It’s the Rule

Posted on November 29, 2016


Not too long ago I traveled to a conference on a Dominican friar, Bartolome de las Casas, the great defender of American Indians in the face of the Spanish conquest.

I had to go through security of course at the Birmingham Airport.

As usual, I felt like a pack animal.

I carried my laptop and electronic utensils packed in my laptop bag, an extra sweater in case it got cold at night in New England in October, my tickets in one hand, my wallet in another to fetch my “picture” I.D.—my driver’s license–my baggage ticket receipt ($25.00 extra for the airlines so they stay in the black) in case they sent my luggage to Beijing instead of Providence, Rhode Island.

 My goal was to make it through the TSA gamut of electronic gadgetry examining my luggage and my body and then, hopefully, emerge at the other end with everything intact. Losing one’s I.D. for example could be catastrophic while navigating the airports of the world all looking to nail Jihadists terrorists.

 I put my driver’s license together in my shirt pocket with my boarding passes for each leg of my flight, where my dark glasses were stuffed, along with a pen.

When the next TSA employee asked to see one or the other, or sometimes two at the same time, “picture I.D. and boarding pass please,” I had to make sure they didn’t all spill out of my pocket.

 Gathering them all up from the floor drew everyone’s attention. “Who is this guy?”

As one reaches the big X-ray machine that inspects everything you are carrying, you have to put everything into plastic trays and then place the trays on the conveyor belt.

“Laptop out of the case please.”‘

“Take your shoes off. Place them in this tray.”

Ok, ok, I’m thinking, not expressing anything verbally.

You start to feel like a real clumsy oaf as you hold on to your sweater and keep the boarding passes. pen, luggage receipt and driver’s license you put in your shirt pocket from falling out while unzipping the pocket to unload the laptop.

Shoes off. Yeah, right, shoes off.

“Everything out of your pockets?” the TSA agent asks.

“Huh?” you answer, still taking off your shoes to throw into the plastic tray.

“E v e r y t h I n g,” she asks, very slowly, “out of your pockets?”

So, I drop my last shoe into the bin and start emptying my pockets of loose change, wallet, keys, cell phone….”

I reach into my back pocket, “You want my handkerchief too?”

Now, she’s humorless. “Yes, I said everything.”

Now they’re getting touchy, they may have a pocket jihadist disguised as an old professor in his seventies. These Arabs are a sneaky group.

I notice one TSA goon looking at my paper bag with my pulled pork sandwich (very good, but very messy) and bottle of water I bought at the Tannehill exit off the interstate. I wanted a bit to eat without spending $50 at the airport for a candy bar.

“What’s that?” Another TSA gestapo agent asks.

“It’s my lunch,” I say, although feel like saying “it’s a plastique bomb disguised as a pulled port sandwich you idiot.” But I don’t say anything. The SS agents now seemed really edgy.

“Can’t take that,” he points to my bottle of water.

“My water?” I finally say what I’m thinking.

“Right, can’t take that.”


“It’s prohibited.”

“WHY is my water prohibited?” I blurt out in frustration, even surrounded by these incompetent Gestapo agents all adorned with medals, pins, and other paraphernalia that makes them look like a North Korean dictator reviewing his troops.

He looks at me.

“Because it’s the rule,” he says taking my bottle of water as I enter the full body scanner.

“Hands up,” the body scanner technician orders.

I make it through and move over to the conveyor belt to gather my laptop, return it to my laptop briefcase, get my shoes back on, pick up my change, my wallet, my cell phone and anything else from my pockets, all the while making sure I still have my boarding passes, baggage claim ticket, I.D. (or did I put it back into my wallet?) in my shirt pocket.

I shuffled along with the rest of the cattle to the gate where my flight to Philadelphia is scheduled to board, thinking back to other days and how much fun and exciting it was to fly.


Published as “TSA Gauntlet Takes the Fun Out Of Flying” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Oct. 16, 2016.