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Dutch treat

March 23, 2012
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The reason there was no column last week was because the Amazon Queen and I spent spring break in Amsterdam. Thanks for asking.

I'm sure spring break was hardly as exciting as my students'. Then again, it wasn't supposed to be. Mostly we people-watched and went to museums, both of which are world class in Amsterdam.

Finally our week was up, and we had to wing our way homeward. We had a 10:30 a.m. flight, which meant that in order to take care of all the airport logistics, we had to get up at 0600 - an hour I think is fine for milking cows, delivering babies and executing criminals but hardly good for anything or anyone else. No matter, I'm a stalwart, and once the alarm rang I managed to get up after only 15 minutes of harassment.

Actually, we've been to Amsterdam before, so we've got our timing down to a science. We know exactly how long it takes to get to the train station, how long the train takes to get to the airport and how long it takes to check in.

This time, however, we had one problem - checking in.

We made our way to the ticket counter, where we had to check our luggage and get our tickets, boarding passes and seat assignments. Or at least where we tried to do all those things.

The line for the ticket counter went at a good pace, which is more than I can say for the ticket counter itself.

First, we asked to be seated together, but the agent said that could only be done at the gate. This hadn't happened before, but since there was nothing we could do about it, we let it slide.

Next, we handed her our passports, and she printed out our tickets. Now we only had to wait for our boarding passes. So we waited and waited and waited.

During this time the agent hits one key, then another, then another, then looks at the monitor, then back at the keyboard, and then repeats the process, a deep frown creasing her forehead all the while.

The frown was not a good sign. I looked at the AQ, and she, too, was frowning also not a good sign.

Minutes passed then more minutes

Finally, the agent calls over another agent. Then the two of them hit more keys, take more looks at the keyboard, and hit more keys. Finally they stop and stare at the monitor, deep frowns on both their faces.

And while all this has been going on, the lines to the left and right of us are zipping through, everyone getting their tickets, boarding passes and everything else, no sweat and tickety-boo.


Irony in action

Suddenly, I'm back in Mrs. Duprey's 11th-grade English class at good ole SLHS. We had a vocabulary test every Friday, the words were given to us on Monday (written on the board by herself, in her perfect Palmer penmanship).

For one test, one of the words was "irony." Even though I looked up the definition, I couldn't understand it, so I asked Mrs. Duprey if she'd define it. She did, by giving an example, and I remember it yet. She said to imagine there were two lines in the post office. The one next to me was hardly moving at all, but the one I was in was moving fast until there were two people ahead of me. Then my line stopped and the other one zipped through. That, she said, was irony.

And now back in the Amsterdam airport, as all the other check-in lines were moving like grass through a goose, I was having a very ironic moment.

Finally, the AQ asks the agent what's the problem, and is told the printer isn't carrying out the computer's commands so the boarding passes will have to be printed by hand, which she then proceeds to do.

At that point, I'm thinking the Computer Age has either stood still, stood on its head, or been kicked on its butt.

Finally, she hands us our holographic boarding passes, and tells us since they weren't machine printed, we'll have to get new ones for our connecting flight in the U.S.

Sure, why not? I think.


Irony in inaction

Next we have to go through passport control. There are six lines there, and they're clearly marked. Two are for people holding EU passports, one is for other passports, and three are for "Priority Passengers."

And who, exactly, are the PPs? They're either the Business Class machers, or Frequent Fliers or Premium Customers, whatever that means.

So while there have to be more Economy passengers than PPs, I understand the reasoning behind their getting more lines. Simply put, the Economy drudges spend more money overall, but the PPs spend more money individually and are led to believe they're our societal superiors. And thus they're entitled to some perks, lest they feel their superior status isn't being honored and they take their business elsewhere.

Fine, I can accept that. I mean, let's get real: The pricing of airplane tickets is set by some standard that's right out of "Alice in Wonderland." Maybe I paid $600 for my ticket, but the guy sitting in the seat next to me paid $800 for the same flight, and the lady sitting ahead of him paid $925, and so on. So if you're willing to pay top dollar for your ticket, I think you should be treated better than us bargain hunters.

Unfortunately, you're not - unless you pay for Business Class. And even then it's debatable how much better you're treated. Oh yeah, they give you a ditty bag with a blindfold and earplugs and some other dreck. They also give you a bunch of booze and better meals than Economy's, but how much better they are is debatable since almost all airplane food today is one step above swill. The seats are more comfortable than Economy's, but not hundreds of bucks more comfortable, says I.

Anyhow, all this is moot because when it comes to the special lines for the special people, it's a dog's breakfast.

Dig this: The three PP lines, the lines for the beautiful people, are actually longer than ours. Why? Simple. There were hardly any authentic PPs there, so the Great Unwashed, tired of going nowhere while three good lines stood empty, just busted into the Uppah Crust's lines, and did it how the Great Unwashed always do - en masse.

And this leads to something so ridiculous that it belongs in a Kurt Vonnegut story, only if you read it in one, you wouldn't believe it.

The few PP folks in those lines are now stuck among the mob. And there's nothing they can do about it, short of trying to push, poke and shove their way through a wall of social inferiors and take their rightful place in the front. Unfortunately, their social inferiors, who want to get this scene over with at least as much as the elite, would probably push back. And since there'd be a whole lot more back-pushers than pushers, the pushers would become the pushees - something everyone is full well aware of.

It's a small, mundane example of a Great Historic Event - the French Revolution. This is one of those times when people of privilege know full well they have all the status but that The Clamorous Mob has all the people. It's something Louis XVI found out all too well and all too late.

Meanwhile, back in Amsterdam in 2012, the Lines of Privilege moves at a glacial pace.

Our line, the low-brow Economy line, also moves at a glacial pace. But our glacial pace is faster than theirs.

I look over at the shuffling, squirming Sloboisie and I feel my lips form a half-grin, half-sneer as my usually sweet and compassionate nature is overtaken by cynical delight.

Those lines are not an example of simple irony; they're an example of double-irony. I swear when I get back to My Home Town, the first thing I'll do is tell Mrs. Duprey about it.



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