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We approached the ticketing agent’s little counter with two different attitudes. I was filled with trepidation, clutching as I was a passport that had been marked with a scarlet-letter sticker by the evil Delta line monitor/dream crusher. Partner happily trotted along, clutching a passport that had been blessed by the gods. (I think he was actually whistling, but that also might have been the outrush of air as my sphincter slammed shut over another potential confrontation.)
I explained that, although we were already technically checked-in, we needed updated boarding passes.
“Are you checking any luggage?”
“No. Carry-ons only.”
He seemed disappointed by this news, as if he had just fallen behind in some type of employee competition. “Hmm. Passports, please.”
We handed them over. He opened Partner’s first, and I half expected white doves to fly out while the Olympic anthem played in the background. Then he opened mine, and I was convinced that the little pages would burst into flames. None of this happened. Instead, he scanned both of them, hit a few buttons on his keyboard, and then presented us with shiny new boarding passes. “Enjoy your flight.”
That was it? Did he not notice the mark-of-the-beast sticker on the back of my passport?
Partner, sensing that I might do something stupid if he didn’t get me out of there, grabbed me and practically dragged my ass away from the counter. As we scampered along, my mood started to lift a bit. Maybe it wasn’t going to be such a bad day after all.
Partner destroyed my levity three seconds later. “Now we just have to get through Security.”
Aw, hell. I am not a fan of the security lines at airports, with the cattle-herding and the pressure and the separate bag of liquids and the dragging out of laptops and the emptying of your pockets and the idiocy of people who don’t understand all these rules, causing the lines to back up. It makes me go a little insane, and I already don’t need much help getting there.
Luckily, the line wasn’t too long (it was still relatively early) and we were soon at the wretched point where everyone is frantically throwing things in plastic bins while a bored employee monotonously reminds everyone to throw things in plastic bins. Because I can’t stand this process, I always have everything prepped and ready for neat arrangement in the bins, so I’m usually done in mere milliseconds. I really think I should get an award for my expediency, but no one has ever given me one. Maybe someday.
As my worldly possessions snaked their way through the x-ray contraption, I was motioned to step into the body scanner. I don’t like that thing, either, mainly because I usually set it off half the time even though they never find anything on me. (Okay, there was that one time when I forgot about an Excedrin tablet in my pocket, one I had tucked in there in case the mild hangover I had on the way to the airport proved truculent. A single tablet. Next thing you know, three security agents were studying the tablet whilst a fourth swabbed my hands for chemical residue. That was fun.)
I made it through the body scanner without any complications and my heart surged. We were almost done!
A security agent suddenly stopped me in my jubilant tracks. “Sir, I need you to come with me.”
“But the thing didn’t beep.”
“Sir, I need you to come with me.” He was not playing.
I followed him over to the conveyor belt where the luggage and plastic bins were being regurgitated from the x-ray box. He pointed at my carry-on. “Is that yours?”
Sadly, it was. “Yes.”
“I need you to open it.”
I did, mildly regretting that last night’s underwear was right there, a sordid flower on display, despite my efforts to shove it out of site when I packed. (“Items may have shifted during flight.”)
He ignored my flower and focused on a side pocket, gently patting it and then stepping back. “I need you to take out what’s in there.”
I pulled out the first item in the pocket. It was a deck of playing cards. (We had purchased several as souvenir gifts for our friends.) How in the world had this triggered an issue? I meekly handed it to him, almost feeling sorry for him getting excited about nothing, but not quite.
He studied it closely, noting the fact that it was, indeed, a deck of playing cards. Still sealed. Then he looked back at me. “There’s another one in there. Take it out as well.”
“Actually, there are several. And there are some in another pocket as well.” (We have a lot of friends.) I was not going to hide anything at this point and felt a need for full disclosure, even if this was proving to be surreal and ludicrous.
He shook his head. “I just need you to take out the next one. Sir.” (With “sir” being code for “stop ad-libbing and just do what I’m telling you to do”.)
I took out the next one. Another deck, also sealed. He reviewed this one just as closely, looking for signs of anarchy, then handed it back, clearly disappointed that he did not get to make an arrest. “You may proceed.”
Oh, how I wanted to argue with him. How did two particular decks of cards cause the x-ray machine to hyperventilate, when I had five more of the exact same thing in my bag? But I kept my mouth shut (your passport has a scarlet-letter sticker!), zipped my bag closed, gathered the rest of my crap from the bins, and fled.
I joined up with Partner, who hadn’t had any issues whatsoever, bathed in the golden light that he was. We then tromped our way further into the terminal, and we had a quick breakfast that was exorbitantly over-priced. (That’s what food establishments do to you in the inner sanctums of airports. They know that you are basically trapped, with nobody wanting to exit security in search of cheaper options and then come back again, so they jack up the costs. You’re desperate and you will pay whatever they charge. Just like healthcare insurance in America, scam that it is.)
Post meal, we decided to head on over to our assigned gate, even though we still had several hours before departure. This proved to be quite a journey, as our gate was apparently located in another part of the country. We trekked for miles, with the facilities around us slowly transitioning from “this is the new and fancy part of the terminal” to “oh, yeah, we forgot about this outdated area”. We finally arrived in a distant wing that hadn’t been updated since “Laverne and Shirley” was originally airing on TV. It smelled like the closet you never open at Grandma’s house, where she keeps her wedding dress and a stack of war bonds.
