Taken Down But Not Out By the TSA

Whenever I hear people’s complaints about airport security, I always shake my head sadly. What a loser, I am thinking. Get a life. These people are only doing their job. What is it hurting you? Can’t you find something important to complain about?

I really enjoy a good hit of self-righteousness as I enter the security area, going all zen and everything. After many years of yoga, I’ve had a lot of practice at this. I mean, sure, I’ve occasionally gotten into political arguments and sniping during yoga classes, but they have really made me a more centered and tolerant person, and I’m never really gotten into a shoving match about where I place my mat in the room like some other people I could name. Ommmm.

Unfortunately, when my husband and I were recently headed to the airport, things were going badly. Nothing interferes with a zenlike state like real life.

We could have taken a taxi to the airport. But my husband had just joined Cars2Go, some kind of outfit that stations cars all over the city. You can rent them by the hour, jump into them, and go. Something like that. “We can just drop it off at the airport,” he said. “It’s really easy — and a lot cheaper than a taxi.”

The closest available car was downtown, just three blocks away. When we got there, we wedged ourselves into it and took off. Slowly. The Cars2Go cars have all the oomph of a lawn mower, but they’re not quite as big or luxurious. “Isn’t this great?” my husband chortled, as we dodged tractor-trailers on the interstate.

It worked pretty smoothly till we hit the airport and tried to find the drop-off parking places. “I know they’re around here,” my husband said, brimming, as usual, with complete confidence.

We drove through the passenger drop-off area. No Cars2Go spaces. “Goddammit,” my husband said. He pulled over to the side and started searching his iPhone. Typical. I jumped out of the car and went to ask for directions. Nobody at the airport had ever heard of Cars2Go.

“I found it!” my husband crowed, when I re-entered the car, a maneuver that required a posture similar to fetal position. We headed to a nearby commercial parking lot.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get there. We took one wrong turn after another, executed a series of U-turns, ran into dead ends repeatedly. If you’d mapped our route, it would have looked roughly like a corkscrew. The Cars2Go vehicle kept chugging along, but we were getting a little frayed.

By the time we dropped off the car and finally got back to the airport, we still had a few minutes to check through security and board our flight. I was hot, I was sweaty, I was irritable.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my husband practically sprint through some kind of super-duper, pre-clearance security line. He peeled off without saying anything to me, and didn’t even have to take off his shoes or belt or shed his carry-ons. What a rat. That’s the kind of elitism that’s wrong with this country. It was enough to turn me into a Marxist on the spot.

I waited in line. And waited some more. “Do I have to take my sandals off?” I asked the chubby little screener behind the desk.

He shook his head. “Sandals are fine.”

I walked through the X-ray booth, raised my arms, got scanned, and was practically tackled by some woman with white hair. “Ma’am!” she announced. “Stop! Take off your shoes! Go back!”

She took me by the elbow and marched me back. “But he told me I didn’t have to take off my sandals,” I protested, nodding at the chubby little screener. He stared right through me, professing ignorance.

“He didn’t say that,” the white-haired woman said.

“Yes, he did,” I insisted.

I got re-x-rayed, then searched, and wanded. Around me, people stopped to stare. The white-haired woman, clearly certain she had landed a terrorist, kept a grip on my elbow.

“What he may have said,” the woman continued, as she frisked me with great enthusiasm, “is that if you were 75, you didn’t have to take off your shoes.”

“I assure you, I would have remembered that,” I said. It occurred to me that the chubby guy might have assumed I was 75; this did not improve my mood.

“That’s the only exception,” the woman said, clearly crestfallen at not finding weapons in my pocket. “You don’t have to take off your shoes when you’re 75.”

“I look forward to that day,” I announced with the kind of leaden sarcasm that should have embarrassed me, but didn’t.

She looked at me for another long moment. She was dying for me to throw a fit so she could arrest me. I was dying to shove her and tell her to stick her wand up her ass. It would be a statement for oppressed people in airport lines everywhere, I felt.

