A Terrifying yet Efficient Bureaucracy

One thing you’ve seen in the movies, even if you didn’t realize it, is the basic process of boarding a plane. It the movies you walk into the gate associated with your airline. You get a boarding pass and check your luggage. You than proceed through security and from their you move onto your gate where your plane awaits. That’s how the movies portray it. And movies are liars.

When I walked into United Airlines Terminal C at Newark international airport, I was greeted with a disorderly maelstrom . A frayed blob of travelers coalesced around what I took to be checkout desks. But they weren’t desks. They were kiosks. The ever efficient scoundrels on high had automated the whole kit and caboodle. The whole process of checking in for your flight and checking your bag was handled by a glorified self-service checkout machine. The only human you saw in the whole process was a service worker who simply read the boarding pass the machine gave out and threw your bag on a conveyor belt. That’s it. Onto security with you.

From there I went go to the TSA. Have you ever been through the TSA? There is a video game out there called Papers Please, it’s quite good, critically acclaimed actually. You play as a border guard of a dystopian communist state. You have to sort through the papers of incoming immigrants and refer paper violators and terrorists to the secret police. It quickly becomes evident however that you’re just a stepped-upon cog in a hatred and paranoia filled machine. As you sort through immigrant after immigrant, your character’s constitution slowly breaks as the red tape becomes ever more elaborate as their moral fabric frays under the strain of the draconian actions they’re forced take part in. Being a TSA agent is slightly preferable to the situation portrayed in Papers Please. And going through the TSA is slightly preferable to being a TSA agent.

As I neared the checkpoint I entered an unfathomable maze of queues. I rushed through with the crowd through corridors of canvas rope. Turn right here. Here? Why? Why are these other people going the other way? Left here. Left? What happened to right? Stay to the side here so the jackbooted man with the dog can pass. Dog? Why is there a dog? Who knows but whatever you do, DON’T TOUCH THE DOG. Here come the x-ray machines, belt of, sweater off, empty your pockets, put your bag and all of your other earthly belongings in this tray. Here now you, go through the metal detector AND KEEP YOUR HANDS OUT OF YOUR POCKETS AS YOU GO THROUGH THE METAL DETECTOR.

And then it was fine. Here I am, an hour early for my flight, sitting in front of the gate with pre-flight snack. Somehow the whole ordeal, from machine takeover to post-911 horror, moved with the efficiency of a well oiled machine. Aside from my own apprehension there was not a thing wrong in the whole wide world. Somehow the overburdened and underpaid airport workers were able to send throngs of people, speaking a myriad of different languages, exactly where they needed to go. All I had to do was watch for directions and follow the signs. And I’m sure if I had been reduced to a nervous wreck in the middle of the TSA queue, that probably wouldn’t have been to out of the ordinary in their line of work.

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