One thought ahead. Three sentences behind.

Uncool – Not Listening

If I had to pick a pet peeve, it would be people who don’t listen. Quite a few people accuse me of this slight, but that’s because I have bad hearing.   If fact, if someone is not standing in front of me screaming, “TURN DOWN YOUR STEREO!!!” there is a chance I may not hear the request. But if I’m in a café that is relatively empty and the busybody isn’t clearing dishes and a fire truck isn’t blaring down the street and the overhead TV isn’t inundated with CNN News Breaks and the person at my table isn’t to my left but directly facing me not more than two feet away with the mouth clear of any food debris, then I’m all ears.

That’s the problem with listening: too many distractions.

At one point in our history there was a time when we would gather at the end of the day for uninterrupted conversation:

COWBOY 1: Good day?

COWBOY 2: Yup.

COWBOY 1: Found those lost dogies?

COWBOY 2: Yup!

CAMPFIRE: Sizzle… (backbacon) Crack! (dripping fat)

Oh, how I miss those days when the free flow of ideas were unimpeded by modern technologies that now seem to inure and pamper us to more insular positions. After all, why listen to some guy yammer some idiotic point when you can click on a website to confirm a point you said a thousand times before.

Sure, political discourse may be dead and the free exchange of ideas may be harder to convey, but that does not mean that not listening is a good idea. After all, I can think of a few situations where it is still critical.

SIRENS  I think it’s always a good idea to listen to sirens. If you are in traffic and you hear an ambulance, it’s a good idea to pull your car to the side of the road. If you are raking leaves and a city siren blares across a darkened sky, it would be best to head for your basement. And if you are in a jewelry store and you hear the far-off cries of police sirens, it’s best wrap up the heist.

MOTHERS  Even if you don’t believe anything they have to say, I think the mere fact that they took time to give birth to us gives them carte blanch to talk our ears off.

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS  I’m just kidding. I don’t think flight attendants even listen to themselves. But that brings us to a place where listening is an absolute necessity – AIRPORTS.

I hear flying use to be fun and sexy. My first flight was to Rome where I was greeted by Italian Soldiers with machine guns. Already, Italy had the sobering stance of tightened security due to a 1985 terrorist attack at Lenoardo da Vinci Airport. From the start I saw airports not as places that worry about creating wonderful customer experiences, but soft targets that worked non-stop to make sure passengers get from Point A to Point B safely. The least you can do at the airport is listen.

Case in point:

I was standing in line at the airport waiting to go through security. It wasn’t just a line. It was a line that wasn’t moving.   And the reason the line wasn’t moving was hardly any of the passengers were getting through the screening process cleanly.

The main problem was the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) recently implemented a new list of items that would no longer be acceptable on domestic or international flights. Looking back, the government may have swung too far in one direction. But at the moment with passengers willingly lighting their shoes and underwear on fire, you could understand the concern when banning:

  • Cattle Prods
  • Light Beer
  • Numchucks
  • Any musical device containing Lionel Ritchie’s greatest hits.

I’m not kidding. Look it up on the TSA Website. It’s all there. It even bans dynamite and blasting caps, like some Teamster with a construction helmet would show up looking to hop a flight to Kansas City for a demo project.

At the moment, the above items were not the reason the line had slowed to a crawl. It was the 3 by 3 rule, which is only being able to bring three non-flammable liquid, gel or aerosol items, provided they were less than 3.4 ounces each.

I actually got tagged on a previous flight, not that I was listening. I was too lazy to buy the travel-size toothpaste. Plus, I wrongly believed my one item still kept me under the 10 ounce limit and they were only guidelines, right?

Well, I got pulled over for a second screening/groping or what I now call the TSA Tango.

The dance wasn’t going to happen this time for I was going to buy all my toiletries on the back end of my flight.   The problem was my new found religion was not moving the line any more quickly and that was a problem for the planes on the other side of the screening process were not going to wait. You could feel the tension in the coiled line as people looked at their phones, their tickets and craned their heads to the front of the line to see yet another person pulled for a second screening.

What made the moment even more insufferable was seeing the same group of travelers every time I turned another velvet corner. There was the Indian family of four followed by a married couple from Indiana.   (Cheers joke.) There were the business travelers who had yet to upgrade to first class and the college students who were lucky enough not to be on a Mega Bus. Then there was the guy in front of me.

He was a road warrior in his fifties with a solid build. He didn’t wear conservative blues but a tweed sports coat and wool pants with leather Oxfords that showed their wear for they were the only article of clothing that could not avoid the ice, the snow and the salt of the Northern corridor. I think he sold software programs; at least that’s what he told the woman in front of him.

It was understandable why he sparked a conversation. She was in her early twenties, probably right out of college, already flying for her first job. She was sharply dressed in a business suit that was probably newer than the toothpaste I planned to buy at the end of my flight. She had an All-American look. She had the poise of a person up for anything, and at the moment she was politely answering the salesman’s twenty questions, while checking her smart phone and ignoring the TSA Agent who was walking up and down the line telling people how to avoid a second screening.

The agent was a portly man with his uniform blues and silver badge. Even though he probably had said the same shtick a thousand times before, his presentation was not stale. It wasn’t even urgent. It was frank. It was basically a statement that said if you wanted to get to your flight, “Here’s what you needed to do…”

The agent talked and nobody listened. Not the family from India or the couple from Indiana. The business travelers were furiously tapping into their smart phones and the college students couldn’t hear anything with their headphones. The guy in front of me certainly wasn’t listening as he told the woman in front of him the best place to ski and find sushi in Colorado. (Not on the same slope.) Nobody listened to the agent, who I personally thought was pretty funny, especially when he announced, “Since you are currently at the Twin Cities International Airport, absolutely no Green Bay Packers paraphernalia will be allowed through security.”

I inhaled everything the TSA Agent had to say and lived it as Gospel. When I finally reached the security, I removed everything from my pockets and took off my belt. My shoes came off as well as my winter jacket. I even removed my glasses and followed the guy in front of me by the smell of his damp tweed and Aqua Velva. And when I came through on the other side of security, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“What do you mean a second screening?”

I quickly jerked to see the guy in front of me had been pulled by a TSA Agent.

“This is ridiculous. I’ve been flying for over twenty years…”

Yeah, why was this road warrior getting tagged? He should have been able to navigate the screening process on auto pilot with a gin and tonic in his hand. Then I saw his bin that was grabbed by the TSA Agent. In it contained the guy’s wallet, belt and shoes, all on top of his lap top computer.

The whole time we were in line did the guy listen to the TSA Agent once? The agent must have said that all electrical devices must go through the screening process in their own separate bin. The Agent said it fourteen times. What the guy did in the eyes of the TSA was the equivalent of putting a live hand grenade into the same bin with wild badger. The road warrior was most definitely going to miss his flight.

PROVERB  The wise words of the TSA Agent are worth more to the business man than the fake phone number of a recent Wesleyan graduate.

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