14 October 2011

Gate Crashing (and Burning)

I remember the "good old days" of traveling.  You remember the ones--we used to be able to fly on planes that almost had leg room, without being crammed in side by side like sardines via a giant cosmic shoehorn.  Not to sound like an old fart or anything, but I can remember being on a plane with actual empty seats, and not just the one or two that are there now because someone doesn't turn up at the last minute.  Not that we ever flew when I was a kid--we couldn't afford it.  The first time I flew on a plane was to Tennessee to go to my wedding and then only because we planned to rent a car for the return trip so we could load up all the wedding loot to take back to Indiana.  Of course, that was also back when one-way rentals didn't tack on an additional $968,000 surcharge.   I miss the days of empty, loose-fitting planes.

Since my daughter has gone to college 1,000 miles away, I now spend much more time in airports, whether picking her up or flying up a couple times a year to visit.  Just last weekend I went up to New York for her Fall Break because we figured it would be more laid-back than the upcoming Parents' Weekend, which is always jammed together with Homecoming and alumni reunions, making travel and parking insane.   We chose to go to see her instead of the other way around because it seemed foolish to make her spend two days traveling for a four-day weekend, when we had much more flexibility.  The plan was to fly up last Friday morning and come home Tuesday evening, which we ultimately did, but not without an annoying string of mishaps along the way.

In order to get the cheapest airfare possible, I ended up choosing a flight that left Atlanta at 9:15 am.  Not my favorite time of the morning, but not really that bad under normal circumstances.  However, when you factor in the 90 minute drive and the whole 60-90 minute advance time to allow for checking bags and getting through security, that meant we had to leave the house no later than 6:30 am.  Shudder.

Anyway, we dragged ourselves out of bed, loaded my van and climbed in, ready to head out.  clickclickclickclick.  Oh no, you didn't.  I tried turning it over again.  clickclickclickbuzzclick.  Had I been more awake, I probably would have employed a few choice words at this point.   It sounded like the battery might be the problem, but under the circumstances there was no time to deal with it.  I looked at the hub's car, which is an old Mazda Miata barely capable of holding a largish shoebox, much less our luggage.  Sigh.  On the plus side, we still have my daughter's car at the house, since it's still too much hassle to drive it north and find campus parking on a regular basis.  So we took out the luggage and reloaded it into her car, fired it up (which is impressive enough since it mostly sits there because we are both to lazy to drive it around once a week), and started to head out, only to discover that the gas tank was sitting on empty.  Seriously?  The travel gods are not with us, clearly.

We stopped at the nearest gas station, filled up, then hit the highway to Atlanta.  The car did fine, though it seemed to me that it was running slightly rough.  Nothing like having your kid's car point an accusing transmission at you.  We took the back way to avoid some of the downtown traffic, which was fine till we hit I-20 at which point the beginnings of rush hour traffic started in earnest--something we'd failed to take into consideration when planning our departure time.  We did make it to the airport okay, with my husband dropping me off to get a head start trucking towards the terminal while he parked (I walk slowly and there's no shuttle).  I was halfway through the line to check bags when he finally showed up.  By this time we had approximately 15 minutes to check our bags and get through security to the gate before the flight started loading.  We'd planned to have breakfast at the airport so we wouldn't have to get up any earlier--so much for that.  

We got our bags checked and zipped off to the security line.  If you've ever been through Atlanta's airport, you'll know how daunting this can be, though they're pretty good about keeping things moving.  About halfway through the line to have our IDs checked, I suddenly realized I was missing my iPad.  When I got out of the car earlier, I unzipped a front pocket of my suitcase and shoved it in so I would have less to carry on the long walk to the terminal, intending to remove it at the bag check and take it on the plane with me.  I forgot to grab it before checking my bag.  Craaaaaaaaap.  I was in quite the quandry--I knew I didn't have the time to go back for it, as if I could have launched myself down the baggage chute anyway, but I didn't want my expensive birthday present (which was not password locked; I know, I know--how stupid was that?) disappearing either.  I asked some security lady standing off the line about it, and she said I'd have to ask at the gate.  Clearly she couldn't be bothered with such trivialities when she had a whole herd of people to supervise!  I tried not to panic, but I was starting to get twitchy, knowing full-well I'd probably never see the thing again.

