Saturday, July 01, 2006

Back in the USSA

Yes, an intentional misspelling, yes, an allusion to a song by The Beatles. What I'm on about this morning is an experience many USAers never have, of flying back into their home country.

In the Pacific Northwest, our border with Canada is actually right inside their Vancouver BC airport. Little handheld eyeballs (webcams) snap your mug shot, if you're cute and French, or anything else exotic (lots of interesting passports).

On the intra-airplane TV, as you approach BWI or EWR or whatever, a list starts scrolling, of all those enemy country people that'd better have their paperwork in order, or else. Once off the plane, you might get sniffed by dogs (trained professionals). Hey, it's your choice to be in the USSA. Get over it.

Of course tourists complain that "USA 911-style" is relatively unfriendly (why scare little children?) and so are holding back with their tourist dollars, even if Chattanooga does sound intriguing.

However, the all-American freakout didn't start as recently as 911. Remember back to Y2K? I was in Maseru, Lesotho when the odometer flipped, from 1999 to 2000, watching the telly. The BBC's control room flitted from one time zone to the next, on and on around the world, always with happy campers, celebrating our shared good fortune (you know, like having found us a habitable planet and everything).

Then came the USA time zones (CNN feed mostly). These were not happy campers: "Air Force, still aloft?" "Check"; "Battle Cruisers still afloat?" "Check"... -- and so on through an impressive roster of military assets, all still operational thanks to the "Y2K bug" not having induced the paralysis so many had anticipated.

For the rest of the world, this was kind of a heads up that something was up in the USA. They'd gone all panicy over something rather mind-boggling and abstract, a big digit changeover, a millenium line crossed.

Not every calendar was odometering in this way at the same time, but this Romano-Christian one... well, let's just say a lot of doomsaying has focused on "The Millenium" and Y2K really did sound pretty apocalyptic, something like Nostradamus might have prophesied about.

Then came 911, which also has a 2 in it (what doesn't?). OK, so that must have been what Nostra was on about. He always makes so much sense, given 20-20 hindsight.

And so it goes, an ongoing panic attack, sometimes amplified through television. If more USAers returned to their own airports (having ventured abroad), I think they'd benefit from the reality check. Fearfulness: a two way street in our Wild West.

There's this urban legend of a small previous millenium town with only two car owners so far. No left-lane right-lane conventions had yet been established, no traffic lights implemented (what, for just two cars?).

They had a head on collision.

Freeze frame, captions: Humanity at the Wheel. Think About It. Please Drive Safely.