I managed to keep my head from exploding while traveling this week.
Lexus flew me to New Jersey to drive the redesigned sixth-generation Lexus ES.
No, the Lexus folks aren't mad at me; they flew a bunch of journalists to New Jersey for the East-coast press launch.
I have absolutely no clue where I was while there. They flew us into Newark -- one of my least favorite airports of all time -- and whisked us off by limo to a Hilton Hotel somewhere. It remains a mystery.
Here's the short commercial:
A big leap from the original in 1989 to the current crop, the ES looks ever more like its LS big brother. Outside the styling is more substantial and interesting than that of the previous ES. Inside, the lines are angular and handsome.
The front seats are terrific with plenty of support and lateral bolstering. The backseat area is huge. Designers turned the additional 1.8 inches in wheelbase length into 4.1 inches of rear-seat legroom.
Basically the 3.5-liter V6 returns unchanged. Some adjustments to the gearing in the automatic tranny squeezes an extra 2 mpg in combined city and highway driving to 24 mpg.
The big news is the hybrid version with its combined fuel economy of 39 mpg.
Driving by the horse farms of New Jersey -- yes, New Jersey has horse farms; who knew? -- the ES is quiet, smooth and handles with predictability.
But as good as the new ES is, it isn't the central topic of this writing.
To paraphrase the great twentieth-century philosopher Forrest Gump, flying is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.
I arrived at the Newark Airport for the initial leg of my flight home about an hour and forty-five minutes before the scheduled departure. I already had my boarding pass, which was a good thing because construction caused Delta to move its ticket counters somewhere other than where the limo dropped me off. I never did see them.
My flight was out of gate 42 in the B Terminal. Gates 42 to 49 -- or something like that -- have their own dedicated TSA security checkpoint. Never have so many done so little to help so few. At least four or five TSA agents were milling around mostly watching one or two others actually work.
I try not to get too lathered up about going through airport security. When I fly out of Greenville-Spartanburg, there are also agents who don't appear to have enough to do, but they are all friendly and seem to be genuinely competent. In Atlanta, they aren't as jovial, but also seem competent. Those in San Francisco may be competent, but are as nasty and surely a bunch as you will find. Think: Soup Nazi in a TSA uniform. Each city seems to have its own brand of TSA agents.
After my boarding pass and passport were compared to me, I approached the x-ray belt. I had stripped my person of any offending items, such as wallet, cell phone, belt and so forth. My netbook and baggie of toilet articles were in a plastic tub. Likewise my footwear was on the conveyor. I fly a lot. I know the drill. I know what I can and can't take. I know what can be in my carry-ons and what can't. It's not my first rodeo.
When I walked up to the conveyor belt, I was third in line. I do not exaggerate when I say that it took nearly 10 minutes for me and my stuff to work our way to the mouth of the x-ray machine. Every item on the belt was being scrutinized for 30 to 40 seconds. Virtually nothing was just smoothly going through.
I was annoyed, but only by the incompetence of the imbecile watching the x-ray monitor. The line of travelers behind me was growing by leaps and bounds. Had I walked up two minutes later, I would have been really steamed.
Finally my bags made their way into x-ray hell. I got the full-monty x-ray treatment holding my hands over my head and coughing or whatever one is supposed to do.
I moved over to the conveyor to grab my stuff as it was belched out of the x-ray machine. What do you know? The belt was stopped again. This time for my rollerboard. The idiot monitoring the x-ray machine called over another agent and insisted my bag be physically searched.
The agent grabbed my bag and told me to follow him to a table as soon as I had the rest of my stuff. Of course, that required another four or five minutes because the conveyor was stopped again for the rollerboard of the woman behind me. She had left her laptop in her bag. While we waited for yet another TSA agent to screw up the energy to walk over, pull her bag off the line, remove the laptop and run it back through, the belt was paused with my stuff still partially inside.
I have now been in the direct vicinity of the x-ray machine for at least 15 minutes and my stuff is just coming off. I walk over to the table where Agent Knucklehead begins to paw through my bag. This was just an overnight trip, so there isn't much in there but my sport coat, yesterday's shirt, a pair of dress shoes and some dirty underwear.
There are a few other odds and ends that are always in there like some extra coffee creamer and sugar for the coffee maker in the hotel room, a tiny lock and key that came with the suitcase and a small lint roller. All of the same stuff that was in the bag on the flight out and the last 50 flights I've taken without my bag being searched.
This agent didn't look particularly happy. I guess even when you have nothing better to do, having to go through someone's bag for no reason can tick you off. He put everything that wasn't clothing into a plastic tub, stacked it on my rollerboard and carried it all back over to the x-ray for another run through as I stood off to the side by the table.
It came back through the x-ray, the Clown Prince of the x-ray shrugged her shoulders at him as she watched all of this stuff come through again. Agent Knucklehead made some comment to her, picked all my stuff back up, carried back to the table where he tossed it down in front of me without a word. He then stormed away.
I had no idea if I was cleared to repack my bag, or was supposed to wait for another Nazi to take it from there. After about 30 seconds, I determined no one else wanted a piece of me. I repacked my bag and headed for the gate. Total elapsed time from the moment I passed through the agent checking boarding passes and I.D.s until I headed for my gate: 25 minutes.
I didn't much care for the Newark airport before 9/11, it certainly hasn't improved since.