Travel information is one-way affair

The fact that we live in an information age is no secret. One cannot help but see the reports and experience the evidence first hand. Addresses for Web pages are omnipresent in advertising. Students research their homework on the Internet. Information officers serve in major corporations. Today it is what you know as much as who you know, which makes a chance encounter on my return from spring break disturbing.
A week in Cleveland with family, friends and the dogs had left me feeling rejuvenated. Others can have their drunken bashes on Florida beaches; I am spiritually replenished by relaxing on my home-turf. Therefore, when I boarded the plane Sunday morning, I was feeling good.
Well, maybe not so good. I have this troublesome habit of going out with friends on my last night in town every time I go home. Since I inevitably end up with an early morning flight back to Minneapolis, I show up at the airport with little sleep and a hangover. This is not the ideal condition for air travel.
The disconcerting presence of the layover reared its ugly head on my trip, and I had to fly to St. Louis to catch a connecting flight. With a two-and-a-half hour layover, I had time to go looking for lunch. My rumbling, slightly upset stomach was calling out for grease, and as I disembarked from the plane, I had a hankering for a pepperoni personal pan pizza. But it was not meant to be. The Pizza Hut at which I had stopped on the way home was hidden in the maze of terminals, forcing me to settle for a Whopper combo meal.
For more than an hour, I sat in a back corner, bathed in artificial light, eating, digesting and reading the Sunday paper. I do not know many people who take the time to read nearly an entire newspaper front to back. I rarely have the time myself, but when the opportunity presents itself, I seize it and cram every little factoid into my head. I have to admit it, I’m an information junkie.
The English Romantic poet John Keats wrote:
Knowledge enormous makes a God of me.
Names, deeds, gray legends, dire events, rebellions,
Majesties, sovran voices, agonies,
Creations and destroyings, all at once
Pour into the wide hollows of my brain,
And deify me, as if some blithe wine
Or bright elixir peerless I had drunk,
And so become immortal.
The old saying is true: Knowledge is power. Every little tidbit I gather may appear insignificant, but opportunities to use even the most esoteric or mundane come up all the time.
It is like a hobby for me — an obscene collection of information from an even more obscene collection of sources. Newspapers, television, the Internet, books and magazines all offer the nuggets of knowledge that one day may prove useful.
However, as I weaved through the crowds at the St. Louis airport, these thoughts and my new information were pushed far from the front of my mind. With 30 minutes until take off, the thought motivating my actions was getting to gate C3, subsequently changed to D4. I hurled my overloaded backpack onto the X-ray machine, once again worrying that my laptop would be fried in the scanning process despite the reassurances of the signs. Once I was through the metal detector, I retrieved my pack, stepped around the unfortunate gentleman who was having his bag searched and nearly walked headlong into a podium.
The podium had a desk behind it and was raised up on a dais. From that vantage, the official-looking person sitting there could peer over the glass at all the travelers submitting themselves to inspection. Perhaps this sounds dull, but I assure you, this was no ordinary aerie. A large sign mounted at head level made sure of that.
About three feet wide and two feet high, a white background with arterial red lettering declared, “NO INFORMATION.”
Had the airport officials created an information-free zone? An area in which information was not to be shared? Was there really something so important that no one could know about it? The presence of a walk-up Internet terminal nearby dismissed this notion, but the sane world of information overload had somehow gone awry.
Modern aviation safety is predicated on the free spread of information. Did you pack your bags yourself? Have you accepted any packages? Is it the metal plate in your head setting off the metal detector or are you carrying a gun? Anyone who has ever flown a commercial airline knows the drill. But in Saint Louis, it appears they ask the questions and travelers may know nothing more than that with which they entered.
Afraid to confront the man with the gun behind the desk, I did my best imitation of an inept terrorist studying a potential hijacking scene, shiftily circling and taking in all the little details. I found an Authorized Armed Individuals Log, a sterile scanning surface over which I ran my fingers, despite the posted warning, and a baby bottle half filled with water. Yet an explanation for this intellectually repressive area remained elusive. The only hint I found was a sheet of paper with “ITS” emblazoned on the letterhead.
Who these ITS people were and to what secret organization they swore allegiance slipped about in the back of my mind as I tried to sleep during the hour flight. Were they bent on world domination through the elimination of the free exchange of ideas? Is their “NO INFORMATION” sign a not so subliminal message intended to implant a subtle imperative in our psyches, thereby forcing us to stop questioning authority? I was sure the military-industrial complex had something to do with it. Then again, one does not think all that clearly when half asleep. One glaring thing remained after I had survived my fear of the wheels collapsing on contact with the ground during landing: I needed to find out the truth.
I did a little digging and things started getting a little scary. International Total Services is ironically located in Cleveland. I found a phone number and placed a call. According to the anonymous individual to whom I spoke, ITS is one of the country’s largest suppliers of “aviation and commercial staffing solutions.” Which is the corporate way of saying they provide rent-a-cops, baggage handlers and the people who drive those annoying golf carts around the airport for about 200 sites in the United States.
I feel confident, having reflected on the facts, that I might have overreacted. Perhaps an information-free zone might not be so bad. Imagine having an area into which nothing new comes. Where the news is banned, television screens are blank, cell phones do not ring and one need not worry about learning anything. Some might call such a place where one can get away from the rational information overload that drives our world a paradise.
Just not for me. I need to keep cramming my head.
Chris Trejbal’s column may appear on Tuesdays. He welcomes comments by e-mail to [email protected]