This is what not-racism looks like

Thanksgiving vacation was great, except for the traveling parts. On the way to California, I missed my flight because of ridiculous near-misses on public transportation (the Staten Island ferry, then the subway). Actually, I didn’t even miss my flight; I got to the airport at 6:02 for a 6:30 flight. Had I been able to check in online and print out my boarding pass from the hospital, I probably could have edged my way through security and onto the plane, especially since I had only carry-on luggage. But, the hospital has recently shut down Internet access at all the computers I could find, even in the library. I found one computer that had access, but no printer. I even had a flash drive and saved my boarding pass as a jpg, meaning to print it from a different computer, but literally could not find a computer that would recognize my flash drive. When I asked the librarian what was going on, all she said was, “Oh, that’s been happening.” And that was it.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I acted in a similar way to my patients. You say that you’re passing out all the time? Well, that happens. You say you’re throwing up blood? Oh, I’ve heard of that. I love that other people are allowed to not care about things not working, but doctors are not allowed to not care about things not working in people. I mean, that’s the whole basis of medicine: things don’t work and somebody’s supposed to fix them. Actually, now it just feels like customer service, albeit customer service with 16-hour workdays and, you know, actual solving of problems.

Anyway, public transportation is not as awesome as people like to pretend it is, things don’t work at hospitals, and I missed my flight. Luckily, there was another flight 2 hours later, and I was able to get a seat on it for the low, punishing rate of $50. Whatever. At that point, I went to the airport bar to get chicken fingers and lots of beer.

On the trip back to the Big City, my mom packed my carry-on luggage with a lot of food. A LOT of food. The idea was that I would eat some of it over the next few days, and the rest would keep well in the freezer. But, since I was taking it all as a carry-on, I had to go through security. When my bag went through the scanner, they called for a bag check. Fine, whatever. I had 30 minutes before boarding began on my flight, so I wasn’t too worried. The TSA bag check guy, however, took his sweet time going through every container of food, and asking me what was in each container. It was taking forever, but I was still nice about it, since I was pretty sure nothing was over 4 ounces of liquid, and also, it was FOOD, and I was about to take out a plastic fork and encourage him to taste test everything if it meant he would stop pawing through my stuff.

The kicker came, though, when he kept saying, “I’m just doing my job, ma’am. I have to do this.” I was like, “I know, it’s fine, just please hurry because my flight is boarding soon.” Then he goes, “I promise you, this isn’t discrimination against you because of your race, and I’m not judging you for the food you eat.” And I said, “I didn’t even think of that until you said it.” And you know what? It’s true. I live in a privileged world where I don’t usually encounter racism or prejudice in the bad way. The worst that happens is that people assume I play musical instruments (which I do) and that I’m good at math (which I’m not). Nobody is actually outright racist, so I generally don’t assume people are being racist. (There is much more to say about latent sort-of prejudice, like when people ask me if I “eat Chinese food every night,” to which I reply, “Yes, but at home, we just call it ‘food,’ [you dumbass].”)

The TSA guy was so awkward, too. He kept putting containers to the side and telling me I could start to repack them in their plastic bags. Then when I would reach for the containers, he would suddenly decide I couldn’t touch anything yet until he was done. This happened twice. The TSA guy decided that one of the containers that had a meat sauce was “too much liquid” and was suspiciously cold for food. When I explained that it was frozen because a 5-hour flight with frozen meat sauce makes it less likely to spoil, he very patiently told me that “when frozen things melt, they turn into liquid.” GENIUS. He wanted to throw it away, but I asked if I could leave security to hand it over to my parents, who were on their way back to the airport after they called wondering if I was at the gate yet. By the way, when they called me, I asked if I could pick up my phone while he was still searching my bag. His response was something like, “Of course. Why wouldn’t you be able to?” Oh, I don’t know, maybe because you freak out anytime I do something besides sit in the chair with my hands in my lap.

The TSA guy then called over his supervisor, and he says this to him right in front of me: “She says all this food is just for her, but I don’t believe her. This is way too much food for just one person.” The mind reels with snappy comebacks and questions in response to that statement. 1) Really, it’s all just for me. I’m just a total foodie and a fatty, seriously. 2) There is this much food because my parents really, really love me. 3) Who else could it be for? The tiny kitten hiding in my pockets? 4) What awful things could I do to the other passengers? Feed them delicious homemade Chinese food? That would be a new breed of terrorist. 4) You’re just jealous.

In order to give my parents the “unsafe” food, I had to leave security and would have to go through the screening again. And when I said that I hoped it didn’t take too long, the TSA guy said, “You could throw the food away. I have people throw away stuff all the time,” as though that would make matters better. As I was finally allowed to repack my things, I was saying that I hoped I didn’t miss my flight because this TSA search had taken a good 30 minutes, and it was now 8:55 and my flight was at 9:25. This dipshit’s response? “Well, you were already late.” UM, NO. Showing up at 8:30 for a 9:25 flight when you have no luggage and have a boarding pass is not late, it is on time. AND YOU KNOW WHAT, you are not helping.

I repacked my bag, and he says, “Follow me out — I can’t touch your bag once you’ve repacked it.” I haul my suitcase off the table, and stand there waiting for him. He then says, “GO! You need to walk in front of me!” SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE HELL? It’s not that I can’t follow directions, it’s that I can’t follow directions that are exactly opposite of each other. Repack your bag, don’t touch your stuff; follow me, walk in front of me; you’re on time, you’re already late.

I don’t hate security measures. I don’t begrudge TSA for trying to make flying safer. I like that they screen bags and scan people. But I cannot countenance incompetence that is made to seem like my fault.

In the end, my parents met me curbside and I handed over the “unsafe” food. I went through security again, went to a different line, and that bag checker did not even stop my suitcase this time. She didn’t even blink. I boarded my plane as the last person on board, crawled into my seat, and passed out for 4 hours before landing in New York. The only good travel-related encounter I had happened at 6 AM at JFK, when the guy behind the ground transportation counter saw my reaction to the $55 flat rate for taxis to Manhattan, and came out to the curb to find me and tell me about $21 SuperShuttle rides, then escorted me back inside the airport, called the shuttle for me, and kept an eye out for the shuttle driver when she arrived. It was amazing: in that busy of an airport at that inhumane a time with my people skills completely depleted and brain cells nearly all comatose, something efficient happened. That guy totally deserves a gold star. I think I thanked him, like, 5 times.

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