Thursday, September 18, 2008


It’s a week after the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an appropriate time to reflect upon how our lives have changed.

Air travel nowadays has a huge PIA component. That’s “Pain in the Ass,” for any of my Esteemed Readers who are acronym-challenged. You have to arrive early to deal with the queues at the security checkpoint. In a large travel hub like Atlanta, those queues can vary from a few minutes to what seems like hours, with Monday mornings being almost intolerable. You take off your shoes and remove your computer from its case, simultaneously making sure that your deodorant, shaving cream, and toothpaste is properly packed in a separate bag...and that the individual packages are small enough. Oh, and forget about that bottle of water you’re drinking. Drink up...or toss it.

Close up parking? Forget it. Too much of a security risk.

Strangely, though, I don’t mind the inconvenience of all this additional security, despite its being largely useless window dressing. What I do mind is the loss of innocence. I miss living in a world in which the notion of men deliberately flying jet aircraft into buildings to murder the people therein is so ridiculous that the only place you would see it is in the pages of a breathless suspense novel.

What got me thinking about all this?

No, it wasn’t the seventh anniversary of September 11, 2001.

It was when I was opening the new bottle of mouthwash we had picked up at the Stoopidmarket a few days ago.

The bottle was shrouded in plastic film. Tamper-evident plastic film. And I thought back to another time of innocence, back before tamper-evident and tamper-resistant packaging became a market necessity. The precipitating event in this case was a 1982 series of Chicago-area deaths - murders - committed by person or persons unknown who spiked random capsules of Tylenol with potassium cyanide. It’s twenty-six years later, and the crime remains unsolved.

Whoever this nutjob was, he or she was a model urban terrorist. There are few things scarier than the prospect of Random Death popping right out of your medicine chest like some sort of thanatological Jack-in-the-Box. It was terror, driven right into the everyday experience of the everyday citizen. Tylenol’s market position dropped like a stone; only an aggressive, proactive response from Johnson & Johnson, the product’s manufacturer was able to successfully reestablish the brand.

But now, myriads of food and drug products come in tamper-evident packaging. And, speaking of drugs, the venerable capsule is a rarity...too vulnerable to invisible adulteration. Caplets and gelcaps are the order of the day.

The days when you could grab a bottle of pills or capsules from the drugstore shelf without worrying that someone might have laced those pills or capsules with poison are long gone now. An entire generation has grown up never knowing that those days existed.

I’m old enough to remember when you could just walk into an airport, walk right up to the gate with your ticket, and board the plane. Never mind today’s terror-driven security measures - there was no X-ray, no metal detector. Nothing.

OK, so occasionally some asshole would hijack a plane - usually to Cuba. But those were different times. Innocent times.

The social contract was different then. It has changed now, changed beyond recognition... and I mourn.

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