10.1 Thin Line
I believe, for reasons based on experience, that we are always three degrees away from an outbreak of chaos. Not any big thing, as Charles Bukowski said in The Shoelace:
It’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse. Death he’s ready for, or murder, fire, flood. No, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies. Not the death of his love but a shoelace that snaps with no time left.
Arriving home from the airport after a long day of travel, I went to unlock my apartment door when I glanced across the hall. There was police tape across the lock and door handle. I looked around the empty hallway, but nothing else seemed out of place.
The following morning, I went down to talk with the doorman about the police tape. “I know you probably can’t say anything,” I said. “But I was away for the weekend and noticed the police tape on a door across the hall from me. I just wanted to know if there were any safety issues that I should know about.” The doorman said, “You’re right, we can’t say anything.” He then looked from side to side to make sure no one was around. “But, you don’t have to worry about any safety issues. All I would say is that he is no longer around.”
That evening, I was walking home from an early dinner with a friend. I live along a main street in the southern part of downtown. It was fairly mild out for this time of year. There was a woman about ten paces ahead of me and I could hear a man walking briskly close behind me.
In a matter of seconds, the relatively quiet street erupted into chaos. A car turned off the road, jumped up on the curb, and headed straight for the woman in front of me. She screamed and ran away from the car. Myself and the man behind me ran towards her, giving the car a wide berth. Since it was dark, I could not see the driver past the bright headlights. The car kept moving, quickly, along the sidewalk, and we both jumped out of the way, joining the woman up the steps of a townhouse. Eventually, the car swerved off the sidewalk and took off down the street.
The three of us were stunned. A tattooed man came out of the townhouse, asking about what happened. The woman was shaking. The other man called 911 and I asked her if she was okay. She was, if only a bit in shock. It was as though the person was trying to run her down. None of us got the license plate number, nor the make of the car. We were terrible witnesses. Without this information, the police said there wasn’t any point to even come by. With that, the tattooed man went back inside, and the rest of us parted ways.
When I got home, I finished packing up and went to get the last train to the airport. I’d be up all night as my flight was one of the first to depart in the morning. It really wasn’t that bad - I had work to do, books to read, podcasts to listen to.
I was able to check in at my airline and waited for the bag drop-off to open. Once the bag was off, I was one of the first people through security. Customs was not yet open and so they directed us to sit in a large waiting room until our initials appeared on a big screen television in front of us. At the appropriate time, they seemed to have already abandoned the initials process, and just opened the doors, shepherding us into the large customs area.
Before we got the courtesy of speaking with a customs agent, we had to fill out some preliminary information on one of those kiosk machines that are now ubiquitous in airports. There were about fifty machines and since I was one of the first people through the gates, I started inputting my information.
Then my screen went blank. I looked around and one-by-one, every screen turned off and this notice appeared - This machine is not working, please try another one. A very tired looking civilian on a cellphone ran by me and I heard him say, “Oh, shit, now all of the machines are down.”
People looked around at each other, not knowing what to do. It was like in a movie where they are trying to show us how technology fails us at the worst times. This was considered the busiest day of travel during the holiday season, and it was not starting out well. I figured this was it, this was the moment where people lose their minds. Where they snapped. We’re all walking that line, everyday going along like everything is working exactly the way it should. One little glitch, one inconvenience - who knows what it could be that makes someone lose it?
After standing there dumbstruck for a few minutes, the customs agents asked us to form a line and they would process us all manually.
I looked behind me in the eyes of my fellow travelers. Maybe this would be the moment? That person over there?
With each broke shoelace out of one hundred broken shoelaces, one man, one woman, one thing enters a madhouse. So be careful when you bend over.