It must have been somewhere in the late nineties or early aughts that I first learned about the concept of liminal spaces. I’m fairly certain I got it from William Gibson. I’ve associated it with travel and the in-between spaces like corridors, escalators to nowhere and empty lounges. But it really means any in-between space that is not clearly claimed as one type of space or another. The rules of the space are unclear as it doesn’t have an identity.
After my most recent flight to Germany last night, I am wondering if manners and social contracts can be liminal too. Between the spaces where rules and social probity apply, and where we believe we can we can engage in bad behavior, is liminal civilization.
You are not quite bounded by the rules of your friends and countrymen nor are you fully bound by agreed upon civilizational manners when traveling. And nowhere is this truer than traveling when sick.
On the first leg of my flight a white twenty something gentleman sat next to me. He had an awful cough. He would sniffle, hack and then snurg up a ball of snot and swallow it down on repeat. I hadn’t put on a mask as the airport was mostly empty and so was the flight.
But I was next to a gentleman who was clearly in the grips of some type of viral infection. I put on a KN95 and didn’t remove it. He stated daggers at me. Like I was the rude one. But frankly I had no intention of getting his cold.
On my second flight I encountered a couple even further removed from decent manners and leaning full into liminal incivility. United had a huge fuck up on my flight which had them scrambling to reseat me after they gave away my seat when their own flight didn’t make it to Denver. I had bought another ticket on another flight and checked in at the lounge and has my husband call to confirm but alas I almost didn’t make it onto my flight. After pleading, I was reseated next to these two chumps.
I noticed the wife coughing first. A polite hem hem cough sniffle sniffle. She asked the flight attendant for a tissue. But her companion was far sicker. He coughed every 8-10 seconds while he was awake. A wracking hacking wet cough. And neither one of them had masks. A passenger with a baby asked if they would consider one. I said I had masks still in their wraps and NyQuil if it might help.
Whatever liminal edge of society in which they live, it is clearly one where the politics of masking has taken them so far beyond the bounds of basic decency, no one on the flight could convince them to cover up. Not even while the flight circulator was off during take-off, landing and taxi. These were visibly sick people. It wasn’t Covid paranoia. It was simply please keep your germs contained.
The gentleman thought it was so rude. Unless someone has cancer or another immune disease it was ridiculous for anyone to wear a mask. He explained has anti-bodies so it was clear he couldn’t get any of us sick. That’s how antibodies worked he explained. We stated incredulously. His argument was because he has had“it” before his immune system was fine. He couldn’t get us sick. In fact he wasn’t even sick really, just showing symptoms right? Needless to say this isn’t how infection works.
Furthermore, if he could get any of us sick from these coughing fits, it was because we were weak. I told him I took immune suppressants for a spinal condition and an infant was one seat away from him. The parents of the child and I both wanted to avoid a cold or flu if possible. He just laughed and said we were idiots.
I can’t really fathom living this far out of basic civilizational norms. It used to be impolite to cough in people’s faces. You were encouraged not to travel when ill. Other cultures introduced masks so the ill wouldn’t infect the rest of us. But since COVID’s disastrously overdone masking policies, we’ve now lost a basic tool of hygiene and human decency to keep those infected from harming others.
One reason I identify as a doomer is because of how often I see people like these three travelers completely ignore the needs, wants, desires and safety of others. It’s like they have their own bubble and fuck any of us with our needs and boundaries my desire to not get sick is just my opinion man. And it’s rude of me to ask.
I ended up masking till the air circulators came on. I slept without one. I hope the baby managed. If I were their parents I’d be furious some asshole decided his right to engage in society when sick was so much more important than theirs. Travel might be full of liminal cultural spaces where the rules of civilization no longer matter. Covid broke everyone’s brains.