I never liked flying.
As I was about to board an airplane on Sept. 10, 2001, a security guy pulled me out of line and asked: “Is your name Khan (Long Pakistani Name)?”
“No,” I said. “It’s Bob Kahn.”
“Oh,” the guy said. “OK.” And he smiled and waved me on.
I didn’t think anything about it until the next day.
Then I didn’t fly for 15 years.
But last weekend — brave soul — I flew across the country and back. It was great.
Not the flights — meeting people in airports. Especially El Paso. Bilingual people — you know, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, the ones who are supposed to be ruining our country.
The guy to my right at the airport bar was brought here by his parents when he was 4 years old. Sin papeles. He’s made safety devices for commercial airplanes for 30 years, and both of his daughters are hospital technicians.
He left to catch a flight and a big burly guy took his seat. He’d worked his way up from nothing and now he runs a glass business in Phoenix. “I figured, glass is always going to break,” he said.
He employs a lot of people — created their jobs — but he doesn’t brag about it, like some people do. I know it’s true because he took a call while we talked. All he wants to do is to raise his daughters to be good people.
To my left sat two white Texas policemen flying home from a union meeting. They were great. We made fun of each other, like white guys do. Jab, jab — joke! Jokes such as I never would have tried with the guys to my right. Because Mexican culture, and Mexican-American culture, is far more polite than white American culture.
Then it was my turn to get on a plane, to Atlanta.
That airport is nuts. If you counted the people who pass through it in one day as residents — 260,000, give or take — the Atlanta airport is more populous than Orlando, just smaller than Toledo.
There I saw some ugly things.
It was Monday evening. Two TVs at the airport bar were showing a baseball game, and two were reporting Donald Trump’s insults to the parents of Humayun Khan, a decorated Army captain who died in combat in Iraq.
A well-built, attractive young white man sat down at the bar and repeated Trump’s insults to Khan’s parents.
That killed the conversation at the bar.
Between Eddie Haskell and me sat a 75-year-old fellow I’d been chatting with. He’d spent his career in Army Intelligence. We’d swapped some good stories before Eddie Haskell sat down.
My Army friend — his name is not important — was a Trump supporter. But he didn’t want to talk politics. That’s because he’s 75 years old. And being 75, he understands that manners are important.
He was happily married to a Korean woman who’d taken care of his first wife while she died.
Now it was my time to go.
I found my gate and stood in line and in the usual mix-up of who boards when, a well-built, young white guy shouldered his way through five polite young Filipino men trying to figure out if they were in Group 2 or Group 3. I was trying to figure it out myself, and I was born in Chicago and have two master’s degrees.
Then this white knucklehead made an unbelievably coarse, racist comment about the young men he had just pushed aside. I won’t repeat it. It was gratuitously offensive. And no one said a word to him. Not security, nor the airline employees, nor the Filipino-Americans — nor me.
Should I have confronted him?
What should I have done?
Insult him? Argue with him? Hit him? Vote against him?
What struck me about this man, and the man at the airport bar, was not just that they were overtly offensive, and racist, but that they reveled in it.
They seem to think it’s a New Day in America, when White Men Can Do Whatever They Want.
Well, we’ll see, won’t we? We’ll see.
I never liked flying.