I have a new title! FEMALE OPT OUT. I put it in all caps because that is how it was said over and over as I waited to get a pat down at Los Angeles International Airport when I left the US a couple of months ago, although it seems like yesterday. “FEMALE OPT OUT” was shouted as I stood watching innocent passenger by innocent passenger walk into a glass portal, raise their hands, and watch rotating mechanisms go up and down and around their body. I watched as each came out seemingly unharmed, seemingly. “FEMALE OPT OUT” once more as I nicely asked if my laptop, shoes and carryon luggage would be safe as I am here and they have gone through the conveyor belt and are over there, pointing through the radar machine. A look of “not on my watch” crossed briefly over the nice security man’s face as he once more yelled “FEMALE OPT OUT”, this time with a little more gusto as he told me to keep an eye on my items.
Whereas in Gulfport Mississippi the security female looked a bit unsettled when I opted out of the radiation “it’s merely waves” machine, this big city woman had seen my kind before. She dutifully explained the pat-down procedures she would use, such as using the back of her hands when going over my ‘ahem’, private parts. I kept a small smile as I stated, “Yes, I understand”, “Yep”, Yes ma’am”, “No Problem.” It was over in minutes and I was allowed to go about my way – radiation free.
My experience in LAX has only been positive. People are nice here, but they look at you. Like really look at you as if at any moment they will catch a glimpse of a Hollywood actor. It’s a little discerning at first, but once you look back as intently and smile; it becomes somewhat of a game. I thought of putting my scarf over my head as if I was someone who wanted my identity hidden, but it wasn’t worth the effort. I enjoy my anonymity and if people want to look, let them look, my younger days where I was told I resembled Meg Ryan, Susan Dey and on occasion Reba Macintyre are long gone.
This was very evident when walking by the expensive shops in the airport. Dear Miss Giorgio Armani wouldn’t-last-but-a-minute-in-my-world worker, please do not judge! Ms. Coach employee, I could indeed afford one of your overpriced ridiculously oversized purses, but choose not to (I’ll feed my kids for 2 weeks instead!) so don’t turn your head away from me. It’s like I am the “clothed” poor Pretty Woman character. I dress for airplane comfort and did you notice my Starbucks cup in my hand – I splurged, just not in your store. You didn’t look long enough to see my “Under Armor” pants – those thing are expensive enough to be in your store and what about my Kipling bag, it’s a real one from Paris! Okay, so maybe my pants are a bit worn and my bag is almost 20 years old, but I bought it when the Franc was still the French currency, which should be worth something, right? It’s sort of vintage; isn’t vintage cool?
Just because I’m a FEMALE OPT OUT doesn’t mean I don’t have taste; maybe I’ll head over to the duty free Vodka store, they are smiling at me as I type a few feet away, they are busier anyway and probably don’t work on commission – maybe they give free samples?
I also was reminded of polite greetings. LAX is under construction and there are nonsensical signs in the wrong places, such as “No Standing or Waiting” prominently displayed next to newly installed pay phones. Trying to find Tom Bradley Terminal was comical – it wouldn’t have been so if I didn’t have 5 hours to kill, though. I consider myself pretty airport savvy and can make my way around international airports with ease, but long story short, I’m glad I was raised with a finely tuned sense of humor. As I tried to erase the look of confusion from my face, I realized that actually, the confused look has advantages to the perceptive. People are more apt to help if you look as if you just landed from another planet.
When I quickly asked a woman where I could get a cup of coffee (it was 9:30 and I hadn’t had a drop!!), she smiled and answered with “Good Morning”. I looked at her as a person this time instead of an information booth, smiled and replied with a heartfelt “Good Morning”. She then smiled back and gave me the directions I requested.
Living in DC years ago, I became a part of the rat race for awhile, I still kept a slow, pretty much non-materialistic existence, but at times the stress of life in the city reared it’s ugly head. Once while boarding a non-familiar bus I abruptly approached the driver and inquired about its destination. It was early morning and the large female driver looked at me and in a rather snide voice said “Good Morning”. I hurriedly said “Good morning and repeated my question”. She answered and as I sat down I rolled my eyes and thought, “Someone’s having a bad morning”.
Then as I watched more and more people rush by her and deposited their coins with not so much as a glance at the woman who they have entrusted their life with (for a short while), I had another much more sobering thought. Could it be that “I” was the one having a bad morning? As I sat there sad, wanting to apologize, but not having the nerve to do so, my conscious worked overtime. I watched her in the rearview mirror and felt heavy hearted. She diligently drove a busload of people day in and day out while being reminded everyday how invisible and insignificant she really was to her passengers.
Although I am confident that on occasion I have forgotten how I felt on the bus that day, I believe I have righted my wrong many times over. And although I cannot give my mother a one-way ticket to heaven (as my cousin, who is a newly ordained Catholic priest, stated he can give to his parents…but he did say they have to make it to St. Peter first!) I can do my best to make her proud of the FEMALE OPT OUT that she brought into this world.
Smile, acknowledge, compliment and make someone’s life a little brighter.