Slouching Towards Bantry

A journey is a hallucination. -- Flann O'Brien

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Love It or Leave It, There's No Place Like Home


It's easy enough to get out of the United States, but returning after a lengthy stay abroad is a bit of a post-9/11 shock for even the most jaded American. Security or the perception of "security," has reached an institutional and bureaucratic level that borders on the absurd. First you go through the Irish-maintained security, including metal detectors and such. But that's not enough. You then go through American Customs in Ireland at the Shannon Airport -- before you even leave the country. Then a private contractor searches the plane. Then armed officers of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) come through the plane and look at your passport, again. Then when you deplane in Chicago, you go through the metal detectors, again, you pick up your checked luggage and go through Customs, again, and re-check it, again, so that another TSA grunt can inspect it. In my case, the subject of suspicion was my duct-taped guitar case, which contained a $70-made-China instrument along with my dirty laundry.

When I finally got back to St. Louis, approximately 22 hours after leaving Ennis in County Clare, I found St. Louis "International" airport to be completely deserted, a tomb.

But the trip wasn't quite over yet. For $3.25, I rode the Metrolink light rail service from the airport to the Central West End station. Entering the elevator with my suitcase, backpack and guitar I discovered vomit and urine all over the floor. When I exited at street level and crossed to the bus stop, I found myself in a cluster of homeless people, including a legless guy in a wheelchair and a woman sleeping on top of a air vent with no shoes.

Love it or leave it, there's no place like home.

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