M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Monday, January 26, 2004  

Detect This

Erie, Pennsylvania is the hometown of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Apparently he still lives there and goes back for the weekend whenever possible. Naturally, the airport is named after him. Tom Ridge International Field earns its “International” designation by virtue of the puddle-jumpers that fly across Lake Erie into Canada, but I’ve been in bigger airports. In fact, I think all the airports everywhere are bigger.

One nice thing about smaller airports is that the people in security tend to be pretty cheerful, if not friendly. Don’t misunderstand—they’re by no means lackadaisical, and you don’t have any more chance of wheeling a Pershing missile onto the jetway there than you do at O’Hare or LAX, but it doesn’t make you feel guilty just to have them look at you. This is just as a general rule, of course. If I had given it a half-second of thought, I might have realized that the most likely exception to that rule would be the small airport named after the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Apparently these people have heard the joke that the Transportation Safety Administration’s acronym, TSA, really means “Thousands Standing Around,” and they are not amused. On the contrary, they are extremely keen to make you feel like they’re really earning that ten-dollar September 11 security fee that gets tacked onto your airfare. Hell, I got a bargain.

I walked through the metal detector on Sunday morning and set it off for the first time in a year. I had to divest myself of stuff I hadn’t worried about for a while and go back through, and when I came up clear this time I still had to submit to a wanding. Which naturally found nothing but my belt buckle, which naturally had to be inspected behind. Sorry you missed it, ladies.

I wasn’t the only one searched, but at least I wasn’t questioned, either. I was traveling with several other people from the show, and the local public radio station had given us these ridiculously generous gift bags. They included a small bottle of Pennsylvania wine country’s best white, a couple of local microbrews, an official Erie Otters hockey puck, a T-shirt from Mercyhurst College, another T-shirt from the Erie tourism board or chamber of commerce or whatever, a small box of chocolates, and another bag. They just appeared in our hotel rooms. It was kind of like being an Oscar presenter.

One other item inside the bag was a pair of small, powerful magnets from the local magnet company. They’d been sealed into plastic vials with their matching poles facing each other, and the magnetic repulsion was so powerful that opening the cap would have sent one magnet shooting into the air, if it didn’t instead rotate at the vial’s mouth, reverse direction, and clamp right back on to its mate’s opposite pole. They were kind of neato, but the warning language on the package made me a little nervous. Being the one responsible for transporting two laptops, the script bank, and the show disk back to St. Paul, I didn’t want to have to explain how all of it got wiped. So I packed the magnets in a separate suitcase. I probably should have just thrown them away, or mailed them home to myself.

Instead, I rolled them tightly in a pair of pants (sorry you missed that too, ladies) and packed them separately. Apparently that was enough to dampen their field, because they didn’t appear on the luggage x-ray scanners at the airport, and a couple of the other guys’ did. I can only imagine that on the screen they must have looked like highly localized distortions in the space-time continuum, or perhaps ingots of uranium, either of which must certainly be on the “strongly discouraged” list of carry-on items. Whatever the case, several of the guys had to dig theirs out and explain where they came from. The TSA guys were not amused. Or particularly impressed. For my coworkers, it was like, BAM—instant defendant’s table. These TSA guys in Erie are serious.

I’ve gotten used to flying again in the past two-plus years, but this was like being on the first plane out of Logan on September 17, 2001 without the “Are you in?” camaraderie. Throw in the announcements saying our completely full flight would “not be held under any circumstances,” and enjoining passengers to “please clear security immediately” (which must have been so motivating to those behind us attempting to do just that) and the concept of “security” became paradoxical at best.

I can appreciate their position, of course. TSA employees are out there all over the country as one of the most visible manifestations of the Department of Homeland Security’s existence, which must put the guys in Erie on constant alert given that any moment they could be face-to-face with the other most visible manifestation of the Department of Homeland Security’s existence. I imagine that it would be embarrassing to let the safety standards lag for even a second, only to turn around and see that the next guy in line is your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s et cetera, all the way up to the United States Cabinet, on his way back to Washington D. C. to talk to the President. It’s more than their job is worth to let someone through with a contraband bottle opener or a pair of tweezers or a spiral notebook with a metal wire, and have Tom Ridge see them do it. I just wonder if he has to undo his belt buckle as well.

Today’s best search phrase: “Electric slipper discounts.” Not only is this person too slothful to walk without electric slippers to aid him or her in ambulatory motion, but he or she is also unwilling to earn enough money to pay full price for them. Ladies and gentlemen, the laziest person in the world.

posted by M. Giant 1:11 PM 0 comments


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