Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Secure Arrival



As the fluffy, gently falling flakes of snow quietly towered upward, I slept peacefully under my down comforter. I awoke hours early to insure enough time for a leisurely commute to the Salt Lake International Airport. A quick glance outside persuaded me to quickly modify my plans. After a monthly series of snowstorms, this new eight inches of the soft and fluffy flakes and single digit temperature convinced me of the effects of Global Warming. It also became acutely apparent that the the '92 Bimmer, with intermittent heater blower and high performance tires, was destined to remain tucked snugly in the garage, blooming salt crystals and all.

Becky who also needed transportation for the week quickly ascertained that driving me to the airport was unwise and devised a plan to carpool with a neighbor so I could enjoy the benefits of warmth and visibility as I started my journey to Phoenix.

The easy one and 1/2 hour commute was accomplished after making an amused and judgmental observations at a few unaccomplished drivers. It seemed logical to a few drivers, that although their vehicles we're slowly slipping out of control, to exit the interstate and allow the other hundreds of vehicles behind them to pass, at a more efficient speed, would have been inconvenient for them personally. Although the drive would normally take 30 minutes to accomplish, this delay afforded me the opportunity to reflect upon the many ways my fellow travelers were trying to accelerate their arrival to that final destination in the sky.

After parking in the aptly named economy lot, I was able to check my bag filled with containers containing slightly more than three ounces of liquids, with the Sky Cap. I wonder why they are called sky caps. I suppose it must have something to do with those snappy caps they wear. Boarding pass in hand I quickly made my way to the TSA security check.

I quickly discovered that I would have at least twenty minutes to meander a Disney Style serpentine line. I, an experienced traveler conducted a five point security check of my own person. I searched for pens and pennies, watches and rings, electronic devices and belt buckles. I explored my carry-on for liquids and weapons, quarantined fruit and computers. Finding no weapons was easy as seven of my customer provided mini pocket knife keychains had already been confiscated on previous journeys. I snickered, slightly audibly, as I realized I had patted my self down three times to insure I could pass through "the machine" without delay.

Thanks to the people mover I was able to insure a speedy passage to my gate, a good forty minutes early. I glanced to the big brother style arrival/departure boards and to my delight saw my flight was still 'on time'.

At the gate I noticed no attendant occupied the gate desk and the red L.E.D. was not illuminated, so I consulted at an adjacent gate to inquire regarding my flight. She smiled, checked and informed me that my flight had been cancelled. It was so gratifying when she explained that if I had been there 10 minutes earlier, I would have been boarded on the 8:25 flight which had just left the gate for de-icing.

Choosing to be helpful she changed my ticket to standby for the next flight. She also assured me that because my bag was already checked I would be the recipient of special security screening on the next leg of my trip.

To my wife's delight, my standby number was something like 369, so I elected to go home and remove the remainder of the 24" of snow that had now accumulated in the driveway. We enjoyed a nice lunch together at Iggy's, finished the snow removal and relished a quiet evening at home.

The next day I had the fortune to arise early and repeat the same process, this time sans fresh snowfall. At the beginning of the security line I completed my self-frisking ritual complete with a now even more audible and amused laugh. I approached the smartly dressed and identical TSA agents as the day before, however I noticed a subtle, yet discernible hand signal.

Soon a smiling, but clearly sinister looking woman beaconed me to follow her to the furthest checking station—yes the one with the PUFFER machine. If you've never been through the Puffer machine you've really missed out. It's easy to describe though. You know how when you go to the optometrist and he smirks, tells you to put your chin in that special holster, cranks a spherical object millimeters from your eyeball, and then blows 80 lbs of compressed air right on it. Do you remember how you jumped and then the guy that went to eight years of schooling so he'd be allowed to do it to you, cranks it over to your left eye and does it again? Do you remember that? Well that is basically what the Puffer Machine does, except, it gives you a full body experience.

I'm pretty sure that the senior TSA agent, the one with the most seniority gets to watch you through a hidden camera. He reads all you vital stats, respiration rate and pulse. When he is pretty sure you are the most suceptible, he hits the button and laughs.

They take videos of all the people nationwide, that go through the Puffer and look for the most dramatic reactions. The very best ones are judged by a panel of TSA executives, in the central office located in an annex at Langley, and then they are posted on YouTube. The State Patrol likes to make similar videos with tasers.

I forgot to mention something. Before I got to the Puffer, I was escorted to a long line of stainless steel tables. I have it on good authority that the TSA got a great deal on them when the county coroner's office was moved to their new location. At every other security line the tubs are grey. At the autopsy tables I was now standing, the tubs were RED. What's up with that? Generally, I'm not all that paranoid, but I put all my stuff in the red tubs and glanced around. I swear that two thirds of the 800 people standing in the Disney line were then staring at me.

You know how you can read lips at sporting events when a player or coach launches a profanity? Well, I could swear I saw a dark skinned man with loads of facial hair and a turbine, turn to his companion and lip the words, "look at the tall, skinny white guy. I'll bet he has a one inch pocket knife attached to his car keys." He saw me look at him and quickly averted his eyes. I thought to myself, maybe they should just turn on some flashing marquee that says LOSER.

I was anxious to take my medicine and get through the puffer. I figured less people could see me then. I stepped in and tried my best not to flinch and practically threw my back out when it went off. I'm pretty sure they up the pressure to 120 psi when you're in the red tub line. I passed through, and then another nefarious looking agent, escorted me into a long glass booth with a locked glass door on the other end. Talk about deja vu, I had this full color rewind of the man in the glass house joke. Feeling conspicuous I peered over the top of the transparent hallway and giggle to myself, while holding me pants up. I am a tall, skinny, white guy with no belt after all. Since everyone else was laughing at me, I figured giggling at myself was the best thing to do.

After about 15 minutes they finally let me out, so to speak, took me to the swab station (don't get me started) and eventually let me pass into the terminal. Poised, I step into my shoes, sauntered off and dropped my cell phone on the floor. I picked it up, dropped my boarding pass, laughed again and proceeded to my flight.

2 comments:

Amy said...

wow, the red tub line!? I didn't even know that existed!

Becky said...

I am just glad that the flight was canceled! i wasn't looking forward to doing the driveway by myself. It is amazing how things just seem to work out! I do think I would like to see my tall skinny guy in the tube though!