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How to see regular people

July 30th, 2007 by dk

When I make travel plans, I instantly become stupid. What passes for logic in my little pea-brain makes for great party patter, but I’ve noticed no other direct benefits for the ludicrous hardships I put myself through, all in the name of saving a few dollars. (Ask my son sometime about the time I used Priceline and we ended up on a red-eye flight cross country on Christmas Eve. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And no, we didn’t get any close-up views of flying reindeer.)

Of course, airport security has now made traveling excruciating for everybody, so maybe I can be thankful for something. During my last trip, I spent 30 hours in six different airports. On purpose.

Life in airports beyond the security gates is different now than it was a few years ago. The indigent are not allowed in because they have no travel ticket to pass security. And the very rich are using private jets and charters, rather than subject themselves to the scrutiny of a minimum-wage worker with an ill-fitting suit jacket but shoes on his feet.

Shorn of the poor and the super-rich, I got more than a full day watching regular people, what Nixon called “the silent majority,” and what could now be described as all the people you never see on the nightly news.

People are huge. If somebody from a past century were to wander into an airport, they would barely recognize their species. Waddling is not uncommon, and it’s no longer remarkable. Just five or ten years ago, you could catch somebody quietly pointing or rolling their eyes, but no more. 400-pound behemoths are run of the mill, and they travel in packs. They know how to find the seats without armrests. They can keep their luggage, their children, and their Big Gulps together.

I don’t mean they aren’t as good as the trim junior executive on his Blackberry, with his petite wife and crew-cutted children. Just different. And very separate.

So I wasn’t surprised (but still disappointed) to read in the newspaper the other day that scientists have “learned” that obesity is “contagious.” That’s not at all what they learned. Click here to read the original report. Yes, it’s a plague. But no, it’s not contagious. It’s transmitted my meme, not gene. By social convention. If you have overweight friends, you’re more likely to consider it OK to be overweight yourself. Read a fine response to the lazy news coverage in Slate.

At first glance, I couldn’t figure out why the preponderance of overweight people was news to me. I’ve read the statistics, as alarming as they are. But I hadn’t “seen” it. I suspect that’s because TV reporters, stopping average people on the street, are stopping people who look like them. You see? We’re developing two versions of “normal.” It would only make sense that some cable TV producer is planning a network for overweight people who want to see the world as the big, beautiful place it is or should be.

If we take this quiet prejudice into our mating habits, what will happen? We’ll have a svelte humans who live long but have few children (because they slow you down) and overweight humans with large families but shorter life spans.

Do you ever get the feeling you’re living inside an Isaac Asimov science fiction thought experiment?

{184 – 91 = 93}

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