We got passed through the ID stop then were separated at the scanners.  Naturally, as usual, I got sent off to the scatter scanner, because heaven forbid I be hiding shivs up my butt crack or AK-47s beneath my muffin top.  But whatever.  I didn't have time to be pissy about stupid TSA this time.  We got through security, got to the tram, got off the tram (nodding goodbye to the young man with the bedazzled earbuds), and made it to the correct concourse.  For the first time that morning we were in luck, because our gate was on the near end.  We got to the gate just as people were standing in preparation to board.  Phew!  I immediately went to the desk and explained my situation.  The clerk looked sympathetic, but clearly did not hold out much hope for me.  Still, she called down to baggage, explained the problem, described my bag, and was told they'd call back.  She warned me that there wasn't much hope because they were preparing to board, so the bag would likely already have been loaded, and who knows how many sticky fingers had seen it along the way.  She also informed me that I would "be surprised" by how many people left all manner of expensive electronics lying around, never to be recovered.  Thanks.  It makes me feel *so* much better to know I am part of an elite group of colossal idiots.

I all but threw my stuff at the hubs and ran to the bathroom for a quick pit stop before boarding.  When I came out, he informed me that the flight had just been delayed an hour because of a mechanical problem.  Wtf?  Oh, well.  At least that gave us time for a quick bite.  I sent the hubs off in search of food while I waited at the gate in the desperate hope that they'd find my iPad.  While waiting, I used my phone to change my Facebook password and was attempting to remember what apps I had and how I could shut them down when the hubs came back with an Egg McFakin and some juice.  We scarfed it down and I went back to my fruitless app hunting.  

Delta was able to fix the plane more quickly than expected--it was a battery issue, how's that for irony--so after only a half hour, they prepared again to start boarding.  Just before I stood up, the lady at the desk reached over and HANDED ME MY iPAD!!!  A quick check showed it to be intact and seemingly unhacked.  I was ecstatic.  Score one big one for Delta and the amazing Belinda!  Now I could relax.  We boarded the plane, got situated, and had an uneventful flight, if you don't count watching the guy opposite my row plop down in his seat so hard that he head-bonked it into the woman behind him, who was leaning forward to work a crossword puzzle or my staring in fascination at a young soldier's pixelated camo fatigues.  When we reclaimed our baggage at the other end, the pocket in which I had foolishly left my iPad was rezipped, and all the socks that were in that pocket were still there as well.  Score!

That night we had a lovely dinner with our daughter.  The next day we visited the Corning Museum of Glass, where she and I created our own glass pendants.  We also went to see Niagara Falls, slipping over into Canada long enough to eat dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe just to say we'd all been in Canada.  It was a wonderful visit, with fun activities and relaxing together while watching movies at the hotel.

When it came time to head home, we loaded up the rental car, drove to the airport and dropped it off much cleaner than when we'd picked it up (when it was ankle-deep in McDonald's bags and Cherry Coke Zero bottles).  I like french fries as much as the next person, but I don't want to sit in a car smelling of them for 4 days.  

