Cows, People and Flying

Cows are inconsiderate animals who care little or not at all for people or other cows. They crowd together in a barnyard or pasture and have their own rules of behavior. It’s all about them and meeting their immediate needs. They are also like some people in crowded, frustrating situations.

I lived and worked on a dairy farm early in life. I was a small town kid—a hick and a rube from a farming community near the Canadian border in a state with more cows than people where our family had lived since freely wandering down from somewhere in Canada back in the 1700’s.

Working on a dairy farm, I lived with and learned about the culture of cows. Cows will step on your feet with no provocation. They will swing their tails and smack your face with urine covered hair without regret or hesitation. And, if nature calls, look out. Your specific location is of no interest or concern to a cow. They are not dangerous; they just don’t care about you or your existence.

In a town of 500 people or so, you will find out you are related in some way to most and quickly learn more about new people. A person without manners was ostracized. The farm house had not had any locks since it was built in the 1830’s and the only crime I knew about involved hunting out of season or hunters who liked to hunt and drink simultaneously and who would occasionally shoot a cow that apparently resembled a four point deer after the hunter had downed a few shots of whiskey.

Friends from New York City visited and regaled us with tales of living in a place called Queens. They said people were often rude. There was a lot of crime. People took trains to work and rode large busses. They explained a person could not afford to be too friendly because you could not trust people you didn’t know. Their description of a place that alien seemed far-fetched. The visitors undoubtedly thought our lives were alien as they marveled at the cows, watched us walk through the manure in the barnyard with large rubber boots but how clean and fresh the air felt in the Vermont summer. They said that in large cities the air was often brown, the streets were often dirty and crowded with cars and sidewalks jammed with people. Apparently, there were no cows there either. On the other hand, they did not drive 20 miles along a dirt road to get groceries and there were lots of restaurants within walking distance of their house. I wasn’t sure it was all true but I had seen scenes from New York in a small black and white television and it certainly seemed to match their description.

As America has evolved, our culture seems more like that of the cows on the farm.

I used to fly a lot. I still have hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles I have not used. I flew again last week and used some of these miles. The flights were short, I was in coach, and the planes were crowded and the airline security was much stricter than it used to be.

I should have studied the new rules. I flew from a small airport located in the middle of large stands of pine trees and sandy soil. There is a small two lane road that is flat, straight, uncrowded and goes directly through the piney woods.

I took off my shoes at the direction of the exceptionally polite TSA agent. I put my computer through the scanning machine. I removed my cell phone, my cell phone container and ran a small carry on bag through the xray machine.

I then learned that my shaving cream, toothpaste and listerine bottle, all safely tucked away in a new, professionally designed shaving kit were potential agents of destruction and that I should have had these items on display in my hand in a clear plastic bag. I was referred to another TSA agent, also very polite, who appeared to be wearing latex gloves. She went through my shaving kit in some detail and asked about the location of my one-quart plastic bag for holding these materials. Lacking the required bag, I waited with the contents of my shaving kit displayed while other passengers went by avoiding eye contact and quickly leaving as the potential terrorist with luggage being thoroughly searched by a government agent was on display. The TSA agent departed to consult another level of supervision.

She returned with no apparent resolution. I did have smaller plastic bags holding vitamin pills for the trip. I suggested I used the inappropriately sized plastic bags to hold the toothpaste and shaving cream. She agreed that would be acceptable. The vitamin pills spilled and rolled around the area while I filled the bags. The TSA agent was unfailingly polite while ensuring the items were placed and stored correctly.

By then, the other passengers were all in the waiting area, and I walked to the departure gate to sit with the other passengers who were probably understandably nervous about the potential terrorist whom they passed being thoroughly searched by the government agency protecting their physical safety.

People on the plane are often reading and don’t interact. Those on the aisle are often slammed with suitcases that are supposed to fit in the overhead bins but do not easily move down a narrow aisle. Most of the slammers move along without any recognition of having hit someone in the head with their bag. When the plane stops, everyone jumps up and stands in front of their seat in a hurry to get out. The cows heading for the barn for the grain that awaits them push and shove in a similar way.

The agents for TSA appear more professional, better trained and certainly more polite than the screeners were before TSA was created and made screeners federal employees. Admittedly, it makes me uncomfortable having a government agent searching through my underwear and shaving kit. We have less privacy. We express anger and frustration much quicker because we are more angry and frustrated. We want less to do with other people. We are less tolerant of others as individuals despite the barrage of media messages about our tolerant society.

Reading about the airline flight attendant who got fed up, cursed, and left the airplane in an emergency shoot struck a nerve. He may have been a jerk but many people can relate to how he felt. We get tired of dealing with people who are rude, inconsiderate, and generally wish others would go away and not bother them. Unfortunately, many of the people who feel this way are waiting on us at the Post Office, in a department store, a restaurant, an airport or other public areas.

This is why many people are cheering the display of frustration of the flight attendant who made national headlines after having worked with rude, inconsiderate people and, after cursing out the passengers on the plane through the intercom system, exited the airplane in a dramatic way. A man who stood up, cursed and spoke out against those he was being paid to help hit a nerve with us and is seen by many as a national hero of sorts. Who among us has not wanted to do something similar when being treated in a rude, inconsiderate manner?

And, for many of us, there is a leery, latent worry about how much government control we now have over our lives while watching a federal agent check us out and judge us in public and, perhaps, wondering if they will be publicly walked away from the gate area and taken to a private room to satisfy the curiosity of a large, impersonal bureaucracy.

I doubt any of us can accurately predict the probable political and social changes caused by more anger and frustration we all feel. Chances are, we will be like the cows on the farm—seeking satisfaction for what we personally want and desire without worrying about the impact on others.

I plan on avoiding flying, if possible, and driving instead. I like the privacy of having my own car, being able to stop when and where I want, and to pack my toothpaste without having it searched. Perhaps this privacy will disappear after the next terrorist attack and government agents will be searching our car before we get on a federal highway. Until then, I will enjoy the privacy and freedom to move about and watch cows in the field from a respectable distance.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47