I recently held a Plots We Imagine the TSA Protected Us From Today contest. For the next couple months I’m going to be posting the entries I received every Wednesday, or every other Wednesday, if I forget to do it on a particular Wednesday, like last week. At any rate, many of the entries I received were not exactly fictional terrorist plots; many were just citizens who dislike the TSA sort of sharing their frustrating experiences– blowing off steam, if you will. This comes from a military veteran, and a solid writer, so I’m posting it in its entirety.
My sad and sordid tale starts at the ending of a very pleasant and interesting vacation my wife, daughter and I took from our home in Maryland to Alaska.
It all started easily enough. We had decided to go on a cruise starting in Anchorage and ending in Vancouver, BC. Since airfare was a bit expensive from Canada, we decided to drive the 2 ½ hour journey to Washington and visit a friend in Seattle for a few days then fly home from there via Seattle/Tacoma Airport.
Me, I’m an ornery, military veteran who has never agreed with TSA’s creation, mission or policy. You could define me (airport security-wise) as one of those surly passengers who opts-out 100% of the time and still gives the TSA a hard time during the process. My wife cringes at the very thought of traveling with me (only during the “security procedure”) and is well aware that her mild-mannered husband will suddenly turn into this oppositional, haughty little bastard for a few minutes then quickly return to the calm, cool and controlled lad he normally is moments after clearing security. Happens every time.
Departing Maryland was easy. I could sense my wife’s apprehension as we approached the security gate at BWI.
“Sir, are you traveling with THAT minor today?” The frumpy middle-aged, woman asked me.
“That minor?” I asked. “You mean my daughter standing right here next me holding my hand as opposed to the non-existent other minors currently in view?”
To which there were none. Ignoring my first shot over the bow. She simply stated that since I was traveling with my minor daughter that “we” would be exempt from the body scanner and would be allowed to proceed through the metal detector un-molested. “and young lady” she said, “you will be able to keep your shoes on since you are under twelve!” as if this were some sort honor or prize for being a child. We proceeded through the metal detector without incident and I somehow made it through without my plastic buckled, nylon belt setting off any alarms. I never remove it or my shoes for that matter until directed to do so and more often than not, it is overlooked and ignored which was the case today. Hurray, we were now in the “sterile” environment awaiting departure for Seattle.
Carry-ons stowed, tray table locked in the upright position, honey roasted peanuts eaten, sky mall read, chit chat with the family, a view out the window, a nap and we landed in Seattle. Connection to Anchorage was uneventful and TSA free. We had a very pleasant cruise through Alaska’s inside passage, visiting Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan and finally ending our journey in Vancouver. We rented a car in Canada. I am happy to say, there was no noticeable TSA presence whatsoever at the U.S. border and we crossed into Washington with no hassles at all.
Seattle airport was big and crowded but seemed no worse than BWI and we quickly found our way to the right concourse only to find a line snaking in what seemed like 300 miles out into the main terminal to get through security. We waited like all the other lemmings, slowly working our way up to the security area.
“Licenses and ID OUT!” barked one TSA officer repeatedly. “Have your laptops and other gear out of the case and ready for inspection” shrieked another.
Standing in the security line feels somewhat like being in the doctor’s office. You really don’t want to be there and there’s this nervous anticipation while waiting to see him. The only difference is, the doctor actually performs a real and useful service that you are glad to have had after the visit! I watched as one officer screamed at a non-english speaking couple to show him their tickets. Another was carefully examining some dude’s backpack and asking him about guitar picks. (glad to see the agent caught those, after all they are pointy). Me? I wasn’t worried; I would pull the same traveling with a minor trick and be whisked through the metal detector. Even my wife seemed calm but was keeping a watchful eye on me just in case!
As we approached the little kiosk where they scan the paper tickets and match your id the woman checking our tickets said nothing at all then pointed at my wife to move left and go through the millimeter wave thingamajig.
“We are traveling as a family with a minor,” my wife said and the TSA person actually had a moment of clarity at my wife’s statement and directed us to a family line which did indeed have a metal detector.
My wife went through, my daughter went through. SIR! a male voice boomed from behind me. “This way” said the TSA officer pointing at that very same millimeter scanner I had just narrowly avoided moments earlier.
“I’m traveling with them. We’re a family,” I said to the officer.
“Did you hear me?” he said, “I said OVER HERE!”
“And I said I’m with them!” my voice now rising. “
You’ve been selected for screening” he said, as if to clarify his reason. “So screen me here, through the metal detector,” I said.
