Monday, December 29

Large Obnoxious Bureaucratic Entities, Part 2

The fact that the travel experience from San Antonio to Salt Lake City last Wednesday was the most seamless and enjoyable ever—owing to a pre-downloaded episode of Pushing Daisies to pass the airport time, being upgraded to First Class at the last minute as a reward for my charitable nature, and getting paid to work while I flew from the Lone Star to the Beehive state—all this should have tipped me off that the return trip would offer some grief.

I have yet to have a frightening miss- or almost-miss-your-flight event, which, I admit, leads me to be a little cavalier about how much time I allow myself between airport-drop-off and departure time, especially when it comes to morning flights. So when I got to the SLC airport this morning to find the Delta check-in area teeming with passengers overburdened with their Christmas windfall, like something off the “6 o’clock News’ Travel Holiday Horrors Special,” the alarm sounded in my head and I unconsciously switched to Marge in Charge mode. Fortunately, along with my trusty sidekick/chauffeur/bag-boy Mark, I successfully navigated check-in and bag drop-off, avoiding the extra baggage charge with some fast talking, and I made my way up to security with a little under an hour before takeoff.

Like the seasoned traveler I am, I swiftly prepared my carry-ons for the seamless x-ray that airport experts like myself are accustomed to. I removed my slip-on shoes and two of the three jackets I had donned this morning—worn not for warmth, but worn because luggage, unlike bellies, does not miraculously expand over the Christmas break, and as I had failed to leave enough space to accommodate the newly-acquired material evidence of familial love and post-Christmas sales in addition all the items I had originally packed, there was no room in my bags for the sweater, hoodie, and faux-fur–lined coat which now insulated me from the harsh temperatures of a crowded airport security line.

With 45 minutes until takeoff, I passed noiselessly through the metal detector and watched for my shoes and bags to come leisurely down the conveyor belt. First came my shoes, then the hoodie, coat, laptop, and quart-sized Ziploc. Then the personal item, slowly. Then the conveyor belt came to its telltale abrupt stop. Reverse. Forward. Stop. Forward. I watched all this with the knowledge that the bag being scrutinized was mine, but I had no fear because there was nothing questionable in there. But then the flashing light came on and the operator looked around for backup. A finger pointed at the screen as another head nodded. Oh dear.

The nice TSA lady asked me if I happen to have a snow globe in my carry on. Why, yes, in fact, I do! It was a lovely gift from my husband’s dear grandmother, and it plays “Silent Night” when you wind it up—and it’s a pleasant, even endearing rendition of the song, which is an uncommon trait in wind-up decorative items these days.

Unfortunately for me and the little Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus in my snow globe, this potentially volatile item contained The Unknown Liquid and must either be checked, deserted, or otherwise disposed of before my carry on was going to leave the hands of the Nice TSA Lady.

Flight departure is T minus 40 minutes. I ran through my options with my friendly neighborhood TSA agent. All of the options that involved keeping possession of my snow globe required going downstairs and coming back through security.

I could go check the bag, which would not only certainly cost valuable time but would also surely incur a cost higher than the value of the snow globe. Or I could find out if the nice, idle people downstairs—who aren’t overworked at all right now—could retrieve one of my checked bags for me so I could rearrange my items, recheck my bag, and come back up through security. Or I could call my personal chauffeur to come back to retrieve this dangerous item. This last option was looking less likely as said chauffeur was not answering his phone.

Nice TSA Lady gestured for Stern West Point TSA Man to come offer his advice. After West Point explained to me that I might be able to leave the snow globe in Lost and Found and have someone (Mark) come pick it up later, and after West Point took the time to detail the TSA Lost and Found Schedule, I indicated that I’d like to take care of it this way. West Point then proceeded to tell me that this was actually not an option, since Unknown Liquids Are Not Even Allowed In This Area. And were I to just casually leave my item lying around the area, no one would take it to Lost and Found—instead, they would throw it away. West Point, who had obviously rendered great service in offering a viable compromise and then negating it mere seconds later, left us rather worse than he found us, and went off to do Liquid Patrol elsewhere.

