Monday, July 12, 2010

I'd Rather Be Traveling by Dog Sled

AlaskaAfter reading this post from contributing writer Kim Christopher at The Mommy Machine I found myself smiling. When we stopped in France on our way to India last March we were racing to make the connection at Charles DeGaulle and I was so furious with what passed for French security that my French amigos finally ended up pulling me out of line for two random security checks.

Possibly because of the way I was suspiciously twitching and looking at my watch, counting the seconds and then furiously foaming at the mouth over the unwarranted delays and tedious bureaucracy. Dumb socialism.

No thanks to our French allies we made our plane but I swear I was ready to go postal by the time we were actually in our seats.

But after reading this I can't say that good old fashioned capitalism has done much for our security on this side of the Atlantic. So I'm with you Kim. I hear you. Shall we both move to Israel? I hear they have amazing security there (as purported by the Boston Globe). Whose with me?


Last month, I flew from Alaska to New Mexico with my daughter’s soccer team. It’s been a couple of years since I last traveled by jet aeroplane, and I was delighted to discover that airport security just keeps getting better and better. And by "better and better” I mean “more dehumanizing and inconvenient.”

I’m not here to dis the TSA. I understand that after the events of 9/11, clearance procedures at major airports needed to improve. I’m just not sure if making me take off my $3 flip flops that I found in a Wal-Mart clearance bin and forcing me to shuffle barefoot through an x-ray machine is the most effective use of screening technology. And something needs to be done about confiscating half-full water bottles. I’m no terrorist expert, but I’m having a tough time believing that al-Qaeda has recruited 6th grade soccer players from Alaska to smuggle chemicals onto planes.

Yep. My daughter forgot to remove a water bottle from her backpack and was busted by the TSA lady at the airport. As soon as the federal agent did a double take at the monitor and then suspiciously asked my kid if she had any liquids in her bag, I heaved a sigh of exasperation. That’s all. A big fat sigh of annoyance. I didn’t cuss out my daughter or knock her to the ground, which is what you would have thought I’d done when the TSA agent placed one hand over her gun and the other in front of my chest as if to signal, Whoa, there, crazy middle-aged terrorist disguised as a frazzled soccer mom, keep your knickers on. Well, maybe she didn’t have a gun, but if she had, she would have drawn it on me.

“Just calm down, ma’am!” she barked at me, with a flexed hand stretched out to stop me from jumping over the conveyor belt, I guess. What the huh? All I did was sigh in irritation at my daughter’s forgetfulness. It’s not like we didn’t hear the recorded message approximately 3, 542 times warning us to dispose of all water bottles while we were standing in the security line waiting to get our orifices probed. "Hey, kid of mine, pay attention!" Too late.

"Calm down, ma’am," the guard says to me! CALM DOWN, MA’AM?!? Oh, Lord, have mercy on a poor sinner such as myself, because I so desperately wanted to show that woman just how un-calm I can get. I was about to demand that they produce a weight and scales, because I am nothing if not precise, and I wanted to see for myself if my daughter’s almost empty bottle of water contained more than 3.4 ounces of liquid. But I’m an Alaskan. Which means I’m passive and non-confrontational. And self-disciplined beyond belief. Okay, okay. I’m none of those things.

Well, I am Alaskan, but mostly what I am is NOT STUPID, and I knew that if I listened to the imp of the perverse tapping my shoulder and whispering in my ear to speak my mind, I’d end up spouting an anti-TSA rant that may or may not have contained such phrases as “government coercion!” “sheep-like citizenry!” and “my taxes pay your wages so how ‘bout YOU calm down!”

However, because I don’t always have 7 days to drive myself from Alaska through Canada to get to the rest of the United States, I decided to avoid placement on the no-fly list and I bit my tongue.

The TSA lady reached gingerly into the side pocket of my daughter’s backpack and gently disengaged the offending container of H20. You’d have thought my gum-snapping, ponytail-wearing, bespectacled preteen had packed live ammo the way the agent held the pernicious water with her gloved fingers and quickly two-stepped over to the trash can to dispose of the plastic bottle. I figured that was that, and we could be on our merry way. I figured wrong.

