The dreary TSA agent asked for the man's boarding pass and ID, then peered at the documents as if he were an old Cold War border guard.
"Let me ask you this real straight, mister," he said in a slow drawl. "And look me in the eyes when you answer. You planning to harm anyone on this here airplane today?"
"No sir," the passenger replied. "I'll be reading my Esquire and eating from a small packet of pretzels."
The security agent paused to study the traveler's sturdy jaw line, the long crease in his brow, and to observe each flitting movement in his eyes.
Finally, the agent's face relaxed. "I believe you, son" he said. "This here card will allow you to skip the body search and metal scanner. Be well and safe travels."
It was another brisk day at Twin Cities International. Security lines composed of the bored and the anxious littered the terminal like backstage cords.
The passenger bypassed them all, arriving at his gate a half-hour early. As he took a seat in the waiting area, a golden retriever ran up to greet him.
"Airport done went and got itself a new hound," said a wiry girl in a tank top seated across from him. "Old one had to be put down. Got pinned by a baggage cart."
At the Delta boarding gate, an attendant called him over and said the plane was acting up again.
"That same noise it was making last month, it's making it again," she said. "What do you s'pose that is? The tail stabilizing bar? That's all I can figure. Anyway, it's going to be an odd ride today."
In the corridors that sliced through the airport, children ran relay races or broke into sing-alongs they'd learned in school. Their pleasant laughter could be heard in every kiosk and café, as well as in the Frontier Airlines Tavern where Diamond Drake Kohls was shooting pool with his cousin.
"I rode on a DC-9 last month and we all had to bail out over Mandan," Kohls complained. "Every damn one of us. I ended up parachuting with an old gal from Sheboygan who was telling me how her son got screwed out of graduating with his class because of some ill-advised prank. I just wanted to take in the autumn farm fields, but she wouldn't shut up. She didn't land right, either. Busted a femur. That damn near made up for it."
Sun Country pilot Willard "Nappy" Kopf shot past the tavern's entrance at a harried clip, escorting a known terrorist off airport property.
"Here's your paperwork, fella," Kopf said. "Give this to the officer outside and he'll take you from here. I don't want to see you back this way now, you understand?"
From over the PA system, an announcer asked whether anyone wanted jerky or raisins. If so, they should wave their arms as the cigarette girl strolled by. The announcer mentioned that the cigarette girl had worked at MSP International for 49 years and added that she'd recently been assaulted by a quilting group in Des Moines.
"Until her brain fully heals she won't be able to make change," the speaker blared. "Please round off your purchases to the dollar."
In the air, high above the low-hanging Midwestern clouds, a bubbly flight attendant, piled deep in mascara, asked passengers aboard an American Airlines 727 to raise their hands if they wanted to circle the Northland one more time before calling it a day. All hands went up, and the plane veered off for the Dakotas one more time.
In the plane sat Saul Rosen, a 90-year-old retired heart surgeon. He stared out the window at the prairie below and imagined himself as a young man riding his beloved Appaloosa.
He turned to the stranger seated next to him. "Why did you raise your hand?" he asked.
The oily-skinned, overweight teen replied that he didn't like most of what he encountered on earth and preferred to stay in the skies as long as possible.
"Me, too," Saul said.
"Do you know if there are any laws up here?" the teen asked.
"You mean do the laws below apply to the sky?" Saul said.
"Yes," the teen replied. "I don't think they should."
Saul looked down and noticed the teen was gripping a hand grenade.
At that same time, all across America, more planes taxied and took off, crisscrossing and zigzagging the ether, rising and sinking in eternal currents. And from above, airport terminals coast to coast appeared as little more than human ant farms, more rainy-day playthings for the gods.