Transports of delight

On Sunday morning, a man arrived at the departures level of terminal C at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. He had no baggage to check. He had a one-way ticket, purchased two days earlier by a distant third party. His reservation had been changed twice. He was travelling to Washington’s National Airport, theoretically the most secure in the country because of its proximity to the Pentagon and the White House.

He was a big man. He had a Taliban-length beard. He didn’t look or act like the other people at the airport. He’d requested a seat as close as possible to the cockpit. The old, faded photo ID he used didn’t look like him and indicated that he lived neither in Texas nor in the Washington area. His carry-on bag was filled with metal instruments, wires, and batteries.

If ever there were a candidate for further screening, he was it, but he was subjected to none. He obtained a boarding pass from a machine, not having to look anyone in the eye. When he offered his photo ID at security, he did so with the photo upside down, and the harried guard never turned it around. No one at the x-ray station asked for a closer look at the contents of his bag.

Flights from DFW to National leave from a gate at the end of the terminal. The gate area was vacated so a police officer could perform a sweep. When the passengers were allowed back in neither they nor their carry-on bags were searched. They did not need to provide photo ID, just a boarding pass. The man offered the pass he’d obtained from the machine. When he boarded the plane, the gate agent took that same machine-issued boarding pass and passed it under a scanner. Then she said, “Have a nice flight, Mr. Schubin.”

I’ve been on five flights thus far this month, with another six scheduled by the 26th. I have yet to be subjected to any extra search or screening. Luck of the draw? Perhaps. Being named Mark instead of Mahmoud? Perhaps that, too.

It’s been interesting noting the varying security measures to which ALL passengers are being subjected these days. On every flight I’ve been on since September 11, I’ve had to remove my computer from its thin fabric case and have it x-rayed separately. That’s new. I don’t know why this is more secure, but it’s certainly not a problem.

That’s the only measure universally in effect. On one flight out of Newark airport, I had to remove my shoes; on another from the same airport, I didn’t. At LaGuardia and National, I’ve had to stick my coat through the x-ray; at other airports I could wear or carry it. At LaGuardia, every passenger was “wanded” after passing through the magnetometer, and the wand always beeped near the floor. That’s the only place where I’ve had my ankles felt. Like all others passing through that security position, I was patted down at LaGuardia, too, the screener giving a wide berth to my crotch, of course. After all, what terrorist would ever conceal something there?

When I boarded the Delta Shuttle leaving National on Sunday, as usual I was offered any seat. I chose the one closest to the cockpit; it’s also closest to the exit door. There is supposed to be an air marshal on every flight out of National, and there may well have been one on my flight, but he or she was not seated on either side of the front row when I boarded. Oh, well.

Before September 11, I’d often had my computer “sniffed” for explosive compounds. That hasn’t happened once since. Before September 11, I’d had my bag hand-searched when it contained strange paraphernalia. That, too, hasn’t happened since (and, believe me, I’ve been traveling with some VERY strange stuff). The new security is fascinating, whether or not it makes anything more secure.

Of course, passenger jets aren’t the only form of transportation I use.

Yesterday, I took the subway.

It is traditional for mayors of New York to pretend that they, too, take the subway. When asked about it, they usually praise it effusively.

Our current Mayor Mike actually DOES ride the subway to and from City Hall. I know this to be true not only because of the photos of him doing so but also because of his response to a reporter who asked him if he enjoyed his ride. “‘Enjoy’ isn’t quite the right word.”

The subway line most affected by the September 11 attacks was our noisiest. The train turned around in a narrow loop at South Ferry and headed back north, screeching from the pressure of steel wheels against steel rails on the curve. It’s amazing that there used to be another line that turned around inside the circle of the first.

The subway station recently called “World Trade Center” has reopened.

Some press reports said it was built to serve the complex. It wasn’t; it was just renamed. It used to be called “Chambers Street,” just like the rest of the station to the north.

The “World Trade Center” station is one terminus of the E train. A story in today’s New York Times says the E train is the favorite of homeless people because it’s 100% underground (no icy gusts when the doors open) and passes through safe neighborhoods. The police reportedly don’t bother sleepers as long as they don’t lie down.

Some people wonder why the “World Trade Center” station was reopened.

But the area is not desolate. There are people who live in the neighborhood. There are stores, restaurants, schools — even a major post office.

The Red Cross has been running into a strange problem in the area, according to another story in today’s Times. People are turning down assistance. One woman living in the neighborhood has contracted something like asthma since the attacks. The Red Cross offered to pay her medical bills; she said she had insurance. They offered to cover her co-payments; she said they were only $15. The residents don’t want the money wasted.

There ARE expensive problems in the neighborhood. Everyone knows the World Trade Center was destroyed. But there are also many damaged buildings outside the site.

One is 140 West Street, built in 1926 to be the headquarters of the New York Telephone Company. It remained a major Verizon switching center on September 11. The building is still standing, but it will take an estimated $300 million to repair. Include repairs to the switching equipment and restoration of the fine art decorations, and the total cost could come to a billion dollars for that one building.

Before September 11, few New Yorkers outside the neighborhood had ever heard of or seen 140 West Street; now it’s a beloved treasure. Before our glorious temple of transportation, Pennsylvania Station, was torn down, many had seen it, but few protested its destruction. Our Landmarks Preservation Commission was created in 1965 to prevent any future such disasters.

Now there is a plan, spearheaded by former New York senator Daniel Moynihan, to turn a section of our main post office into a modern day version of the old Penn Station. Architecturally, it’s beautiful. The current, cramped, underground version of the station can’t hold a candle to it. But it’s clear that, unlike Mayor Mike, former-senator Moynihan was not a regular subway rider.

The current station, lousy though it might look, touches the 1, 2, 3, and 9 trains on one side and the A, C, and E trains on the other. There used to be an underground passageway to the 6th Avenue, Broadway, and PATH trains. Now a surface trip is required, but they’re still just a block away.

The newer Penn Station would be farther west: farther from the subways, farther from Macy’s, farther from the Empire State Building, farther from Madison Square Garden — farther from just about anything except the Javits Convention Center. It would also be in the heart of Lincoln Tunnel traffic. Subway-riding New Yorkers have, at best, mixed feelings about the proposed new station. Those (largely non-New Yorkers) who don’t ride any sort of trains think it’s a wonderful idea.

There used to be some unofficial signs posted at such New York City gateways as Penn Station. “Welcome to New York,” they’d say. “Now go home.”



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