Don't start anything!

I miss my little, friendly, Huntsville airport. It was, once, my favorite place to fly out of, but after September 11, I think it is safe to say that the airport I once knew is gone. Perhaps forever.

Yesterday afternoon I drove to the airport to pick up John; my first visit to an airport in several months. I’d nurtured some vain and tiny hope that perhaps reasonability would have prevailed in Huntsville, and that airport security would not have shut down the metered parking.

As I pulled around to the front of the airport, I realized two things: one, that metered parking was closed off by a large volume of orange cones, and two, that I’d have to circle around the airport because there was no place to turn off.

The swath of orange cones was disturbing in its own right, but even more so were the three camouflage-colored Humvees guarding them. No one sat in the vehicles, but there were numerous men dressed in camouflage and carrying weapons.

I wish I could say it added to my feeling of security. Quite the opposite, actually.

I circled around, corrected my dumb mistake, and parked in short-term parking on the ground level. I knew John had a couple of bags, so I didn’t want to force him to do a lot of walking with them.

As I walked out of the parking area, I looked around. Quiet. Very, very quiet. Almost no one was here. No one, that is, except the guardsmen standing by the doors, laughing and talking with each other.

I could not avoid crossing their path. There was only one door in the direction I was going, and they were standing directly in front of it. So I hooked my thumbs in my pockets as I usually do, and walked on.

It is uncomfortable being stared at, which is what they did to me as I crossed the street and headed toward the door. In return, I decided to be nice. There was no one else around, and it was impossible for me to pretend that I hadn’t seen these men. Thus I decided to acknowledge them.

I smiled nicely, bobbed my head in that curiously Southern wordless greeting, and said, “Awfully quiet today,” with a smile. At this point I was several feet away and obviously ambling past, but when one of them spoke, it was with an ugly tone of anger and malice:

Don’t start anything.”

I hope my puzzlement showed on my face. I walked on and shrugged to myself. Thanks for the protection, I thought sardonically.

Got inside. As I suspected, only ticketed passengers could go to the gates; a charming measure which does little to improve airport security and much to people who would like to chat with family or friends while they’re waiting to board a plane.

Huntsville security was once friendly. They smiled at you, once, but not now. I remember when we brought balloons and signs when Kat flew home last year; I have trouble believing they would allow such a display now. Yesterday, they had at least a fifteen-minute wait to get through the metal detectors, and armed men dressed in camouflage glowering close by.

But time passed, and planes arrived, and John came striding down the tunnel, bags and books and water bottle in hand. It made the airport hostility a little easier to stand; here was someone who made it, safely, to his destination.

I told John and Geof not to even make jokes around the security guys, and briefly explained why. We picked up John’s bags and went away from the demilitarized zone, back to real life, away from the suspicious, armed men and their military vehicles.

I’d like to think that their suspicion—and perhaps anger?—will serve this country well in the long run. Or that the precautions they’re taking now will ensure the safety of the millions of people, like me, who were raised to acknowledge people as you walked past them, and not to pretend that they don’t exist.

Instead, I came away feeling like I’d had a brush with a police state. If my experience is typical, no wonder people don’t want to fly right now.