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September 25, 2002
Notes From the Traveler's Diary

Earlier this week I went on a one-day business trip in the middle of my vacation (and right now I'm on still another trip). A few observations I made along the way:

* The woman in front of me waiting to board a plane in an airport which shall remain nameless asked the attendant for a pink gate check tag, which he promptly produced. She attached it to her luggage, and was about to remove the portion that was her claim ticket when the attendant stopped her in mid-pull.

"I'll do that."

"Oh, am I not supposed to?"

"It's just a federal law."


The woman stood up, and when he was done with some paperwork, the attendant bent down, extracted her claim ticket, and handed it to her. Now, I don't know if he was correct, or misinformed, or simply pulling her leg. But what struck me was the fact that neither she nor I found it impossible that our federal government might take upon itself the burden of regulating gate check tag de-perforation. What's more, I haven't any idea how to determine if the government does in fact regulate this activity; a poorly kept secret in Washington D.C. is that when a Congressman recently asked the General Accounting Office to identify all laws covered by federal criminal penalties, the GAO declined, explaining that the mass of such laws is too extensive to allow measurement. And that's just the criminal law. If the GAO can't count all federal criminal statutes, what chance does the average citizen have to determine whether the government forbids unauthorized perforation? One might ask an FAA employee, but does anyone really expect them to be more accurate than the average IRS help-line consultant?

Once past the gate agent, I went through a corridor and out on the tarmac to the waiting jet. I had the idea that I might be able to stow my carry-on in the overhead compartment, but when I got to the ladder the stewardess told me I would have to let them put it underneath. She handed down a pink tag. I attached it, and asked her if she wanted me to lift it up to her for federally approved de-perforation.

"Don't worry about it, you can just pull it off yourself."

Thus we stumbled over the problem Frederic Bastiat illuminated, that overweening government makes every man a criminal. This occurs either due to ignorance, or simply to disdain for a government that, like the typical blogger, has something to say about everything. After all, how serious can the government be that has time to issue rulings on toilet flush capacity? The British empire, by way of comparison, never concerned itself with chamberpot volume, and that's why it was feared and respected around the world. Want to know why people from other countries feel perfectly at ease insulting America, and picking the pockets of its citizens, or far worse? Because we tolerate things like milk price regulation. A government that leaves its citizens alone so it can focus all its energy on developing new ways to kill non-citizens -- now that's a government that commands respect.

And the reason, by the way, why I'm not telling you the name of the airport in which all this occurred, is in order to protect my rebel stewardess friend, who not only facilitated my violation of federal law (I think), but also called me "darlin'" when I exited. I'm a sucker for Southern women with a healthy disdain for regulations.

* In a bathroom in the Dallas airport I noticed flamboyant gang graffiti scrawled with blue marker on the wall over a urinal. The urinal. What pitiful little excuse for a gang has to scribble its signs where people urinate? An overpass is one thing -- it serves as a tribal marker of old, delineating property lines and serving to warn would-be interlopers. But a Dallas airport urinal? What's next, Chico, the Coke machine in the Weehawken bus station?

Another thing about signing a highway overpass is that it entails a little risk. I'm all in favor of licensing hunters in the off-season to bag people who do this, but I can't help but admire someone whose tribal urge to scratch his mark is so great that he summons the cajones to hang fifty feet above traffic to do it. But dashing off your gang sign over a urinal is just, well, sad. Everybody pees. But only someone with real machismo hangs from an overpass.

* Here's a poser: how do you suppose airlines reconcile the belief that passengers need instruction in seatbelt fastening with the belief that we care about the current altitude, visibility, and aircraft windspeed?

* Another question: why are airplane storage bins -- the ones where they keep all the snacks and cups and useless little non-absorbent napkins -- made out of metal, with latches that apparently require a series of deafening hand and body blows to secure?

* On my flight back to my undisclosed North Carolina location, I sat behind an attractive blonde, who began to cry as we lifted off. I gave her a napkin from my valise (I'm sensitive that way). She wiped her eyes with half of it, and then began writing what appeared to be a forlorn note on the other half. (I peeked -- I'm weak that way).

Across the aisle from her was a guy in tree-hugger sandals, dark denim jeans, an untucked black turtleneck, frizzy shoulder-length blonde hair, and the physique of your typical coffee shop employee. At first he read a book written in German, later he switched to grading philosophy papers. All along he cast furtive glances at the woman in front of me, and arranged himself in various alluring European sissy-man poses. From time to time he dropped things in the aisle so he could bend down and get them, each time looking up at her in vain anticipation of one of those deep-caught-in-the-majesty-of-your-visual-embrace soap opera moments.

Fat chance, Bjorn; she had a Texas accent. Save it for the undergrads at Brown.

Posted by Woodlief on September 25, 2002 at 11:21 PM


About t he tree-huggin', birkenstock wearin' sissy-boy academic. You described about 50% of the population of the Peoples Republic of Ann Arbor!!! These days, I see these sissy-boy grad students hanging out at the 2 Starbucks, or on the Diag, trying to (1) give you a flyer inviting you to the anti-American protest at the Diag or in front of the Federal Bldg., or (2) trying to act real intellectual, and deep, and impress and pick up one of the skanky, co-op hippie students, either male or female.

Posted by: sidss at September 26, 2002 1:13 AM

Once you hit the tarmac, you are permitted to deperforate, according to federal law. What concerns me is that the stewardess gave you a pink tag rather than the federally mandated blue one. You weren't traveling in drag were you?

Even though your travel stories may not be fun to actually live through, they do make for very enjoyable reading.

Posted by: jim at September 26, 2002 7:37 PM

Ah, jewels, like haiku.

"...arranged himself in various alluring European sissy-man poses..."

Poetry. Nicely done.

Posted by: don at September 26, 2002 8:04 PM

You have such a way with words! I love reading your stuff. In my own sick, perverted way, I'm grateful that Suli had her little encounter with that pit bull. I'd never have found you otherwise!

(Speedy recovery to Suli!!!)

Posted by: Da Goddess at September 26, 2002 9:12 PM

"...arranged himself in various alluring European sissy-man poses."


Posted by: hbchrist at September 26, 2002 11:22 PM

"alluring European sissy-man poses". I think I could pick him out of a line-up. What a way with words!

Posted by: Llana at September 26, 2002 11:28 PM

Fantastic bit of writing, Tony. "European sissy-man poses"! My word.

Posted by: addison at September 27, 2002 8:43 AM

The European sissy-man stuff has its own allure, but give me more of this:

"A government that leaves its citizens alone so it can focus all its energy on developing new ways to kill non-citizens -- now that's a government that commands respect."

And that's a sentence that commands respect.

Posted by: jim at September 27, 2002 6:36 PM

I remember reading in a history book about something called the Deperforation of Prague. I think it started one of those 10*n Years' Wars that were all the rage back then. Just a reminder of the sort of thing unregulated deperforation can lead to.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek at September 28, 2002 9:56 AM

I wrote some very similar comments about excessive government regulation the other day which others may like. It's called Democracy In Action? --click here to read it.

Comments and criticisms welcomed.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at September 28, 2002 10:47 PM

Apparently most of your readers don't know you. All these compliments, I bet your head is as big as Texas right now!! I still think you are a little cranky...

So, did you see what the blonde wrote on your napkin??

Posted by: sb at September 30, 2002 12:27 PM