Juan Williams, you’re not alone.
A while back, I was boarding a flight from LA to New York, and as I moved slowly down the aisle like a hog at a slaughterhouse, I glanced down to see who my seatmate would be.
He was a man of Middle Eastern descent. He had a prayer shawl on, was reading what appeared to be the Koran, and was – I kid you not – sweating profusely, chanting something softly under his breath, and rocking in his seat.
In that moment, every PC attitude I had about racial profiling went out the very window I imagined I would soon be blown out of. I immediately began attempting – in as subtle, unobtrusive a manner as possible – to get the attention of the flight attendants, who were, frankly, much too busy pounding carry-on bags into submission in the overhead bins and yelling at people to sit the f*** down to be bothered with wrestling an obvious terrorist to the floor.
There was, of course, always the possibility that this man wasn’t evil incarnate. Maybe he had the flu. Maybe he was on his way to a very important job interview. Or maybe he was going to ignite the dynamite attached to his nipples and we would all die in a screaming, fiery crash.
All I knew for sure was that I, for one, wasn’t going down without a fight. After several sweaty minutes, I finally got the attention of a pretty blond flight attendant. Perhaps my eyes (which were as big as watermelons) drew her attention. Or my arms, which were flailing about like a slow kid trying to do the stadium wave. In any case, she walked by, did a thorough visual inspection of the situation, and smiled as if to say, “Don’t be such a worrywart.”
I did not speak to this gentleman for the next six hours, for fear that whatever inane words I spoke would be the last ones I ever uttered, and I didn’t want the black box to pick up my voice going, “Wow, could these seats be any smaller?” or “I think I should just FedEx my legs to my destination” as he executed a high-pitched yodel and pulled the trip wire.
And perhaps I should have tried conversing. For it finally occurred to me, as we were landing, that this perfectly nice, quiet guy was probably just a fearful flyer. Because nothing ever exploded. He remained sweaty and nervous throughout the flight, but the worst thing that happened is that a kid somewhere in the vicinity screamed and cried throughout the whole flight.
Or maybe was that me.