September 25, 2007

The Ritual

I'm based at a busy high-security airport (Oakland, CA — KOAK). This means that to access even the non-airline ramps at the airport I have to have an official ramp pass or badge; this in turn means I have to be background-checked, finger-printed, indoctrinated in the finer points of airport security, and renew my badge every two years (this is probably the long-term future of GA in the US, at least for busier airports, even if they don't have quite the mixture of aircraft light and heavy, commercial and private, on the ramp that Oakland has).

And today it's my turn to go back in to the Port of Oakland's airport security badge office deep in the airport's main terminal buildings and claim my new badge after another two years. Nothing too onerous, and I've done it at least four times in the past, but there's always something that comes up…. In this case, the Port's belatedly discovered that they don't have my fingerprints on file, despite my having done the whole fingerprinting thing for them some time ago (I don't remember when — I've had them done so many times for various immigration and security agencies in the last two decades, that the individual experiences just blur into one). But in this context it's not such a big deal; all it really means is an added thirty minutes of hanging around and the chance to see the new fingerprinting systems in action (quite cool, really), and I'll survive. Yes, the ambiance is a bit like a cross between a second-rate university and a really noisy train station, and if you go in with the wrong mindset it can be a relentlessly depressing and demoralising experience, but the staff are unfailingly cheerful and helpful, and in the end I just sit or stand around watching the TSA folks do their job in the crowded concourse below me or catch a glimpse of the orange NorCal approach radar head going around and around out past the 737's, 757's, and Airbuses on the apron in front of Terminal One. Life goes on all around me, and if it weren't for the irritating sound environment — a never-ending confusion of canned security announcements, the clash and clang of the rollers and machines in the security checkpoints downstairs, barked orders, kids screaming, shouting cell phone and radio users, PA announcements — I could probably have kept sitting there for hours, reading or thinking about nothing in particular, getting up occasionally to have my mug shot taken or to put my prints (again) on the glass and watch them develop on the screen in front of me.

But I was getting hungry, and hadn't had any food or coffee yet, and I'd told everyone I'd be at work by 10am, so I was relieved when the clerk called my name again, gave me my new badge, and validated my parking (as the badge clerk says to me somewhat sardonically, "hey, you pay us $58 and give us an hour or two of your life, and we give you validated parking!"). Cool. Hourly parking here on the airline side of the airport isn't exactly cheap….

And just like the last time, after two hours of almost pure waiting (and five or ten minutes of fingerprints and form-filling) I leave with a new badge, and the world (or at least Metropolitan Oakland International Airport) is just that little bit safer because of it all, I'm sure.

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