SIR!, NOW! he said with louder cadence to show the authority in his voice. My poor wife’s nightmare had come true and watched helplessly from the sidelines. My daughter seemed confused but stood there and watched as well.
“You are to go through this scanner and then, based on the results of your test WE will determine if you fly today,” he said very smugly.
“No, you will only determine whether I will pass through this checkpoint, not if I fly today. What test results, anyway? You mean like a blood test?” I asked with a snotty tone.
“We DON’T do blood tests sir!”
“Oh,” I said, “Glad you cleared that up for me. I opt-out!”
OPT-OUT! OPT-OUT ON FOUR! He started bellowing. He didn’t even try to give me the song and dance about how safe the equipment was or tell me anything else. He didn’t like me from the start and the feeling was mutual. Five minutes passed, then ten. I told my wife to go to the gate but she insisted on staying and fortunately we had plenty of time but I wasn’t going to tell my TSA friends that.
“This is getting kind of old,”I told my new chum.
“Any chance the grope will happen some time this century?”
No response. He never even made eye-contact with me and just continued to funnel other passengers into different lines. At the twenty minute mark I said, If I’m not taken care of in the next five minutes I will start videoing this harassment and will put it on YouTube. RED ALERT! My new TSA pal sprung to life warning me that I “CANNOT FILM a security checkpoint, EVER!”
“No, my friend, that is not true,” I said, “And will you calm down, I can hear you just fine. I CAN and WILL do so. Now, in FOUR minutes!” I said. (I would have done it too!)
He got on a radio and starting calling out numbers in what sounded like some sort of police jargon.
“Are you trying to scare or intimidate me?” I asked, “are you pretending to be acting like a cop? IT WON’T work!” I told him. “You’re nothing but a glorified mall cop. Now either send me through the metal detector or pat me down, I’m tired of waiting. You have two minutes!”
My wife was MORTIFIED!!!
Well, whatever I did, caused not one, but two supervisor looking fellows to appear. I knew they were much higher in authority since they had two (or maybe three) stripes as opposed to my pal who only had one.
Two-stripe: “Why are you giving my guy a hard time?” he asked.
“Why is the TSA giving me one?” I responded. “I don’t like your attitude” said my one stripe friend.
“Wellll, we are in absolute agreement, I don’t like yours and I’m not crazy about your mustache either. Now can we get on with this nonsense so I can continue on my way?”
Two stripe disapprovingly said, “Whats with the attitude? If you wanna fly today you BETTER comply,” he said. “We are just gonna pat ya’ down now partner. It will be an ENHANCED pat down,” he said, trying to scare me.
“Does that mean you will be touching my dick?” I asked.
“SIR! THAT KIND of talk is NOT ACCEPTABLE!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “you know, you’re right, that was kind of crude and uncalled for let me rephrase the question – Will you be touching my penis?” I asked.
“What?” I said annoyed, “I used the proper term for it and am asking a serious question.”
The three security geniuses had a brief confab just out of my hearing range. I did hear something about calling a police officer but that didn’t happen. After almost one ½ hour the pat down commenced! I was offered a private room which I declined and loudly announced for all those in view to watch and see my pat down in action.
“What?” I said again. After being informed about how the procedure will be done, one stripe was given the task. He looked absolutely ticked-off. He never made eye-contact, clumsily felt around with the most feather-like touch one could possibly have, never got anywhere near the “P” part of my body, spent a moment on my ankles and just seemed to forego the backside completely. Sir? Turn out your pocket.
Without comment, I reached into my left pocket and turned it out.
“THE OTHER ONE SIR,” he said.
“You didn’t indicate which pocket I should turn out. Perhaps your advanced profile analysis deemed me a mind reader today huh?”
“Sir? STOP being difficult. “The other pocket.”
I reached into my right pocket and low and behold, the problem became crystal clear. Yes, the enhanced patdown clearly had done its job for there, in my right hand, were three little American pennies that had somehow subversively made their way to the checkpoint.
“Is this what the federal case is being made about?” I asked, dropping the pennies into a yellow plastic bowl on the belt. There was no further response whatsoever but the three stripe who had been silent up until now said I was free to go.
“Uhhh, no,” I said, holding out my hand. “my three pennies?”
They looked at one another in absolute disbelief. One stripe handed me the plastic bowl.
“Not really FREE to go am I?” I said to three stripe as I slowly and methodically put my belt and shoes back on.
He sort of gave a knowing shrug but turned and walked away without further comment. Guess there were new threat assessments like guitar picks and hand cream to chase down and he couldn’t hang around.