I realize I said I’d try to respond to all the letters from passengers and former screeners by the end of January. Well, the end of January is here, and it ain’t happening. I have a backlog of at least 200 letters. There’s no way I could possibly give all of them the in-depth responses they deserve.
And so I’m going to wash a shot of espresso down with a Red Bull, brew a pot of coffee, and answer as many of them as I can over the next 48 hours, in a half-assed fashion.
Let’s rock and roll.
First up is the first letter I received from anyone, a current screener. This was before anyone picked up on this blog; back when about 6 people had viewed this site, total. This was a really nice bit of encouragement, from someone with an AOL email address, “Sherlock.” Sherlock wrote in:
Funny stuff! You have only scratched the surface
-Soon to be ex-DHS employee
Thanks for believing in me before anyone else thought that I was a special little snowflake, Sherlock. You were my first, and I’ll never forget you. I would like to think that my blog had something to do with you quitting.
Up next, another letter from a former screener:
I really do like your blog! I was named the TSA witch after what happened to me when I worked for them! It is a long story, but you can google tsa witch and read all about it! So, if you ever need any input, feel free to ask!
Thanks for writing in, Madam TSA Witch. I read your story, and it is amusing. I recommend anyone else so inclined to Google “TSA Witch” and go for it.
Up next is the full text of what I consider to be the now-classic “making fun of TSA is somewhat akin to poking a large retarded bear” email.
“Work X hours of overtime”, “working overtime until X” – code for an attractive passenger, where X is the direction of the passenger relative to the officer.
I can’t argue with anything you say on your blog, and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t. However, I do feel like its akin to poking a crippled, retarded bear with a sharp stick.
I believe the first part of the above email was a proposed entry to the Insider’s TSA Dictionary, and I’m fairly certain that this is a current or former screener. What you see in the above email is the type of on-the-checkpoint slick guy-speak that actually goes on, flying right over your heads, ladies.
As you can see, even if the Federal Security Director of an airport were to read this blog and put out an airport-wide directive stating that “There will be none of the sexist TSA guyspeak exposed by the Insider’s TSA Dictionary going on at this airport,” the screeners would easily be able to evade detection with the deployment of Advanced Complexity Guyspeak.
In the above case, you have what is probably a current screener who, at his airport, communicates the location of an attractive female by saying “Hey Joe, you gonna’ be working 12 hours of overtime next week?” where the attractive female is at 12 o’clock, directionally-speaking. Then Joe would respond with something along the lines of, “Yeah, by the D gates, it’s hot over there,” all going on right in front of you, ladies, with you probably none the wiser. So that’s how that works.
Anyway, thanks for writing in, current screener. And yes, it still is like poking a retarded bear. You’re still right.
Our next letter comes from Mike:
Thanks for the story, Mike. I do not doubt for a second that this is true. At the airports where I worked, there were constant, year-round stories of people being fired/arrested for theft. For some reason, I was never really friends with any of the people who were busted. But I did know quite a few people, back around 2005, who had no compunction about cleaning the change out of the little tray beneath the x-ray belt that collects things that fall out of overturned bins and bowls.
One TSO I knew would go around to the lanes, kick the trays, and collect dropped change until he got enough to buy his daily cup of coffee. I thought he was crazy for doing it at the time, still do, because that’s just the sort of thing that gets back to the wrong people, causes cameras to be rolled back in managers’ offices, and finally results in a swift termination. But back in 2005/2006 and before, there was a far more lawless spirit on TSA checkpoints, if you can believe that, dear passengers. (And the TSO who got his daily cup of coffee from dropped passenger change pretty much had the Office Space excuse: “It’s not really stealing. It’s sort of no one’s money. Dropped change. Fractions of money, is what it is, that I’m just sort of directing toward a cup of coffee.”)
