I used to do a lot of commercial flying, and while I didn’t mind the flying itself, I hated the airports.
After the events of 911, flying commercially became almost not worth the effort. There are tons of security personnel now, not just at the security gates, but throughout the whole airport, and it can make anyone feel a little paranoid. Are they watching me? Do I look suspicious? Are they wondering what’s in this package I’m carrying?
Shoot, if I was airport security, I’d be suspicious of me.
I was in line once waiting my turn to go through security when one security guard watching the line slowly snake along casually approached me and asked, “How are you today, sir?”
“I’m good. You?”
“I’m fine, sir. Traveling anywhere fun today?”
Hmmm. Is this a trick question? He could easily ask to see my boarding pass if he really wanted to know where I was flying.
But is this part of their training in doing psychological profiles of travelers? Is he testing whether I will volunteer where I’m traveling, or whether I’ll avoid giving him a direct answer? Or is this guy just as bored as I am and really just making small talk?
I say, “No, nowhere fun, really. Just business.”
He smiles politely and finally says, “Have a nice day, sir,” moving on to the next suspect, er, traveler.
Did I pass?
So I finally reach the point where I have the privilege of placing everything in my pockets into a gray plastic container, taking my laptop computer out of its carrying case and placing it into another container as the sign instructs, taking off my shoes and placing them in yet another container, and watching my personal convoy roll down the conveyor belt and through the X-ray machine.
What’s left of me waits for the signal to move into the big metal box for the full body scan. The signal is given, and I step inside.
“Turn to your right and put your arms in the air,” instructs the woman running the full-body security scanner. I comply, and when I don’t hear any bells or whistles go off, I assume I passed. But as I start to be on my way, she stops me and points to another security guard.
“Please step over to that gentleman,” she says, pointing to a uniformed guard four feet away. Now I realize I should have just told the first guy where I was going.
So I walk over to that gentleman, who says, “Sir, are you wearing a belt?”
Indeed I am, but I’m wearing a big floppy oxford shirt, untucked, which hides the belt.
“Yes, I am,” I confess, feeling like an apprehended drug smuggler.
“I’m going to need you to unfasten your belt,” he says.
Geesh. So I unfasten my belt, and he says, “Sir…” – they’re always polite – “I’m going to have to place my hands down the front of your pants and to the sides. Please hold your arms out to your side.”
I feel like saying, “Are you at least going to buy me dinner first?” but I’m sure he’s heard enough wise guy comments to last a lifetime, so I just do as he says, and he proceeds to do exactly what he said he was going to do, which would be considered at least R-rated if this was a movie.
Finally, he’s finished, and apparently satisfied, one way or another. I feel like we should both lean back and light up a couple of cigarettes. But of course, there’s no smoking in the airport. God knows, you can do a lot of annoying things at the airport, and you can be subjected to hassles, delays and inconveniences, but there is no smoking at the airport.
So when this security guard - who has stopped just short of performing a colonoscopy - says, “Thank you, sir,” all I can do is say, “You’re welcome.”
And then I look up to see if I can locate any of my earthly possessions which, when last seen, were rolling down the conveyor belt into the abyss of the X-ray machine. Sure enough, there are my three gray containers at the end of the line.
A lot of people who had moved effortlessly through security while I was being, uh, detained, are now jostling with each other as they try to retrieve their own stuff, and my stuff is sitting there helplessly in the middle of it all, the containers bouncing against the rim of the conveyor like a shipwreck being lapped by the waves against the rocks.
I walk as briskly as I can in my stocking feet, trying to fasten my belt at the same time, looking like someone who’s been caught coming out of the wrong bedroom, and hoping no one else has grabbed my wallet or my laptop or my keys or my shoes.
I grab all my stuff, and look around for a place to sit down so I can put my shoes back on. I finally plop down on some kind of table or bench, and finish getting dressed.
Airports used to be places you went to get on an airplane. Now airports consist of endurance contests, inappropriate fondling, obstacle courses and psychological exams.
I guess we shouldn’t complain about how expensive it is to fly, considering all the extras they throw in these days for free.
Gary Abernathy can be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.