Thursday, January 24, 2013

Planes Trains and Automobiles

For the past week and continuing through the weekend I’m on the road.  Like the mediocre movie starring John Candy and Steve Martin – my journey includes all forms of transport.  I’ve never been a fan of the TSA or the ‘security’ procedures at airports, and now I’m even less enamored.  The level of inconsistency is beyond head scratching.
I took Amtrack’s Pacific Surfer from San Diego to Los Angeles – a three hour ride past California’s coast.  Through a confluence of absent-mindedness and confusion, I had booked a 10:50am ticket but had convinced myself I was on the 9:15am.  I arrived at the station – stood in the Business Class line for 3 minutes and boarded with the porter looking at the ticket only to confirm I wasn’t a coach class ticket trying to get into the comfier seats.  Several stops into the ride another porter checked the ticket and not a word that I was hours early.  Had I hung out in the rest room or moved between cars, it would have been rather easy to travel without paying.  Nobody checked my bags, I didn’t have to pull out my laptop or carry only 3 ounces of liquids and I was able to stay fully clothed.  These procedures stand in stark contrast to my flights.
Airport after airport my bags and my person are searched.  A full body x-ray is done by equipment that the government is now discontinuing due to its invasiveness.  So you know its gotta be bad when Congress has determined something is too invasive.  New “enhanced” security measures require passengers to engage in conversation with the ticket verifiers.  I’m not sure whether this is as much a way to ensure safety or combat boredom of the staff. 
Renting a car now requires both a mailing and a physical address.  Why?  What’s the point in having an address that’s 3000 miles from where the car would be?  “It’s required sir.”  Good luck in finding me at One Main Street.
Last year 30.2 million people rode Amtrack There are approx.. 150 million vehicles in the U.S.  Over 900 million people fly. Statistically, then, it’s clear that in terms of volume, flying is king.
The events of September 11, 2011 evidence the dangers of a high-jacked airplane.  It’s true that since then there have been no further incidents.  I’m not sure whether that’s due to awareness by fellow travelers or the security measures or some combindation.  Nobody has been able to show, however, that having to undress, and only travel with a few drops of shampoo does anything other than provide a cosmetic show of force given those very same things are ok in all other ways of getting from point a to point b.
If security was indeed the goal then Israeli style tactics would be in place – where every piece of luggage is searched multiple times and it takes people four hours to prepare for their flights.  If security was an issue then the trains that travel through the most populous parts of urban areas of the U.S. would not allow anybody who looks respectable to just board and ride the rails. 
There’s nothing inherently wrong about taking actions that psychologically calm the citizenry.  In some ways that is part of Government’s role.  I’m not the first, and likely won’t be the last, to point out the absurdities in security measures on different modes of transport. Until then, smiling and small talk is the next generation of security.

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