Monday, October 18, 2004

Dulles Airport - 1984

Besides blathering on about 16mm ephemeral films, I also enjoy blathering on about other things. I used to write/publish a zine named , Preparation X, which had many stories about my and my friends' observations about our culture (the zine's motto "We uncover the hidden mechanisms that drive society - and laugh at its shoddy craftsmanship"). Weblogs pretty much destroyed the zine community - so here I am spewing content in the latest "cool" format.

Anyhow, the immense project that I've hinted at above required a trip to Washington, DC. I was given about 24 hours notice and quickly had to book a flight to Dulles. That airport is pretty lousy - mostly because it is under construction.

I arrived at 7am, had my 90 minute meeting in DC, bummed around the Mall (bought an umbrella at the National Air and Space Museum, glanced at the conservative Stand Up for Marriage rally featuring young people carrying 8 ft tall wooden crosses, realized the umbrella I had just purchased was defective and I no longer had the receipt, went to the initially cheezy, but later interesting, International Spy Museum).

I glanced at my watch and realized that I needed to get back to Dulles. I had investigated online that I could take the Metro subway and pick up a bus that went to Dulles - total cost only $4.00! A cab ride would cost over around $50. I had already spent way too much on a plane ticket, a defective umbrella and a Metro pass (got off on the wrong stop on the way to my DC meeting and scrambled to get back on, ending up with a $15 Metro pass), so a $4 ride to the airport would help me cut my losses.

Well, the bus to the airport never showed up. I quickly hailed a cab and glanced at my watch. It would take 30 minutes to get to the airport, so I would only have 30 minutes to check in and go through security. Earlier in the morning, at RDU, this process only took 5 minutes. I didn't have any luggage and I had an e-ticket - really, how long could it take?

As the Beltway traffic thickened and the cab driver started apologizing for the delays, I decided to stop looking at my watch. No need to get anxious about something I had no control over.

We got to Dulles and I emptied out most of the cash in my wallet to pay for the cab, leaving only $6 and a Metrocard. I walked into the Main Terminal at Dulles and was engulfed by a sea of people. There seemed to be some sort of giant snaking line of folks. Anybody entering the terminal was immediately confused and asked the same question - "Is this line for checking in?" No, we were told, this was the line for security. A giant complex line with no discernable beginning or end. Everybody in the line had the same demoralized, vacant stare. Never before had I seen such an Orwellian event - masses of people waiting in tremendous lines just to be processed by the government. I immediately succumbed to the mass depression (mostly because I was exhausted - waking up at 4:30am to get to the airport). I found some e-ticket kiosks. Their lines were long and intermingled with the main security line - a line that really had no order to it. It seemed like the kiosk lines never advanced and I kept seeing flashes on the screen that "this kiosk was out of order". I waited in another line to try to check in - again no movement. People around me were looking at their watches - "well, there goes my flight". I finally looked at mine - "well, there goes my flight". I found an airline employee and told him about my situation. He had only heard this several hundred times today. "Go around to the other side to the ticket counter and rebook your flight."

I managed to book the last seat on the last flight of the evening to Raleigh, NC. It was leaving at 9:30pm. Waiting another, 4 hours at the airport didn't seem so bad, given I could have to spend the night there. Plus 4 hours would be plenty of time to get through the security line.

Below, the red line is the path that I had to take to get to the TSA security checkpoint x-rays. Note that the end of the line was inside a coil of people. At one point, I got very concerned that the line I was in was just going around in a long circle. It took me about 90 minutes to get to the x-ray machines.

Once I got through I was tired but happy. I ate some lousy airport food and sat at my gate, trying not to fall asleep waiting for my plane to depart and eavesdropping a "friendly" argument about weapons of mass destruction and the efficacy of the current President.

Moral of the story: Under no circumstances should you fly out of Dulles airport. I could have driven home from the Dulles terminal and gotten back hours before my flight arrived in Raleigh.

some backstory...

More than ten years ago, my roommates brought home over 500 16mm educational films from an auction. I had to work and so wasn't able to attend the auction. I had begged my roommates to buy me a film or two - secretly thinking that they would probably only buy films for themselves since we were all broke, post-college students working crappy jobs. I returned from my job and asked the roommates if they had bought any films. They both grinned and pointed at the large stack of films that I had just walked passed (truth be told, the front room of our house was packed with stuff - band equipment, printing presses, photocopiers, old TVs, etc. - and it was easy to ignore the clutter). Excited, we started watching the films. They had come from North Carolina's Dept of Human Resources and covered a variety of topics - personal hygiene, public health, drug abuse, nutrition, VD, etc.

As I watched each film, something inside of me clicked. It was easy to watch these films and laugh at their dated messages, corny dialogue and low budget production quality, but there was something else here that really stimulated a part of my brain. I would feel the same way whenever I would go to the NC State Univ. library - walking through the stacks and randomly stopping and browsing some arcane trade journal. I would study the beautiful illustrations and advertising and giggle at the trade-specific cartoons I would find in this journals. Here was a glance into an alien world - a whole field of expertise that I just barely even thought about and certainly would never consider being a part of. Watching the newly-acquired, yet obsolete, 16mm films gave me that same thrill - an irrational passion, if you will.

So now, I have over 14,000 such films in my collection. Most of them have come from schools and government agencies. Almost none of them are feature films (theatrical films). Most of them are industrial, educational and almost all are ephemeral (made for a specific audience at a specific time). I periodically show the films and I make them available on DVD and online. But you probably already know that...