Toronto Pearson Airport 6:30 a.m, a Monday. The septuagenarian hobbit is about to learn a lot.
Lesson 1: The physics of a rolling object 1.0.. The new large roller suitcase isn’t as easy to roll as they claim. The carry-on rolls better. The bigger problem is how to co-ordinate two rolling bags.
Lesson 2: Times change 1.0. I’m already checked in on-line. I’ve already paid for my checked bag. What the –? I have to print my own baggage tags. Do the check-in kiosks do that? The very tall man in front of me, who hasn’t checked in yet – how old school- assures me they do. Then an attendant, one of a rare breed, identifies me as old. Helps me flatten my passport, sticks the baggage tag on, scans it and send me off to find the E entrance.
Lesson 3: The physics of rolling objects 2.0. Should have got a push trolley. E is half a kilometer away. The big bag weighs at least 23 kilograms.
Lesson 4: Patience 1.0. There are at least 1000 people in the U.S. customs hall. They are all ahead of me.
Lesson 5: How to Queue. By spreading my feet and doing a high sit into my hips, I can keep from fainting in the dense, winding line. Tearing off the coat, scarf and tam I have worn against Toronto weather helps as well, as does chatting to the people behind and in front.
Lesson 6: Times Change 2.0. Eventually, I arrive at another kiosk which also wants to read my passport and again, I have to flatten it with both hands. Then on to the next line with a real human being at the end.
Lesson 7: Times change 3.0. American Customs and Immigration officers have mellowed. In 2002, I was almost denied entry. I had family in the U.S. and it was felt I was going to stay. I bit my tongue and did not say, “As if.” I said that if I did, I would lose all my benefits. She let me through. Today I am asked if I am having a good day.
Lesson 8: Patience 2.0. At the security check, I am behind an older couple and their adult son. (They are probably younger than me.) Totally emptying his pockets is too much for the old guy. He thinks that’s an imposition. His wife puts her smart pumps in the bin. The next thing I hear is, “I have to take my shoes off too.” He steps through the metal detector which sounds its alarm. The officer tells him to step back. He is told to go through his pockets again. He is wearing cargo pants. He fishes out a wad of paper. He steps through again and again. Same result. I stand waiting for my turn. The officer uses the wand which squawks many times. I want to shout,” He has metal knee replacements.” I don’t. Dad is moved over to stand on a black square, facing the wall. Mom is stood on a second square beside him. A female officer joins the fray and both desperadoes are carefully patted down. Nothing. I pass through the metal detector. Dad is standing at the conveyor built, which is standing still. “My money’s in there,” he cries. Mine too, Dad. A second invigilator arrives. Much study ensues. Son has moved Dad back to sit in a chair. Mom stands beside him. “My shoes,” cries Dad as the belt starts moving. “Dad’s shoes,” Mom cries. “Get Dad’s shoes!” I pick them up and turn to Son, saying,”Dad’s shoes.” As I reassemble myself and claim all the valuables I have in the world, I hear, “Flashlight. It was a flashlight.” Right, can’t have seen many of those before.
Lesson 9: Perspective. The tall, rangy West Indian guy who lifts my checked bag onto the belt, makes up a special song to wish me on my way.
Lesson 10: Patience 3.0. The line at Starbucks is 20 passengers, 4 pilots long.
Lesson 11: How to count. My gate is F34. I set off on the moving sidewalks, pulling the carry-on bag. Near the end, it occurs to me that F34 is not going to come after F80. The moving sidewalk says, “Do not enter”. I need to hurry. It is boarding time. I begin to trot back – “boats beating against the current” (F. Scott Fitzgerald), but I am working up a good sweat, so it isn’t all bad.
Lesson 12: Self-worth. I am finally seated in 18D. A woman is in 18F at the window. She gets to see the Grand Canyon . I get to pee. We are both praying no one will claim 18E. He is the last person to board. He is 6’4″ with the weight to go with it. As he folds himself into his seat, he says, “I tried to switch to an aisle seat but couldn’t.” And can’t now, I observe to myself. Age before beauty.