equalizing forces

Whatever you want to say about the American system of airport security, one thing I like about it is that it can be an equalizing force. Leave aside for the moment that there are those two lines, one for the first class passengers and one for the rest of us, the regular people. Both lines end up going through the same classless metal detection archway, even if our bags remain on separate X-ray belts. Which is how I ended up going through the security just after Michael J. Fox and his family this morning at SFO. I had to deftly sidestep two of his blonde kids, in fact, when I reached for my bags on the economy class belt.

Michael J. Fox is the kind of famous person that doesn’t try to hide, or make a point of his famousness. Or so it seems. No sunglasses, no hats, no fancy fashions. I would not, in fact, have even noticed him at all in my 6:30 am pre-coffee haze except for the smiling, gawking guy in front of me in the economy class line.

Smiling, gawking passenger says, “Hey, that guy look familiar? Heh, heh.” He touches my arm.
I am trying to figure out how to hold my laptop, coat, boarding pass and backpack while standing on one foot so I can unzip my boot. “Huh?” I say.
Smiling, gawking passenger points at a short guy in the first-class line some yards away who looks pretty stressed out about getting all of his bags into the stacks of gray bins laying on the tables in front of him. I notice that he’s standing on one shoeless foot, too. “That’s Michael J. Fox,” smiley, gawking passenger says.
“Oh,” I say.

Michael J. Fox is with his wife, the actress Tracy Pollan, their four attractive kids and a woman who appears to be a nanny. After I sidestep their cute blonde kids on the other side of security, I gather up all my stuff from the grey bins and I walk sock-footed over to a chair off to the side where I can reassemble my bags, put on my boots, figure out which pocket my boarding pass is hiding in, etc. I watch as Michael J. Fox piles some bags onto a luggage cart pushed by a graying older man who I assume is a grandparent.

“That’s so nice,” I think to myself, “they’re traveling with one of the grandparents.”
“Just regular people,” I think. I like when famous, important and wealthy people act like regular you-and-me people instead of their famous, important and wealthy personas. I like equalizing forces, like the metal detection archway in airport security, but I like it even more when people equalize themselves.

Later, after I have acquired a coffee from Peets and a bagel and cream cheese from an overpriced deli counter, I see MJF outside the first-class lounge chatting with the older gentleman, who is now pushing the cart. And then, I see it: The grandfather is no grandfather at all, but an airport employee with a big badge around his neck, tasked, no doubt, with shepherding the famous family through the airport and onto their flight. This tweaks me, just a bit. I’m a little disappointed. I’d really wanted to believe that Michael J. Fox went about his life just like anyone else.

I hear a commotion behind me and see the same smiling, gawking guy pointing out Michael J. Fox, this time to an older woman. And then I know: the grandfatherly airport shepherd wasn’t there for Michael J. Fox and his family; he was there because of all of us regular people.

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