Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

06 Jul 2002, 17:29 p.m.

My Independence Day Story: I woke up earlier than I had…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2002 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

My Independence Day Story:

I woke up earlier than I had to, as per usual on days when I anticipate something big. I listened to some DDT while getting ready, which was easier since I'd packed the night before. (The most difficult part was finding stuff appropriate to wear to a wedding. I consulted people who happened to be in the living room watching The Godfather Part II: "Is this okay?" "Only if it's an outdoor wedding." "How about this? Aaagh! Damn these rules!")

I headed towards the BART station around seven, wanting to arrive nice and early at Oakland International for my 10:47 flight. And then I found out that the station was closed till eight, since BART was operating on a Sunday schedule. Genius. So I bargained and took a cab, finding out early on that my Punjabi pidgin-English cabdriver had only started driving a cab the previous day -- but, he assured me, "I drive to airport lots times."

He got lost a bit on the way there, but I arrived in time to zip through a two-minute line for the metal detectors and wait three hours for my flight. I listened to the radio a bit. On Pacifica, Democracy Now, I heard a reenactment of Frederick Douglass's speech, "What to the American Slave is Your Fourth of July?" Surprisingly, I could hear the UC Berkeley student station, KALX, inside the Oakland Airport, and on KALX I heard a very funny song called "Here's to the Crabgrass" from My Son the Nut, a musical (?) by one Allen Sherman. A satirical ode to suburbia: "Come, let us go there / Live like Thoreau there."

I started Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, which I've about half finished by now, and conversed a bit with a computer science grad student from Toronto who works on AI and pattern recognition.

Seen in the Oakland International Airport: A news and gifts shop called " gifts.oakland".

Seen within said shop: a book entitled Extreme Management.

Wouldn't you know it, I found myself last in line when the call to board went out, and I had a carry-on bag too large for this particular flight, so I had to check it on the jetway, and I had the special "S" on my ticket that prophecied a random secondary search.

So another Indian-looking man with bad English did a cursory hand search of my shoulder bag and carry-on-to-check. Instead of outrage or even strong dismay regarding this invasion of my personal privacy, I felt moderate dismay at the non-thorough nature of the search. I had tweezers in a first-aid kit! I could have had needles in there! He didn't even see some of the contents of my carry-on! What kind of a cargo-cult search was this?

And then the man asked me whether I wanted for him to wand me, and -- surprised at having a choice -- I declined. But then it turned out that my choice was only between being wanded by him or by a woman, so I waited a few minutes for his supervisor, who wanded me quite competently and courteously, and informed me that yes, airport security is hiring, area agency name of Huntleigh.

As the absolutely last person on the plane, I raced down the jetway.

Flash forward a few hours to the arrival in Los Angeles. I had to take a shuttle to the United Express Terminal, and on the shuttle I heard the first rumors of a shooting that had just occurred somewhere in LAX. I didn't believe it, or tried not to, but when I got to the terminal, most of the waiting passengers were anxiously watching the TV.

Frederick Douglass asked us what, to the American slave, meant the Fourth of July. One of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms was Freedom from Fear. And I had been a little afraid the whole day, flying for the first time since the September terrorist attacks. I found myself in tears whenever I read or thought about the attacks. I felt as though an essential contradiction of American existence could not go on unreconciled: we give up a little liberty for the safety that protects our other liberties, and the balance was shifting towards absurdity. In a world without peace, we can't have peace of mind, either.

And I sat near the Random Search Area, symbolically cordoned off between the restrooms and the gates, where jolly employees joked between surges of searches. I saw a middle-aged white man assuming the spread-eagle pose while a black woman wanded him, and I wondered how he felt, since his expression revealed nothing. Was he dismayed? Was he glad to be doing his part for security? Did he feel numb at The Way We Live Now?

A twenty- or thirty-minute flight got me to Bakersfield without delay, for which I was thankful, because now I'm in Frances's house with her and Leonard. I feel safe and snug and doing mundane errands in the garden and stores and soaking in a hot tub every night. They're great things, hot tubs. They, like your body, are warm, and mostly water, and they dissipate gravity.