At airports, the security check is now a rite of passage so elaborate as to assume metaphoric resonance. After shedding one’s garments, after elaborate preparations, after difficult decisions regarding what must be left behind, after saying goodbye to the loved ones who cannot share the voyage, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, one crosses over and sails beyond the horizon, passed the point of no return, and emerges reborn on the other side (where, if one is fortunate, one can put on one’s belt before one’s pants have fallen down). This powerful sense that there’s no going back might be one of traveling’s most exquisite thrills, and that feeling is strongest for me when I’m squatting on the tiles, putting my shoes back on, wondering what kind of magazines I’ll look at in the newsstand, wondering how much will be extorted from me for a bagel and coffee. For me, when I finally make it to the hermetic space beyond the X-rays and metal detectors, it seems I’ve already arrived at my true destination, the blissful nowhere, that place where I’m definitively severed from all my ties and cares. I’ve escaped the quotidian of my life, and entered into the quintessential liminal space, where everything is provisional and where no one is truly home (that silly Tom Hanks movie notwithstanding). Because when we travel, the specific place seems to matter, but what we’re really searching for may be that particular state of mind, that disorientation that comes from being separated from your known routines and conveniences and thrown upon your own wits to make do, to be free from the responsibility for choices—what Schwartz goes on about in The Paradox of Choice—and be free to enjoy limits, limits on what you know to do or eat, limits on where you can go. Traveling seems to be a way of going beyond one’s limits, but it’s actually a way of artificially imposing them on yourself, of making yourself ignorant again after all the accumulated knowledge and strategies of everyday life begin to clutter and stifle one’s mind. These strategies—where to find breakfast and lunch, where to park a car, what to read in the newspaper, etc.—are ultimately imprisoning even as they enable us to function; they function by closing out the myriad possibilities that confront us at every turn. The whole point of the quotidian is to prevent things from happening.
Ideally, traveling opens all the possibilities while simultaneously lowering standards, making us tolerant and thus open to new experience. This expansive mood strikes me once I’m reborn beyond the security wall. (I suppose this happens to others as well, and this is what makes them talkative when they sit beside you on the plane or at the little airport bar.) This is why it makes no sense to me when people plan trips meticulously, and try to take the security of their everyday life with them on their journey. You surrender precisely that feeling of security the moment you pass through the security check point—that’s the meaning of that rite, which transforms the meaning of security to something quite different.