Escape from New York; I Got Cut Off on a Flight to Vegas

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The mood of New York City has resembled nothing so much as an Irish wake these last few weeks, and an ongoing Irish wake is as close to a vision of hell as anything I ever saw on acid, so I decided to hop a plane to Vegas. I have a lot of friends in Las Vegas, and it's a city that keeps its priorities straight regardless of war, famine or plague.

My friend Barbara and I went to see Apocalypse Now Redux on Saturday, Oct. 6, and on the 7th I flew. I watched the bombing of Afghanistan cut loose from the airport bar, as good a place as any to be for the commencement of World War III.

There's been a lot of blather lately about "enhanced security measures" at the airports. I can tell you that it is nothing but blather, blather and window dressing. Oh sure, there are lots of fresh-faced young National Guard troops standing around in their crisp new fatigues carrying loaded weapons, and there was a very studly air marshal standing guard at the security check. I made it a point to leave my Swiss Army knife at home after hearing that a pilot on a recent flight had his mustache clippers confiscated.

But the reality is that they gave my clunky old Nokia phone only the most cursory of glances, apparently unaware of the four-shot .22 caliber cellphone gun that hit the market last year; they didn't check my Zippo, which can be modified to fire a single .22; and they didn't even make me open my iBook, which for all they know contained just enough circuitry to pass muster with the $8-an-hour wonder manning the X-ray machine and perhaps enough C4 to blow a good-sized hole in the side of the plane. They didn't even bother to check the box of cigarettes that sailed past the X-ray and metal detection boxes, along with my Zippo in one those little Tupperware containers they shove at you. I'm sure that the suitcase I checked wasn't examined at all.

None of this really matters to me. I'm a New Yorker, I could get capped in the head going out for a quart of milk or pushed in front of a train by Cracky. Life is full of risks. I just find it amusing in a sick sort of way that anyone would fall for this overcooked tripe about "security." The airlines have consistently been at the cutting edge of the total decline of customer service in this country, and I doubt that any tragedy of any magnitude is going to alter that. Pan Am Flight 103 got blown out of the sky over Lockerbie by an unaccompanied Libyan suitcase bomb, and there's no reason to believe that someone couldn't pull off an identical atrocity today.

The airport bar was half-empty, and all five tv sets were tuned to a football game. I'd been listening to coverage of the war on 1010 WINS as I drove to the airport. I was a little shocked that after the long wait for some kind of visible retaliation for the atrocious events of Sept. 11, my fellow Americans were more interested in the antics of a bunch of overpaid pugs chasing a ball around in a big field.

I managed to persuade the bartender to switch one of the sets over to CNN just in time for the debut of Osama bin Laden's prerecorded address to the world. If I saw this guy in a movie or a tv drama I'd complain that the character was a two-dimensional racist caricature of an Arab villain. Not only does life imitate art, it frequently imitates bad art. This guy is a wacko cartoon villain, gaunt and solemn, uttering pronouncements and promises of doom with all the sepulchral intonations of Boris Karloff portraying Fu Manchu. He didn't have one word to say about Palestine prior to the atrocities of 9/11, and now he's trying to link his depravity with the Palestinian cause. It's like Jeffrey Dahmer claiming that he was rebelling against processed food.

I boarded the plane without incident and took my window seat next to a nice couple from Jersey. She had her arm in a sling, and as the plane was rather sparsely populated, I moved to an aisle seat one row up after we got to our cruising altitude. I had a couple of bloody marys and wound up being drawn into a conversation about religion by a Jehovah's Witness. I pointed out that I had lived in close proximity to Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn, and that I felt that the Witnesses are good citizens and good neighbors. That said, I began to elucidate somewhat on the consistent mistranslation of the first verse of Genesis and its relation to Gnostic Christian belief and the Gnostic idea of the Archons.

In retrospect, this was clearly a mistake. This guy's wife got up and vanished into the rear of the plane, and shortly thereafter I was brusquely informed that I had been "cut off," i.e., no more booze. Okay, I figured, I'm fine with that, I can't smoke anyway, might as well take a nap.

When I debarked in Vegas, they had three cops waiting for me. Three became one as soon as they realized that I wasn't really drunk and obviously posed no form of threat to public safety or order. My return ticket was ungraciously refunded by the Continental Airlines clerk, and I informed her on my way out that she's just one step up from a telemarketer and might have a future in fast food if she works up her people skills and her elocution.

I had no trouble retrieving my suitcase. No one even checked to make sure that it was, in fact, mine. I sailed off into the Las Vegas night delighted to be in the City of Light, an island of sanity in a world gone mad.

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