22 January 2010

Hijackers Come in Very Small Packages

Alyssa prepares to hone up on her flight skills at Disneyland's Dumbo ride before returning to her career as an international smuggler of cutlery.

I was going to write about my time home for leave and trip to Disneyland with my girls, but honestly, who wants to read about someone elses visit to Dinseyland? Thats about as exciting as a crowbar to the goolies. So instead, I'd like to tell you about getting to Disneyland and exactly how safe we really all should feel about the wonderful people who work for TSA at the airport, especially in light or recent events. Okay, I'm being just a tad sarcastic here.
We were scheduled to fly out of San Francisco International Airport on an early morning flight. To expedite our getting through security, we had only carry-on baggage. We grabbed our boarding passes at the Virgin American Airlines ticket counter and made our way excitedly to the TSA security checkpoint. After nearly stripping to my skivvies and making sure that the girls removed their Hannah Montana jewelry, we placed our bags on the x-ray conveyor belt; my camouflaged Army assault pack, and the girls brightly colored and clip on animal adorned school backpacks. We all passed effortlessly through the metal detector and anxiously awaited our bags to pass through to the other side. I waited...and waited...and waited some more. My bag was no where to be seen. The TSA x-ray tech looked suspiciously at her monitor, then at me, then back at her monitor again. She called a supervisor over who also looked intently at the monitor, then gave me what I can only describe as "the look." The supervisor spoke in hushed tones into his radio and a third TSA officer walked over. This one was wearing a turban and looked like one of the Indian extras from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He retrieved my bag and in a thick accent said, "Please Sir, to be coming with me." I was now just a bit irritated. I followed his holiness to a security table where my bag and I were separated by a chest high partition. "You are having a suspicious item in your bag," he barked. "Look," I said. I'll tell you right now what it is and save us both the trouble. I have a small bottle of lotion in that front flap." The way he looked at me, it may as well have been a kilo brick of Afghani black tar heroin. As I reached over the partition to point at the flap, Ben Kingsley shot back at me, commanding me to stay away from my bag, as he began zipping open zippers and pulling my clothes apart. Thankfully, my taste in underwear is modest (read boring) because now, my clothes were spread out for all to see. He began wiping my clothes with what loooked like a pancake sized cloth patch, which he then inserted into his double super secret TSA ACME explose-oh-meter. Apparently satisfied that I wasnt smuggling a 20 lb fertilizer bomb in my underwear, he directed his attention to my outer flap. I mean, I may have been accused once or twice of smuggling things in my underwear, but never explosives. Just sayin'. But I digress. He opened the flap and inspected my razor. He then pulled out my deodrant stick, removed the cap and took a sniff. I looked for hidden cameras and cheesy reality TV hosts hidden in the shadows, by now sure that this must be a joke. The Rajneesh'es look assured me it was not. He then gingerly removed my 6 oz bottle of lotion with two fingers. He had just sniffed my deodorant and now he was concerned about handling a bottle of lotion? I was beside myself.
"This is a problem," he said. No, I thought. The problem here is that your sniffing my deodorant. Theres just something fundamentaly wrong with that. He began to explain to me, apparently verbatim from the TSA manual of arms regarding skin care, that I was not allowed to transport over 3 ounces of lotion on an aircraft. I pointed out that the bottle was half empty, indeed making it only 3 ounces, and that at this point, he could spare me the word for word explanation. My pleas fell on deaf and turban covered ears. I finally told him to just take the bottle, put my underwear away and stop his love affair with my deodorant. It was only after putting my bag back together and handing it to me, that he saw the velcro tabs on my bag which said UNDERHILL US ARMY. "Have a safe flight and TSA thanks you for your service." I bit my lip, thankful that the little chip in my head that prevents me from blaring out the first thing that comes to mind was operating on full power that morning.
With my girls in tow, we made our way to the gate. It was then that Alyssa, my 8 year old, opened her bag to retrieve something. There in her bag was an unopened 8 oz box of apple juice and a fork from home! I had just been treated like a 9-11 conspirator, sure that if I had reached over into my bag, mid-inspection, that I would have found myself not at the Embassy Suites in Orange county in a few hours, but instead a guest at a luxury suite at Guantanamo Bay, answering questions about my choice of skin care products with jumper cables clamped to my nipples and my head wrapped in a burlap hood and submerged in a bucket of water. Yet my daughter had just passed unmolested through x-ray with a box of juice and a metal fork!
I saw an episode of McGyver once where he thwarted the bad guys by using a box of apple juice, a paper clip, a day old copy of the New York Times and a serving fork to make a powerful explosive. Yet my 3rd grade daughter had just smuggled half of his explosive recipe through the San Francisco International Airport security checkpoint without so much as a sideways glance. Alyssa could have single handedly stabbed a flight attendant in the neck with her fork and clubbed the flight crew with her box of apple juice then taken over the plane and flown us all to my secret vacation home in the Greek Isles. What was I going to do with a half empty bottle of lotion? Make their skin softer?
My faith in TSA has been shattered. I for one am very afraid...at least if I ever have to fly through San Francisco again.

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