Anyway, this trip to the airport was decidedly more leisurely and chill than the previous one.  Our car worked, it had sufficient gas, and we got there in plenty of time.  Security normally goes more quickly there since the airport is much smaller.  My husband picked the shortest line at the ID station, which of course led straight to the scatter scanner, or as I like to call it, the "Scan-you-nekkid-machine."  I know it really doesn't show you completely naked, but it does show enough that you might as well be naked.  I also know that there is somebody shut up in a little room being forced to look at these pseudo-naked images rather than in public, but it still irks me in the extreme, because almost without fail I will be sent through that scanner just because I am overweight.  I do recognize that other people are randomly pulled to it, but I have yet to see a line for the scatter scanner that is not 80% filled with either overweight or elderly people.  Doing so may be taking my life into my own hands, but I find it difficult to believe that the average granny or chubbo is going to be in any fit condition to use a grenade launcher, even if the are able to hide in in the folds of their flab or wrinkles.  The whole thing just pisses me off on general principle--it isn't really even about embarrassment, because I frankly don't embarrass that easily.  I just happen to think that there are innumerable other and arguably better ways to handle security without routinely denigrating and humiliating the overweight, the elderly or the disabled just to make the paranoid feel better, when the reality is that if a terrorist wants to screw with us they'll be able to find ways to do so no matter how many restrictions we put on travel.  Just as having a curfew doesn't mean you can keep your kid from having sex in the back of a Buick, scanning my bits, groping me in a so-called "enhanced" pat-down or confiscating my shampoo for fear it might be an arsenic-laced explosive isn't going to prevent a terrorist from circumventing the system.  Meanwhile, we all complain about it, but we do nothing about it and instead let TSA bully us and herd us and violate our civil liberties by subjecting us to what I personally consider "unreasonable search and seizure."  But we all put up with it, because it's just. less. hassle.  

Okay, I'm off the soapbox now.  But you'll understand why I was on it in a minute.  Because, sure enough, I get pointed to the Nekkid Scanner.  Keep in mind that I deliberately dress for the occasion...nothing too loose, no skirts, something comfortable yet fitted enough that any tell-tale pipe bombs will be clearly visible.  Little or no metal whenever possible.  Flip-flops, so I can't be suspected of sneaking in Maxwell Smart's cell phone.  You get the idea.  I head off to the scanner, supremely annoyed on principle, but tolerant, and stand there with my arms over the my head so they can get a goooooood look at my bits while secretly hoping that the person reviewing the scans is punished by having his retinas incinerated from gaping at the horror of my less-than-perfect 46-year-old body.  As usual, I am told to wait while they get the results.  Which they did.  And I DIDN'T PASS.  Um, scuzemewhat??  I turned and saw the blobby outline they use right at the scanner lit up over my left breast and near the top of my waistband.  Why????  Whatever.  I get ordered to stand off to the side to be felt-up, while they run around in a tizzy trying to figure out which line my possessions are on so that they can clear them out of the way, no doubt frisking them, too, should the opportunity present itself.  Meanwhile, my husband is grabbing all my crap while they run around like chickens with their heads cut off.  I am finally able to convince them that my belongings are under control and they turn their attention back to me.  

There I stand, off to the side of the security scanners, but still in plain view of everyone going through security.  And I. am. pissed.  Because I am glaring any number of daggers at the TSA fondler she, no doubt (I hope) feeling duly eviscerated, grudgingly offers to take me behind a "privacy screen."  Um, NO.  So I growl viciously at her to "just get it over with."  I not only want witnesses, I want everyone in the room to witness my public humiliation so that they can no longer pretend it's just not that big a deal or that it won't someday happen to them.  I want them ALL to see what we as a people are willing to tolerate.  Of course, most of them shuffle along looking at their feet, trying determinedly not to look.  If they don't see it, they can ignore it, right?  

I then "assume the position" for some friendly, public lovin' at the hands of TSA.  The agent helpfully tells me that it's probably just the rhinestones on my shirt because the machine "doesn't like things like that" before I am frisked down the sides like a common criminal, then up between my thighs.  Twice.  On the one hand, the advantage of being chubby is that my thighs touch, making it more difficult for them to grope my crotch, not that it stopped them from trying--TWICE.  Then I got a hand down the back of my pants, in spite of the fact that the back of my pants did not light up as a hot spot.  Also, there is NO METAL THERE.  Then I got a hand down the front of my pants.  Apparently the agent was desperate to explore my cooch, given the amount of effort put into locating it.  Then I got to second base via the boob-fondle:  down the middle and up underneath the one side that was designated a hot spot.  Because my boobs are a hot spot, apparently (well, I always thought so).  To be fair she used the back of her hand, because if she hadn't, it would have constituted cupping (although she came pretty close to cupping even with the back of her hand).  Meanwhile, the one time my kid had to be patted down, they identified the one and only hotspot and patted down the one and only hot spot, which is an infinitely more sensible approach in my humble opinion.  Not me, though.  By the time she finished, I could have been her prison girlfriend.