I invite you for a brief overview of my cranium at this moment, to understand the various emotions at play. This tour involves the following exhibits: (a) my strong feelings about a particular airplane leaving without me on board; (b) my deep-seated aversion to discarding anything remotely in working order, let alone new; (c) my aggravating sentimental attachment to things given to me, especially things given by people over age 75; (d) my frustration at being unable to reach my chauffeur spouse on his cell phone; and (e), the dominating sentiment, which is that I am a problem-solver, and this is a problem I am going to solve.

Enter two superheroes, the first of which was Mark, who finally answered his phone and agreed to turn around and come back to the airport, even though I was not yet sure how I was going to transfer the snow globe in question to his possession and still make my flight. I told Nice TSA Lady that I was going to take it downstairs and figure it out there. I went to retrieve my bag from her, at which point her eyes and body language informed me in no uncertain terms that I was NOT going to touch the Bag Containing The Unknown Liquid until we were safely out of the Unknown Liquid Restriction Zone. She then escorted me and the Bag to the other side of the very secure 10-foot, chain link, barbed-wire fence wide-open security hall and left me there like a rowdy drunkard who just picked a fight inside her bar.

Downstairs I looked around and thought, Where can I stash this so Mark will find it when he shows up in 20 minutes? Whether actually over the PA system or in my head I don’t know, but I heard that sultry recording reminding me again, “Do not transport any item for someone you do not know. Do not leave any baggage unattended. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the current threat level is orange.” And as everyone knows, snow globes are shaped like oranges.

I approached the man at the information desk. Surely he had a lost-and-found box under his desk, and I could leave my item there. No no. Not only was he not allowed to hold items, but dropping something off at Lost and Found involved going to the other terminal, up the stairs and around the corner, getting a background check, taking a 100-question multiple choice test, two-years of security raining, and finally reaching the administrative offices. All in T minus 30 minutes. Right.

Since leaving the snow globe encased in Styrofoam underneath the Coke machine just might work but must just as likely arouse time-consuming suspicion, I went with plan C, which was this: Approach benign-looking older man settled in the alcove by the elevator with his laptop. Ask him how long he’s planning to be there. Desperately explain my situation (making sure to emphasize the elderly nature of the giver of the snow globe). Ask if he will allow me to place the Styrofoam cube on the chair next to him until my husband, 6 feet tall and wearing a blue jacket, comes to pick it up. Hope for a positive response. As the man glanced up at me above his glasses with a look that made me wonder if “crotchety” wouldn’t have been a better adjective than “benign,” his face softened and he said, “Sure.” Thank you, Super Hero #2, for having a healthy disrespect for airport PA system warnings.

With the likelihood now greatly increased that Grandma’s Silent Night Snow Globe would be passed on from generation to generation as a treasured heirloom, I made a mad dash back upstairs to go through security again. At this point my extra warm wardrobe combined with an adrenaline-charged situation and my rapid movement around two levels of the airport had given me pause to wonder about my deodorant choices. At T minus 20 minutes I was kindly ushered through the “clear line,” which usually involves the air-puffer machine, but I was spared that. Unburdened of The Unknown Liquid, I was deemed Safe For Air Travel, stamped for approval, and sped right along to Gate C11, with just enough time to spare to wait in line to use the ladies’ room, a true delight of womanhood. A phone call from Mark confirmed that the eagle had landed, the snow globe was in his hands, and this item would stay in the family for years to come.

This experience underscores my belief that airport security is a farce. If you are under the impression that, well, it’s better safe than sorry and it’s probably better this way, please disabuse yourself of that notion by reading this Atlantic article—which I guarantee will not only entertain but will also raise one if not both of your eyebrows right up to your hairline. So while that gutsy (ha ha) author was smuggling 2+ liters of Unknown Liquid in a fake “Beerbelly” strapped to his torso, highly trained airport security officers were protecting air passengers everywhere from snow globe toting travelers like me. That's security!

Wednesday, December 10

The Doghouse

I don't like jewelry, but I'd love a dual-bag or an abcerciser (we've even discussed the hair waxer...and Mark was only half joking). So while this didn't exactly resonate, it suuure entertained.
(Give it a minute to load; it's about 5 minutes long)