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|| News Item: Posted 2001-09-28

"Man invented the wheel, not the wing."
By Robert Beck

Like most of you, I am a bit apprehensive about flying...even during the best of times.

Beyond the anxiety of leaving family and home behind, missing soccer games, volleyball tournaments, birthday parties and barbecues, there are the haggles of getting a good parking place at the airport, getting the gear on the plane and trying to score a seat where you have enough room to actually move your toes during the flight.

Then the white-knuckle trip begins!

I don't like chop. I don't like a few bumps. I don't like the fact I could just fall out of the sky and do what? ... listen to people scream for the last thirty seconds of my life?

Man invented the wheel, not the wing. Let me drive any day.

I'd like to burn my OAG but my job requires me to fly. And now, on top of all that aforementioned crap, I have to worry about some f**King bastard stealing my plane and flying it into a building. No, I don't really worry about that. That's already been done.

Over and over and over again.

I worry now that some f**King bastard (SFB from here on out) will carry an explosive onto a plane or that he will conveniently hustle it into the baggage hold. Maybe they'll just shoot us down with a ground to air missile.

Maybe they'll just pop open the emergency exit at 30,000 and let us get sucked out into the wild blue yonder...Just me and my peanuts riding to oblivion. Do I need that? Do you? Jesus Christ Almighty.

I'm getting behind myself here. I have to fly. That's part of my job. I am not flying to show SFB I am not scared. I am not flying to show SFB that he didn't win. He did win.

A couple of weeks ago he kicked my ass. He screwed us all. And he has scared me. But I have to fly. That's part of my job. Have I said that before? It is my mantra.

Last week I was assigned to the Seattle - Philadelphia football game in the great Northwest. I was also scheduled to shoot the Washington State - Cal game in Pullman the previous day. I begged off of that one because it was my birthday and several of my closest friends and family...and me, felt I should at least make it to 46 since I was so close.

There were a lot of rumors about the 22nd being the day of the second wave of terrorist attacks. I still had to fly out on Saturday evening. I started out for the airport three hours early like a good American. I arrived to find no traffic and an airport parking lot that was over half empty.

With no skycaps around, I located a cart, loaded up my gear and wheeled over to the ticket counter.


I asked the agent if there were any exit seats available. She said I could have any seat I wanted, there were hardly any passengers on the flight. In fact she bumped me up to an earlier flight...and still an exit row. Wow!

Now I almost want to fly! Easy parking and an exit row! I,m almost in heaven and my plane hasn't even exploded yet!

I went to the security check point and found one tall, buffed, FBI-type guy in a suit and the usual bevy of chatty South Pacific x- ray machine operators. The FBI-type asked the man in front of me if he was flying Alaska or United. The man said, "United."

The FBI-type proceeded to check his ticket and I.D. Then he asked him several questions about where he was going to, where he was coming from and so on. Very professional.

When it was my turn he asked, "United or Alaska?" I said "Alaska" He said the little-guy would help me. In halting English the little-guy asked to see my ticket and I.D. He looked at both (never at me) and let me through. My stuff went through the x-ray machine as usual. They would not hand check my film even though it was shelled and in clear plastic Baggies.

They never double-checked or asked me to turn on my DVD or mini disc players.

Up the stairs I went to a virtually empty United/Alaska concourse. Maybe there were fifty people in all. I eyed every one of them trying to flush out a terrorist. I didn't see any (We DO know what they look like don't we?).

My flight was about 40 minutes late boarding. About thirty of us got on, including a guy from NFL Films. Aside from a few bumps at take-off, which rendered my esophagus the size of a pinhead, the flight was blessedly uneventful. Did you know that one of those NFL movie camera rigs costs in excess of 120 G's...USED?!

The next day I arrived early to the game ...about 10 AM for a 1:05 PM start. I parked fairly close to the stadium without my car being checked and put my gear together in the parking lot. I knew that bags would not be allowed unattended inside the stadium.

My assistant and I were asked to open our fanny packs and allowed through. No one checked our I.D. I'm not sure they even saw our credentials. No problem.

As were all of the openings to the NFL games that day, ours was very moving. Lots of tears. Lots of flags. Lots of silence. Lots of singing. And lots of police and additional security.

Shooting the game was nothing short of ordinary. Everyone involved let the photographers do their jobs as usual.

Photo by
Getting home was per norm as well. There were a few more people in line at the x-ray machine because they were matching I.D. with tickets (or at least they thought they were). My flight was packed. There was one empty seat and I got to sit next to, I swear to God, a person of Middle Eastern descent.

He had a laptop and some other small bag with him and he looked a little uneasy. I broke out my DVD and started "Gladiator" ...with one eye on the screen and the other on his hands and bags. He read "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" for half of the trip but that was the only funny business he pulled.

I claimed my luggage and headed for my truck. On the way home I thanked God 576,900,877,000 times.

P.S. I did have a bit of a hard time shipping our film. The woman at the Continental Quik Pak counter was not about to let me ship without my own personal FAA number. Luckily I had an official Time Warner I.D. and Beth Dalatri from SI faxed something official looking from the office. The lady did admit to her security supervisor that she had accepted shipments from me before.

Thank goodness for those Mariners!

(Robert Beck is a staff photographer with Sports Illustrated based in the San Diego area.)

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