Well, that was fun.  Nothing like getting a little action in public.  Or pubic, considering.  It's a really good thing looks don't kill or that woman would have been a sizzling pile of ashes by the time it was all over.  Then, just when I thought my humiliation was over, she held out her blue-gloved hands and yelled that she needed to be scanned.  Wtf?  Another woman came over with one of those tong scanners they use to molest your suitcase when they see something they don't like, the ones with the little piece of paper stuck between them.  The new agent rubs the Stri-Dex pad all over my groper's hands, inserts the piece of paper into the electronic tongs, then takes the whole assembly over to a machine for evaluation to make sure I have not infected Madame DeGroper with traces of plastic explosives or some bio-toxin.  At long last, I pass and am allowed to leave.  Furious, I collect my things and stomp off to our gate, smoke no doubt pouring out of my ears because I am all but molested for foolishly chosing to wear a shirt with  a few paste-on pieces of sparkly glass.

Several nasty FB posts later on the topic, I start to calm down.  We board the plane and get comfy, or at least as comfy as one can be when sitting shoulder to shoulder with 300 of one's closest friends.  I am jealous of the man in the row opposite who has miraculously managed to snag himself a row with two empty seats in which he can later stretch out.  We take off, at which point a toddler a couple of rows behind us starts to shriek.  Not cry.  Not make unhappy baby noises.  Not wail because of ear pressure.  Shriek.  As in "someone is sticking my fingers in a toaster oven and using a potato peeler to flay off my skin" sort of shriek.  I've raised a kid.  I know how it is sometimes.  I feel for these parents, I do.  But this kid shrieked his non-stop banshee screech for almost two hours.  Ninety minutes, at the least.  After my brain cells started to melt and my eyeballs started to float towards each other to play migraine bumper car, I remembered I had earphones in my purse.  I dug out the earbuds, plugged them into my iPad (iPAD!) and cranked up the soothing mellow jazz of Kenny G.  It didn't completely block out the poor kid's cries, but it was enough to keep my head from spontaneously combusting.  About 15-20 minutes before the plane landed, the kid finally stopped.  Hallelujah.  We deplaned, picked up my daughter's car, and headed home, stopping for dinner on the way.  

The next morning, the hubs got up early, took my battery to O'Reilly's to be tested, and found that it had indeed gone bad.  I now have a brand-spanking-new battery--my van is happy, the girl's car got a good blowout on the highway, my dog has been retrieved from the kennel, and I have my iPad thanks to awesome Delta Belinda and a whole lot of luck.  Travel issues notwithstanding, we had a wonderful visit with the girlie.  Best of all, memories of the indignities of TSA's Flab Fondle Frisk™are fading, at least until I head back to the airport in 12 days to go visit family in Indiana, at which point I can look forward to doing it all over again.  Maybe I'll go as a Walmartian, in tight spandex and half a shirt so they can see more than they bargained for when checking my rolls for sweat-encrusted Uzis.  Whaddya think?  To spandex, or not to spandex?  That is the question...  Personally, I think it would serve them right, though I'm not sure I can deal with the spandex chafing and wedgies.  

Being a political activist can be such a wedgie pain in the butt.


  1. I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate TSA. Hate them. I'll tell you that story one day, but it involved a bottle of liquid that *did not exist.*

  2. Sounds ominous and fascinating, all at the same time. Can't wait to hear about it.