the end of the x-ray machine and began collecting items, at one point reaching his arm across my husband’s body to retrieve something…Hubby was collecting our hand luggage, his pocket goods, and our laptop from the end of the x-ray machine while I was being patted down by security. Nothing that even vaguely resembled an apology came out of his pursed lips, either to me or Hubby.

The security lady finally decided it was probably the underwires in my bra and waved me onward. We headed down the concourse and found our boarding lounge, only to find Mr. Weasel already there. Being in our boarding lounge signified he was booked on our flight and, since we had at least half an hour until boarding, it was obvious that his ill-mannered rush at security was not motivated by an urgent need to make a departing plane, it was just self-centred boorishness. I found myself hoping the little weasel would try shoving his way past one of the bullishly built rugby fans that were on our flight to Durban as we queued up to board, but they called us to board by row numbers, so the gnomish Mr. Weasel was unfortunately able to board unmolested.

Three hours later, we were deplaning in Durban. Ordinarily, Hubby and I wait until the plane is nearly empty before we leave our seats and take down our carry on luggage, and this was no exception. As we were seated in the 24th of 29 rows, it wasn’t long before the traffic past our seat thinned to a trickle and I stepped up to take our bags from the overhead bin (I was in the aisle seat). I try to be as polite a person as I can, so I did not step into the aisle and block it, but unbeknownst to me, my handbag was protruding out into the aisle. Instead of calling it to my attention, a sturdily built blonde woman tried to shove past me, nearly knocking me over. In a struggle to keep my balance, I thrust myself back upright…causing my bag to protrude back out into the aisle…and she said, testily “I’m trying to get past!” Well, I’m sorry, but the plane isn’t going to take off again with you still on it and a simple “Excuse me, you are blocking the aisle with your handbag,” would have resulted in an immediately cleared aisle and an apology!

Ironically, ShoveyPushy Woman and I met again at the baggage carousel where my bags were among the first out and hers…well who knows when hers showed up? There was no need for her great hurry, no reason for her rude pushiness, other than an urgent desire to get out of the plane before some people in the aisles ahead of her.

The return was no better. My husband, an ordinarily laid-back sort of gent who is normally difficult to ruffle, actually left our seats to go stand near the boarding gate because of an uncommonly annoying boy. He looked to be about 12…certainly old enough to know how to behave in a public place…and he had a soccer ball in a plastic shopping bag. He wandered up and down in front of our row of seats, his parents completely oblivious, kicking that soccer ball through the bag. Since the bag was in his hand, the ball did not leave the vicinity, giving us some respite. No, the ball never moved more than a few inches, allowing him to kick it over and over and over again. Thwack thud thwack thud thwack thud…endlessly.

Hubby and I took up a position near the boarding gate and turned our backs on the annoyance. A few minutes later a black soccer ball rolled past, and a few minutes after that, I saw the ball impact the shoulder of a fellow passenger. Hubby moved us again while I kept a jaundiced eye on that ball. The boy was bouncing it off one of the support pillars of the building, completely ignored by his family: his parents were reading and his teenaged sister, badly bleached blonde and dressed in obscenely tight white capris, a pink and black designer top (at least it said Chanel on the front) and a white bra…the straps were tackily exposed by the racer-back design of her shirt…was busily picking the zits on her face.

Because the support pillars were cylindrical, the kid was unable to anticipate where the ball was going to rebound to and, as a result, the ball was akin to an unguided missile. As it sailed past us on one occasion I leaned to Hubby and said “If that ball hits either of us, it’s mine!” He nodded, obviously as weary of the kid’s antics as I was.

Durban is a hot and humid place and even though the boarding lounge was air conditioned, it was muggy and uncomfortable in there. Boarding was delayed by half an hour, so passengers were grumpy and restless, and when they began boarding the plane by seat number, people began to queue up in anticipation of their number being called. I kept looking out the window onto the tarmac (there are no jetways at Durban’s airport) trying to find the distinctive bright green paint job of a Kulula plane, but despite a steady stream of people walking out the boarding gate and out of sight to the right, I could not locate our aircraft. A wholly irrational frisson of fear trilled down my spine…or sort of a Twilight Zone moment…as I watched fellow passengers file confidently out the door into the unknown.

