I don’t travel by air very often so when I do it’s always a new experience because there’s nothing more impermanent than airport layouts, regardless of locale. Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport seems to have achieved a permanent state of construction, somewhat similar to the Shikinen Sengu ceremony held in Japan’s Mie Prefecture every 20 years wherein the Kotai Jingu of the Ise Jingu Shrines are torn down and rebuilt a few feet away from their former location. Whereas the recurring razing and rebuilding of those Japanese temple buildings is steeped in rich tradition, Hartsfield International’s constant flurry of activity is grounded in something far more tangible to the modern man: money, power and security. That last part is what this article is about…
I’m getting better at air travel: knowing where to be at the proper time, being prepared to dump everything out of my pockets into plastic tubs for scanning, even when to remove my shoes (when they TELL you to). Flying out to Los Angeles on Friday I was pretty laid back (as evidenced by my gaudy Hawaiian shirt). Things were going pretty well for me up until when I got to the lady checking our boarding passes prior to proceeding to the security scans. She was discussing something with a co-worker while looking at the boarding pass of the guy in front of me. He must’ve been late for his plane because he snapped at her, saying: “Can you talk about that later? I’m late for my flight!!!”
I nervously chuckled as she handed his pass back to him, thinking that she was probably miffed at his outburst. Now, I know that for fairness sake that the inspectors are asked to randomly select people for detailed screenings, but I have to think that this lady picked on me because I chuckled. Maybe she thought that I was laughing at her or maybe she didn’t like my Hawaiian shirt or maybe she was just following a predetermined random picking order, but there I was in the bo-bo line, getting sniffed and scanned, weighed and questioned. All in all it went pretty quickly and the novelty of it was certainly something that would go into an article (something very much like what you’re reading now) but it’s what happened on the other end of the flight that really blew me away.
At LAX I went to pick up the one bag that I’d checked, the bag containing my dress clothes for the wedding. People from our flight gathered around the carousel, waiting for their bags to arrive. Most of them had someone there with them to chat with and since I did not, I put on my baseball cap, pulled the brim down low to tune out the crowd and started playing tetris on my cellphone. It must have taken 25 minutes for the bags to make it to the carousel. Somewhere along in there Joe Connolly called to say that he had tentatively arranged to let me pick my rental car up from an outlying rental location tomorrow morning and that I could just ride back with him to his family’s house; all I needed to do was to call the airport location and confirm the details.
About that time our bags were coming out and, after snagging my ballistic nylon bag, I headed outside to the pickup area to wait for Joe. Just before stepping outside I bent down to fish the paperwork with the rental agency’s telephone number and my confirmation number out of my duffel bag. A man’s voice said something to the effect of “Pardon me sir…” and I glanced over to see a pair of legs standing right next to my bags. Great, I thought, somebody is going to beg money from me… in the airport.
When I stood up it wasn’t just one guy, it was, like, three people in plain clothes. They were all very serious looking and the man who had addressed me skillfully flashed his badge at me so quickly that anyone walking by us would have missed it completely. He then said something about the fact that they’d been observing me and wanted to know my business in Los Angeles. THEY?? OBSERVING??? WTF??
“Are you guys for real?” was the only question I had for them. I must have looked as surprised as I felt because the lady standing closest to me seemed to be fighting a smirk.
Or maybe she was suppressing the instinct to do a spin-kick to my forehead.
Either way, I was totally, absolutely flummoxed.
Still am. I don’t even really know what department of security they worked for even though they ALL flashed badges and identification wallets at me after I asked them if they were real.
They laughed, and kept looking at me and my paperwork.
At their prompting I explained that I was there to see a wedding in Long Beach (which was untrue, as it turns out the wedding was actually in Newport Beach) and to visit my friend who was the propmaster of “7th Heaven” (which was totally true, if not a little boring since it was just like visiting the set of the old Aaron Spelling show that I worked on in the mid-90’s). After checking out my driver’s license they politely thanked me, turned and drifted out the doors and down the sidewalk… all FOUR of them (nope, hadn’t seen the fourth guy until after it was over). I wonder how many more were there watching me. How much did that little incident cost us and how far up does this go?
Homeland Crew? If you’re out there, monitoring me, reading the website every day, could you maybe score me a T-shirt or something? I’ll trade you even-Steven for some of my T-shirts. I even wore clean underwear for the trip back just in case you guys had some kind of special event set up in my honor. Just thought you should know that I did think that much of you guys.