Frau Inspektor demanded that my daughter step to the side and wait for further instructions. The agent proceeded to swab inside the backpack for what I assume was chemical residue from the container, which—according to my sinister and beady-eyed child—allegedly held water. The TSA lady obtained a sample of residue alright, because my daughter’s smelly soccer cleats were packed in there. Ever so carefully, the examiner lifted the knapsack with straight arms, holding it out in front of her like a ticking time bomb, and made her way back to the roped-off queue where she cut in front of the line of the weary passengers who stood shoeless and thirsty. She set the backpack in a grey bin and signaled her compatriot to run it through x-ray again. Oh, but the fun and games didn’t end there.

After two additional agents had thoroughly examined the possible weapon of mass destruction, the security guard brought my 12-year-old’s backpack to her podium and SWABBED IT AGAIN. Don’t ask me how, but the funk from my daughter’s athletic socks stuffed inside her soccer shoes passed the alkaline test and the TSA lady finally handed over the backpack with a disapproving frown. We were free to go.

Now, I ask you, don’t you think that my sigh of exasperation was warranted?


Congratulations to a fellow Michelle of Anchorage who will be joining me for this Thursday's Viking Cooking School class at Allen and Petersen for an succulent evening of Italian grilling. You can bet there is a post coming on how to properly grill pizza. For those who didn't win you can still get at 20% off discount by entering FACEBOOK PROMO in the gift card section online at

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Peruby said...

Oh, that is outrageous! I have not flown in over 20 years and I'll tell you what. I don't know what I am going to do when I do fly. Good grief!

branda50 said...

NYC airport I had forgotten I bought small snow globes...I was stopped..Funny thing is my friend with the same thing was not..I either had to throw them away or go back and check my suitcase..I went back..
When I returned I was behind this family..A child with a souvenir bottle opener?..The TSA lady picked it up, looked at it because of the green gel-like substance in it..The mom and her looked at each other and it was given back to the child..AND the mom had an opened bottled of water..You don't know how much I wanted to say something...I just complained to my waiting family and as you can tell am still complaining 3 years later..

How did your daughter do at the soccer game?...I love watching kids play..It is one sport I understand..They must do well to travel such a distance..Our kids travel 40 miles at to school..

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I was traveling by plane to my daughter's for Christmas and had a ceramic fondue set in my carry on bag for her. TSA confiscated the included fondue forks. They were considered sharp and dangerous. I also once had to give up a toenail clipper accidentally left in my carry on at JFK, because it had a pointy nail file attached.

It would help if all airports had a place where you could mail things to yourself, set up right adjacent to the security area.

Suzi Dow said...

I travel via an RV. A much more pleasant experience than any airport and the traffic in any major city is less annoying than time spent with TSA.

Anonymous said...

Security theater at its finest.

I've never understood why - if the bottles of water are possibly dangerous and/or explosive - they dispose of them in a can right next to the choke point at the security desk. It seems like a bad place to throw suspected explosives.

planetnomad said...

How I feel your pain! I fly way too often and I hatehatehate airport security. I've seen it all--from the passive-agressive Moroccan who confiscated a 3-inch lego sword that wouldn't even cut butter, to a JFK official who held up and shook every single book in Ilsa's carry-on, plus broke her boot zipper because she wasn't getting her boots off fast enough. Yeah, we're scary people all right.

Lucy said...

Incredible. That post made my blood pressure take a hike while reading it. And the problem? If she was Middle Eastern in looks and had an AK47 stuffed in her hip pocket, she'd have sailed right through just like they did on September 11th. But watch out for that water. And a hundred year old lady in a wheel chair. Who knows what she might be packin'!

Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.....! I need to go get a stiff drink of Diet Coke now. :)

The Shultzs said...

Kim, that is so bizarre and a good explanation on why I will never fly =]

Daisy said...

Unreal, but totally believable! My son flew with my husband a few years ago. My son is blind, and the TSA people could not figure out what to do with his white cane. My thought: did no one ever train these people? Was my teenager really the first white cane user to walk through the screening process.

bigguysmama said...


I wasn't sure how many "ha"s to put in there. I laughed throughout the entire post because it was so outrageous, how could I not laugh!

You're laughing now, right? Ok, maybe not.