When they threw me in jail, I’d show them. I’d go on a hunger strike. Then I could write a bestselling autobiography about being a political prisoner. It would be filled with insight and humor and political wisdom, along with a few dieting tips.

We stared, we both blinked. I left to join my husband, the security-line elitist. “What was that all about?” he wanted to know, sounding entirely too cheerful for someone who had just blown the whole Cars2Go experience.

“I expect this in Bumfuck, Texas,” I said through a clamped jaw. “I don’t expect it in Austin.”

Drawing this to a close, I think it’s time for a lesson. Maybe you think the moral of the story is that 18 years of yoga have been wasted on me. But you would be wrong. If I hadn’t had 18 years of yoga, I’d now be writing a blog called the Fabulous Jailbird. A little zen is never a bad thing.

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about what happens when you get called a sweet little Texas housewife by mistake

15 comments… add one
  • Ah, flying in the US. What a pain in the bum.

  • merr Link

    Whoa, Ruth. I am picturing this frame by frame!

  • bonehead Link

    Dear Ruth,
    You went eye to eye with the TSA and live to tell the tale, very good. I don’t know about the Zen training but it is nice to know “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em and walk away”. Gee I feel so safe that no one over 75 is going to strap an explosive to their feet and stroll on a plane. I mean they’re 75, not much time left, probably got a lot of aches and pains and a bad attitude, shucks those folks ought to be at the top of the list for screening. You’ve got a lot left to live for, you should be in the express lane. What a system…
    Great article 🙂

  • Dear god. It’s a good thing I don’t travel. I’ve be a serial jailbird. I don’t play well with idiots. Or authority figures. Or idiot authority figures.

  • You are funnier than ever, Ruth! Love this. Each and every minute and word.

  • msue Link

    Years ago, my husband was pulled from the TSA line for the stylus in his PalmPilot. The inspector gloved up, carefully removed the stylus, and eyed my husband with withering, accusatory glances. He actually called over his supervisor, claiming that no one had ever tried to sneak in such a menace. Thankfully, hubbo refrained from pointing out, that I had just passed through the same inspection ahead of him, PalmPilot and stylus in hand. It really is random.

  • I hate airport security. We have the worst time with my husband’s CPAP machine. Each airport seems to have its own rules. Take it out of the case. STOP! You can’t take that out of the case! Don’t you know you’re supposed to just unzip the case? STOP! You can’t put that through there without telling someone. It is different every place we go and they always act like WE are the idiots for not knowing. So much for having the same rules in place across the country.

  • I’m with you on the smug feeling at TSA. So far haven’t met the almost-get-thrown-in-jail thing, but its bound to happen. Smug is just asking for it.

  • Stephanie Frogge Link

    That I’m not reading about you by clicking on an inticing Google headline (not that I ever click on those things) is a testament to your good sense and zen-like spirit. Hope you forward this blog post to TSA.

  • Loved this. The security folks at the airport are only rivaled by the INS officials who grilled my husband at least three times before agreeing to give him a green card.

  • I love this: “Nothing interferes with a zenlike state like real life.” So true! Great post. I’m glad you’re not blogging as Fabulous Jailbird!

  • Ellen Link

    TSA security? Pussycats. Try flying El Al. Twice I was subjected to interrogations which, while faultlessly polite and professional, made me sweat, Ultimately, I could only respect them. 9/11 could never have happened on El Al.

  • Once again you’ve said what many of us think in silence and you’ve put it profoundly.

  • Ward Link

    One thing the screener forgot to tell you: now that you’ve had an official run in with TSA, your chances for Global Assist have diminished to somewhere around zero. As I’m sure you are aware, not taking off your sandals in a security line is the first step to antisocial behavior in the air. And you can only imagine where that will end up.

  • Hope you don’t ever have to return to the same line:-)

Leave a Comment