Traveling for any length of time is usually exhausting, overwhelming and oftentimes filled with apprehensions. One easily becomes disoriented from time differences, cultural dissimilarities and the like. What one does not expect is to return to a county in which one was born and raised only to be greeted by racism literally at the front door.
After a largely uneventful trip, even given the fact that three animals came with me from Tel Aviv to the U.S., I transitioned to the sounds of completely different human beings—languages and regional dialects and gibberish I had not heard in over 12 years flooded over my eardrums and assailed my psyche. Who were these people and why don’t any of them look like Israelis? Things got progressively worse when I encountered my first experience with the newly-refurbished and eager to humiliate TSA security protocols. Granted, removing one’s shoes is not humiliating per se, and I marveled at the frequent travelers who promptly removed what they were required to remove into the waiting plastic bins and moved, reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, robotlike and rapidly through their security lines to their respective boarding gates.
Things went downhill as I presented myself for inspection with a cat carrier in tow. Since he was not stuffed with heroin, x-raying him in his carrier should have been the end of it, but he wasn’t stuffed with anything having being too terrified to eat anything for the entire trip from Tel Aviv. They insisted I remove him from his carrier so that it could be sent through the x-ray machine. I told them that it took me two hours and three pints of my blood to corral him and put him in it in the first place, and that if that was what they wanted to do, we should do it in a private room to avoid his escape.
I soon found out the problem was not my cat, it was me! In my former life, I was employed by a government agency with a very unusual form of identification. It bore a striking resemblance to the credentials used by the government’s very special law enforcement agency which made sense since it was the parent agency of the security agency. This translated into never being searched by anyone in security, anywhere or anytime–ever. Now, two burly male guards insisted that two female guards, one for supervisory reasons and a female TSA employee, put me through a special security screening due to the recent implantation of a medical device which meant I could not walk through any more sensors, high tech or otherwise. Needless to say, I preferred the two male guards. For some reason, this offended the female guards and things went into a downward spiral after that. I doubt I will ever forget the sound of blue vinyl gloves being snapped on—a bit too loudly, I thought–and what was supposed to be a security check turned into a semi-mauling. I was finally deemed not to be a security risk (“sterile”) and released to the general population of people waiting for their flights in a large waiting area replete with a food court and milling throngs. For some odd reason, these were an amalgam of people–not necessarily travelers, who were encamped in the departure gate area. They were mixed in with people who had been strenuously screened, and yet, for some strange reason, they were not screened at all. (“Unsterile”). So much for shoe removal at major American flying hubs.
Upon arrival at National Airport, I debarked and made my way down the flat escalators towards the United Airlines exit. Approaching me were two male United Airlines pilots in full regalia on their way to their flights. Since I only caught a snippet of their conversation, I will have to paraphrase what I overheard the older, silver-haired pilot tell his younger compatriot loudly enough for me to hear him from some distance away on the conveyor escalator: “Blame those over-educated ‘smart Jews’ for this.” I waved at him and then told him my educational background as he sailed by, and then asked that he perform an impossible anatomical feat on himself.
You really should give pause when you find yourself in situations in which people feel emboldened enough to voice offensive racial comments in public. It was almost the catalyst for me to return to Israel that same day.
Welcome back to America, indeed.