Monday, December 1, 2008

Ground control

Rob and I returned from Arizona late last night, and it was a long day of travel. We left Phoenix around 2pm, connected to another flight in Salt Lake City, and rolled into our apartment after midnight. Here's what happened in between:

At the security gate in Phoenix, an attendant checked our IDs and boarding passes, then nodded towards a line of people to our right. "This one's actually shorter," she said, comparing it to the line we would have headed for, which looked shorter.
"It just looks longer, but there are two belts, so it's fast."

We got into the shorter line. The woman was either stupid or a liar. Or maybe she has some kind of reverse sense of time. We stood there, unmoving, watching people breeze through the other line. Several times, Rob turned to look directly at the woman, who would not meet his gaze. I believe he was debating how good it might feel to walk back to her and ask her to define "shorter." And then spell it.

As we finally approached the front of the line, where it still split into two more lines, another airline employee was yelling, "All laptops need to be taken out of their cases. This is NOT a suggestion!" Opening with excessive aggression, I thought, is certainly one method for dealing with the masses of holiday travelers. We heaved our bags onto the belt and as soon as my oversized yellow tote disappeared, I realized that I was the bonehead who had just sent two bottles of water through security.

"Bag check!" screamed the woman at the screen.

"I'm sorry," I said to her."I forgot I had water. I can throw it out. Or you can throw it out. Either way."

"It won't be me," she snapped. "It will be someone else."

Apparently I had offended her by suggesting that her status at the airport was that of a lowly liquid tosser. I stayed quiet.

"Bag check!" she yelled again, and I had a flash of Frau Farbissina from Austin Powers, screaming "SCOTT!"

Slowly, an old man ambled over, seemingly walking straight out of 18 years of retirement to check my bags. "Are you aware," he asked accusingly, "of our policy on liquids and gels?"

"Yes," I said, "I'm sorry. I forgot I had water. You can throw it out."

"What is this?" he asked suddenly, pulling hand lotion out of my bag.

"That's hand lotion."

"It's too big to carry on. You can't take it."

My hand lotion, which has been back and forth across the country several times, and has also traveled internationally, is 3.5 ounces. Perhaps 1/3 of that is left.

"How big can it be?" I asked.

"3.4 ounces," he recited.

Ok, it's no big deal. The lotion had a good life and it wasn't very pricey. But it's moments like these when I really have to question the arbitrary liquid/gel rules put in place after 9/11. That point one ounce of lotion that isn't even in the bottle anymore is somehow a danger to homeland security? Preoccupied with this thought, I absentmindedly moved to put the lotion back into the plastic quart-sized freezer bag I never go to the airport without.

"Ma'am," the Airport Octogenarian admonished. "I just told you that is too large to travel."

"Sorry," I repeated for the 27th time. "I guess I'm still working through my disbelief."

Next he grabbed a small--I mean miniscule--container of lip balm I had taken from our hotel room in Venice. The thing is the size of a quarter and I don't even want it.

"This needs to be in a plastic bag," he said.

Do not ask me why I then said, "Why? It's not a liquid or a gel."

"Yes, it is," he said.

"Noooo," I said slowly. "It's chapstick. It's just not in a tube. I thought chapstick was ok."

Let me interrupt myself for a moment to say that if I was the person in line behind this conversation, I would have killed me.

"It's a salve," he said, secure in his authority.

"Fine," I sighed wearily and put it in my quart bag. "I'm sorry that I wasted your time. I don't usually carry on, as you can tell."

"You aren't wasting my time, ma'am," he replied. "I get paid to be here."

I had a sudden rush of gratitude that I did not get paid to be at the airport, and that I would very soon be leaving. I applied some lip salve, and saluted the man who had just rifled through my underwear.

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