Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On The Road Again

Waiting in the departure lounge for a flight, I hear the CSA radio to ask someone to bring her a bottle of hand sanitizer. A while later someone calls back and say they only have a large 500 mL bottle, and they can't bring it through security. My ears perk up when the CSA says, "tell them what it's for, maybe they'll make an exception."

What, I wonder, is so unsanitary on this airplane that it justifies violating the security rules? My curiosity is further piqued when they ask all passengers holding boarding passes for rows one through three to come forward to the podium. I'm not in rows one through three but you know, perhaps I need to move to a seat in the waiting area closer to the desk. The ... uh ... electricity might be better for blogging there.

So yeah, I eavesdrop. It turns out that there's a kid on board with a severe peanut allergy. He's about ten, wearing a little plastic mask, like an oxygen mask, and sitting beside a mother who looks fierce and hardened from years of hawklike anti-peanut watchfulness. The passengers in the first three rows are asked to surrender any peanut-related possessions, and to sanitize their hands. (They solved the security impasse by finding a 100 mL hand sanitizer bottle). A general announcement warns the rest of us to keep any peanuts stowed until after the flight.

This severe peanut allergy thing is odd. There is evidence for it being genetic and environmental (yea I know, lousy citation. There's too much concerned parent stuff on the web to find the science without a lot of sifting). If there's a genetic part, I wonder when and where the mutation occurred, how many people carry genes for it, and if it has any advantages, that have caused it to be retained or if it was just a useless genetic twist for those who had no contact with peanuts. It appears that the peanut has been around for a few thousand years in South America, but came to the US only a couple of hundred years ago. Peanut butter is now extremely popular in the US and Canada. Peanut boy's safety allowed for, we board the airplane.

This is Calgary. It was snowing at home, and there were frozen ponds and a few snow patches visible from the air, but the rampees are all wearing shorts and t-shirts. It must be spring here. Then I remember that this is Calgary and rampees wearing t-shirts and shorts only means that it is above -10 or so. Calgary WestJet rampees have a peculiar masochistic pride. It is spring here now, about +14 today. They had a foot of snow on the weekend, but that's Calgary for you.

On departure we bank such that I can see the city. I suddenly realize that Calgary is a tiny city. I've thought of it all my life as a big city, a series of connected glass- and steel-bound canyons, a maze of quadrantally numbered streets and improbably non-linear "trails," dwarfed only by the Rocky Mountains just to the west. But from my airplane window I look again and see that the glistening office towers cover only a few blocks on the south of the river, with the city flattening quickly into suburban houses and malls, and then fading to farmland in the blink of an eye. Most of the cities I have written about in the last year are bigger.

But that doesn't make them better. Calgary is beautiful.

Also, Blogger now allows postdated entries, so I can queue up a week's worth of entries and have them all autopost on the right days. It doesn't write new entries for me, though, so there may still be dry spells in my blogging.


Andy said...

Near as I can tell, you're the most regular aviation blogger in the English blogosphere (which, by the way, is a particularly apt use of that word!). I think your loyal readers will forgive a spell or two.

Lord Hutton said...

Last time I tried autoposting it didnt work

Aviatrix said...

Autoposting is a recent addition to Blogger, so try again. There are glitches in that the time format it accepts for posting is not the same as the display format (at least not for me). I have to tell it am or pm, not just "2109". I suppose it might fail if you told it to autopost a few minutes in the future, depending on how its polling mechanism works.

dpierce said...

Fascinating topic. The rise in reports of allergies are not thought to be genetic, as genetic mutations in an entire population are supposed to take a few generations to emerge, while the recent dramatic spike in allergies seemingly happened uniformly in the western world in one generation.

One theory is that people are simply more aware of allergies and are thus more likely to report them. (That doesn't account for the spike in deadly allergies, of course.) Another is that we are now more exposed in childhood to a wider array of chemicals and foods, and spend more time indoors (with dust mites and their ilk). Yet another is that we now over sanitize ourselves (with hand sanitizer, etc) and thus make ourselves oversensitive to the few biological agents we do encounter.

Scientists like to point out that people who live in more rural, natural environments (where they're less exposed to man-made chemicals and more exposed to natural germs and virii) haven't had the allergy spike. All of the above theories have strong counter-arguments, too.

In the end, if I had a deadly allergy to peanuts, I think I would stick to private transportation. I know the conventional wisdom about air quality in airliners is exaggerated, but the SEATS and trays have to be nastiest things ever. And who knows what people track out of the lavs into the aisles. (I've seen people go into the lavs barefoot. Gross.)

Anonymous said...

Another theory is that "natural selection" is failing so that new genetic abnormalities are propogated although they have no positive or even negative effects.

This is a good example of that. Where this person would have died (and to put it calously been wiped from the gene pool) very early in life in the past we're now forcing people to scrub thier hands and surrender personal property for his benefit.

Not that I want the poor child to die but disagree with impacting the rights of the many for the benefit of the one.