Next up, speaking of thefts at TSA, is a letter from Paul, who wrote:
I recently wrote a blog post about the TSA and how to simply defeat their ability to steal your stuff out of your luggage. the blog post appears at:
For those of you who don’t have time to read Paul’s entire proposed method, it’s a tad involved, having to do with a declared firearm, and probably not very feasible for the average Joe or Jane, but hey, what the hell. We’re publishing em’ all here this week on Taking Sense Away.
Next is Curt, who wrote in:
Hi, I just found your blog via the recent article on slashdot and I
quite enjoy it. I travel often compared to most other Americans, and
I’ve always wondered what it’s like for the people “on stage” as it
were, in our security theater. I wonder if you would be willing to post
sort of “day in the life,” documenting what a typical day was like as a
See, this is why it’s so hard for me to even begin to try to respond to all the email I have sitting over here in my inbox. This is a very good request, a very good piece of mail, and it’s something I would definitely like to do. But answering this is a huge blog post unto itself. And, quite frankly, a mostly boring blog post, too.
The typical day in the life of a screener. Hm.
I’ll just try to do a “TSA Screener’s Day in 30 seconds” type deal:
BRIEFING: Good morning everyone, thanks for coming in. Blah blah don’t call off too much blah blah now let’s talk about a thing that management is making a big deal about this month but will forget about next month because someone just happened to get caught doing something stupid such as trying to use their DHS badge to get out of a speeding ticket blah blah blah make sure you re-run all bags after you do a bag check blah blah no gum chewing because the terrorists are out there looking for signs of weakness such as gum chewing have a good day here are your lane assignments, GO!…
…I’m stuck working this full body scanner that doesn’t even work. This is terrible. I hate this job…
…Maybe I should start a blog one day telling everyone about how outrageous it is that I’m putting a toddler into a full body radiation scanner that really doesn’t work…God, do I hate this job. It is a paycheck though. Direct Deposit. Should get paid this Saturday, too….
…Now I’m on X-Ray. This is boring, too, but at least it’s not as bad as working that full body scanner that doesn’t even work. I wonder if I should call a bag check on this toothpaste. It’s just fucking toothpaste. Calling a bag check on what I know will turn out to be that old lady’s toothpaste isn’t going to make the world any better in any way. I hate this job so hard. Is anyone looking? No, there’s only a few cool people around, and the supervisor is over there flirting with that American Airlines flight attendant. I’ll just let the toothpaste go…
…Oh look, they’re putting L3 Micromillimeter Wave scanners in, now. I guess this will be better. But it sure is giving out false positives on every other thing. This is annoying, too. But it’s better than the backscatter radiation scanners, and we’re sparing the children, now. So let’s just be grateful for what we have. God I hate this job, though…
…I’m sitting on the exit. Thank you, Jesus. This is the best thing that’s happened to me all week. Hopefully they’ll let me just sit here on this exit all day, as long as they don’t partner me up with one of the insufferable dullards I work with. Sitting here and making sure no one comes in after exiting security is as good as it gets with this job…
…aaand I’m back on the lane now, because someone on light duty came into work and forced me off my sweet exit lane assignment. I hate this job. Please let this day just be over. Oh God. There’s an idiot on the x-ray now. She’s going to call every little liquid that comes across that x-ray screen. There she goes. It’s a half empty tube of toothpaste. I have to throw out a half-empty tube of fucking toothpaste or else I’ll get fired for letting the terrorists win. I hate this job…
DEBRIEF: “Thank you all for a great job”/”Curse you all, you can’t do anything right”/”Pop quiz, officers: blah blah boring theoretical SOP question that doesn’t really matter”/”Can anyone tell me the proper thing to do if a person who looks like he’s 9 years old but who claims he’s 47 approaches you claiming that he has both a rare disease and a diplomatic pouch in his backpack?”/ “Thank you all for coming, see you again tomorrow, and remember: if you hate this job so much, you can always go work at McDonalds over in the food court.”
END: ROUND 1.