Our turn came and we made our way out the door and turned right. Somehow I had expected to see the distinguishing green of a Kulula plane out there, but nothing. “Where’s our plane?” I asked Hubby. He nodded towards a blue and white 737 to which the passengers from our lounge were streaming. “That must be it.”

It had nothing on it! Just white paint over dark blue. No insignia, no company name, nothing at all. To call it “nondescript” would be banal, but that is exactly what it was. There was no way to tell if it was a commercial plane, a privately-owned jet, or a government craft. That frisson of fear tickled my spine again, this time feeling not quite so irrational.

When we took our seats the first thing I noticed was how hot the plane was. I reached up to adjust the little air-blower thingie and encountered a solid clear plastic panel covering the reading lights and no air nozzles. A flight attendant was standing nearby and I asked her how to adjust the air…she reached up to the plastic panel, bumped her hand on it, did a double take, then said “I guess they don’t have them on this aircraft.” Very comforting thought…the flight attendant doesn’t know how our airplane works…

No air conditioning…29 rows of 6 passengers each…174 souls plus crew crammed into a narrow aluminium cigar sitting on the black tarmac of the Durban…hot, humid Durban…airport and the air conditioning doesn’t come on until the plane is underway. What genius thought that up? OK, granted the plane’s designers couldn’t know it would sit on the tarmac in sweltering conditions, but whatever made them think that 174 people of varying sizes, shapes and metabolisms would be comfortable at a single uniform temperature and only then after the plane was fully boarded and under way? Calling them unthinking morons would seem to be an understatement.

We were seated in aisle 12…an exit row. Why didn’t the check-in agent ask us if we would take exit row seats? OK, Hubby is a sturdy fellow who can easily lift the 45 lb (20kg) emergency door and the emergency rows do have more leg room, but at what cost? For one thing my handbag…with my money, ID, good jewellery, and diabetic emergency supplies for Hubby…was not allowed under the seat ahead of me like on normal rows. I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable with my handbag being stowed in a place easily accessed by a lot of strangers. Secondly, the seats in our row did not recline, which made for a very uncomfortable flight. And third, the plane was absolutely booked full, so we were stuck with these seats as there was no place to which to move us.

The plane was full of rugby fans who had flown to Durban for a game against Australia. South Africa lost, but it didn’t stop the guys from drinking and carousing as if we had won. SoccerBoy was someplace else on the plane, thankfully, but the rugby okes did their best to make up for his absence, the thrumming silence of the plane frequently broken by loud yips and yells. I tried to sleep but between the stiffly upright seat, the inability to regulate the temperature, the turbulence, and the sound effects from the rugby crowd, all I could do was doze. By the time we got to Cape Town I was exhausted, cranky, and had a stiff neck.

Bertha was waiting for us where we left her and sinking into her cushy leather seats was an unmitigated delight. The doggies were hysterical with joy at our return and it was with great relief I sank down into the comfort of my own bed. After a solid night’s sleep I was back to my own cheerful self, but now I find myself wondering…

Why do I continue to expect even the barest of courtesies from people I meet outside my house? Do I set myself up for disappointment by expecting people to wait their turn, politely ask me to step aside if I am blocking their progress, restrain their children from being public nuisances? Should I expect this kind of rudeness as a matter of course now? And if I do, won’t that turn me into a dour old cynic…someone I find miserable, pathetic and pitiable?

What has happened to the barest minimum of courtesy and politeness in public? And why, after all these years, do I continue to be surprised when confronted with the rude and uncivil?


  1. I share your bewilderment. The one thing that annoys me most is if I happen to be in the way in a supermarket isle, and instead of a polite "excuse me", all I get is loud sighing or shoving!

    Unfortunately common courtesy is not so common anymore!

  2. Sad to say but manners and courtesy seem to be restricted to just a very small percentage of the population. It's enough to make you an elitist.

  3. I just give my best side of me and never ask people to do the same to me. That way, i will not be disappointed when other people do something rude to me. That way i can live my life more peacefully. I dont have expectations on people. Not when i have no control over it.

  4. In the words of the great Hannibal Lector, "I only eat the rude...." :D Don't blame the man at all!!!


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