Wednesday, December 31, 2008


"The good times are over." This is a common remark used by everyone who would like to find an excuse to complain. And we used to complain almost every time and about almost everything. That's why I do not like the line. But I have to admit that traveling via the huge global net of airlines the good times are really over. People called the turn from the 19th to the 20th century the "Bell époque", nice times. Those nice times were brutally ended by the First World War. The nice times of traveling at the turn from the 20th to the 21st century were brutally ended by the War against Terrorism.

To fly into the skies was a long-time human dream. And selling us the ticket for to realize that dream, letting us board and finally land safely was the airlines' great role in civilization. Early in the 20th century, to convince people that this dream was real, they organized dancing parties and even served beer on tap in those fragile planes. Nowadays, loading barrels of beer on a plane would be understood as accepting a potential bomb. But at that time it was a regular part of the proud promotion of Czechoslovak Airlines. However, until the 1960s traveling by plane was still a bit of an adventure and paper-sacks in case of sickness were ready in front of passengers, and not just for show. But to travel by plane at the end of 20th century was really a pleasure. Planes were big enough, relatively comfortable and safe and were flying in almost every weather conditions. Those better airlines were even able to program long-range flights so that they departed in the afternoon, they fed you, lowered the lights to make it night for you, and thanks to the darkness you woke up some nine thousand kilometers away in an exotic country to real morning. In one of the best airlines of the world, Malaysian Airways, they were serving in economy class freshly mixed cocktails according to your wishes without any limits on quantity and with perfect quality. On such a flight, I experienced for the first and in fact the only time passengers starting to sing from all that joy. They were businessmen from Moravia in the Czech Republic who, despite floods in their country, could not resist celebrating unlimited access to the plane's bar. The role of air companies was to convince you that by boarding the plane you were entering travelers' heaven. And here, just for your pleasure, are beautiful angel-like creatures ready to fulfill your every angel-like innocent wish. I can offer evidence - the Malaysian stewardess Elyana spent the whole night checking on my condition after my accident with a Malaysian tropical ditch that made me look as if I met a Malaysian tiger.

Those days are over. And as usual it all started in USA long before the War against Terrorism. In order to lower prices of air-tickets some companies started their famous "peanuts flights" on which you received only a little sack of peanuts and a cup of cola (more ice than cola in fact). Later someone figured out that one of every thirty million passengers might get from that tiny sack of peanuts a rash or even an allergy attack, and from that time on they have fed not only that one but also rest of two million nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine other passengers a replacement - pretzels. In contrast to these pretzels, peanuts were edible. I can testify to that. By flying almost whole day from Oklahoma City to St. Louis, from St. Louis to Washington and from Washington to New York I was always offered by cola (but more ice than cola) and a new little sack of pretzels. You may believe that with this diet you (as well as everyone except that one of three million passengers, who already collapsed from peanuts) may get some rash on face or even an attack. Certainly an attack of hunger.

This bad habit arrived in Europe soon after collapse of some big airlines. And as usual, most eager for changes were those who always like to be more Pope-like than Pope himself. I remember from very beginning that on internal flights in the USA you have had to pay for a glass of beer (in fact for any alcoholic beverage but they just had beer). Nowadays on European flights - like from Bratislava to München or from Oslo to Tromso -- instead of meeting the stewardess as hospital angel you will be now approached by her in role of saleswoman who charges you for anything you would like to order. Well, times are changing: even in heaven you have to pay! I do understand why smoking is not allowed on board planes (although I do not understand how some heavy smokers can survive so many hours without smoking). But recently I realized that a small group of fanatics is campaigning against alcohol on board, because one of every three hundred million passengers may get drunk. And because this one, all of two hundred ninety ninety-nine millions ninety ninety-nine thousands nine hundred ninety-nine passengers should be prevented from looking even at a tooth-brush because alcohol is there too. Unfortunately, the prophetic words of a nasty Russian passport officer at the Tbilisi airport have come true. I had commented on her arrogant behavior during our boarding (long before the War on Terrorism) and tried to correct her view of us. I said that we are not a flock of sheep under her command, but clients of the airline company and thus to be treated accordingly. She hesitated just a while and than barked back: "You are not clients; you are passengers." A Russian uniformed bureaucrat is the worst creature at this planet -because of their arrogance, laziness and incompetence. We may be afraid of those incapable of doing anything good, for they are perfectly capable of doing everything bad. And, however shocking it may seem, Russian uniformed bureaucrats began to be followed as a universal, global model for others.

With the excuse of war against terrorism (and we may wonder if, with all exaggeration, there are some hundreds of terrorists in the whole world) millions of travelers are terrorized daily by hundreds of thousand well fed and arrogant uniformed bureaucrats. These people by dressing in uniforms of security companies become big bosses over all those foolish people who have the courage to travel. To search in our socks and underwears, take off our shoes, directing lights into our eyes (and maybe sometimes into our throats and ears), rush us from one corridor to another, X-ray us and our luggage, break locks at our luggage and search it - this is a pleasure of uniformed non-travelers. Once I was a witness to a scene that took my breath. If Mr. Franz Kafka, author of absurd prose, had been close, he would certainly have been happy. At the deserted mini-airport in the middle of nowhere in the American state of Iowa one security guard went from one building to another. And his colleagues, employees of the same security company, made a serious and through check of him. This is a real battle against unemployment, my dear! These boys and girls will find a work always.

When I was recently departing from Mexico City, I was stopped before boarding the plane by a woman security guard. She pointed at my shoes. I have had these for almost twenty years. They are my traveler's shoes. They went with me into India and Malaysia, also Egypt, walked with me through the whole of Europe and not a small part of United States. I am proud of these shoes; they are inseparable part of my journeys. However, I had to follow the guard's order and take them off. Well, I can stand that if they can stand the smell of my socks. But then it comes. This uniform bureaucrat took my beloved shoes into her hands in white gloves and slowly, thoroughly, with pleasure broke their soles. Than she returned it to me. My globetrotter shoes sentenced to disability. Symbols of an époque when to travel by plane was like stepping up to heaven. An époque that is gone with that shoes.

When plane is taking off, it is leaving shadow at the land. Nowadays this shadow is traveling with us even ten thousand meters above the Earth. It is a shadow of globalized stupidity.

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