In this entire wing, there were only three other people. And they were all sitting at our gate, at the very end of the space. And one of said people had commandeered the only charging station in the vicinity, using all the ports to charge multiple devices. (I can’t stand people like that. Use one and share the rest, you heathen.) But I really didn’t care. I just wanted to sit down and breathe.
We staked a claim on three seats and collapsed. I may have drifted off for a bit, because I remember feeling happy at one point, and that just doesn’t happen for me in airports if I’m conscious. Eventually, most of the seats around us became occupied as folks slowly straggled in for our flight. (Completely useless trivia: I did have to use the facilities a few times, because we were there for hours, and the bathroom actually had motion sensors for the lights, an anachronism in this ancient wing of the terminal. If you took too long to tinkle, the lights would blink out whilst you were standing at the urinal. That was fun, part two.)
As boarding time neared, although still a good hour or so away, one of the Delta agents began circulating through the seated patrons. She seemed to be checking everyone’s passport, which was a bit odd, as they usually didn’t do that until you were boarding. Naturally, I went on alert, because my passport was tainted, especially when she asked one guy to come with her and they disappeared around a corner.
What was going on?
Eventually, the Delta agent came back from wherever, sans passenger, and she picked up where she had left off, with the checking off passports. When she got to Partner, she handed back his passport and wished him a joyous flight and many years of fertility and prosperity. Then she looked at my passport.
“Oh, okay. Sir, you will need to come with me. Please understand that I am not personally selecting you, but that you have been marked in the system for an extra-special security check. If you partner wishes, he can accompany you during the process.”
I looked at Partner, not sure if he wished.
Partner looked at me, not wishing. “I’m fine right here.”
Great. But I couldn’t really blame him. At least one of us needed to make it home so we could feed the cat. I grabbed my bags and followed Delta Dawn.
She escorted me around the corner from whence the previous passenger had never returned, and we entered a stark room that did not speak of happiness or satisfaction. There were three little booths, with passengers on one side and very-busy agents on the other side. “Please wait here until your turn,” explained Delta Dawn, then she raced off to select her next victim. (I hoped it was the woman who had snagged all the charging ports in a frenzy of self-involvement.)
One of the passengers tottered off and a booth became available. The agent motioned me forward and asked if I spoke Spanish. (I lied and said I did not, knowing full well that I needed this situation to play out in my own language.) She sighed, then she requested that I place my carry-ons on the table betwixt us. I did so. “Please open both of them.” I did so. (Sorry about the underwear flower, my bad.) She poked around a bit and seemed to be satisfied, not at all offended by the playing cards that had caused such a needless controversy at the Security checkpoint.
She then came around to my side and stood before me. “Take off the shoes and take down your pants.”
Then she scurried off to retrieve something or other. I took off my shoes, but I did not take down the pants. Because, why?
When she returned, sporting latex gloves and something in a packet, she was not impressed with my inability to follow orders, so she changed her directives a bit. “Do you have the belt?”
I lifted my shirt to show the top of my jeans. No belt. (I had tucked it in one of my carry-ons so I wouldn’t have to take it off during the Security process, unaware that there was a secondary Security process.)
“Ah,” she said, then she reached out and unsnapped the top button of my jeans. What the hell? I suddenly felt like an intern in the Trump White House.
My jeans slid a bit lower, but there was no full-frontal nudity. The agent then ripped open the packet and pulled out a wet cloth that I remembered from that time when a tablet of Excedrin had almost led to my incarceration. She was going to check me for chemical residue. Terrific.
She swabbed my hands. She had me pull up my pantlegs so she could swab my legs, practically up to my kneecaps. She swabbed the back of my neck. (How would chemical residue get there?) She finished her intrusion by running the cloth around my waistline, well below the top of my jeans and coming far too close to Mr. Happy. (I believe he let out a squeak of surprise.)
She studied the cloth and apparently did not find any signs of malfeasance, then looked up at me. “You may go into the other room.”
Other room? I’m not even familiar with this room, how the hell am I supposed to know where to go after here? I guess I’ll figure it out. I rebuttoned my jeans and put my shoes back on, then grabbed my carry-ons and followed another guy who had passed the insurgency test. We walked into a room with several chairs, some of them occupied by other folks who were just as discombobulated as me, unnerved about how close that swabbing had come to Mr. Happy or Mrs. Happy.
I took a seat and waited, noting that no one around me was saying anything, because this was all just a bit too much. The room did have a lovely view of a runway, where planes were taking off with a rather intense regularity, although some of us were convinced that we would never be doing such a thing, myself included.
Eventually, Delta Dawn, she of the Swabbing Selection, came into the room and made some announcements. We would all be allowed to board the plane, but we could not board with the other passengers. We would only be allowed admittance once the other folks in our section had been seated. Please check your boarding passes to determine your section.
My section was “Comfort Plus”, a new arrangement that Delta had devised in order to make travelling in “coach” seem more exciting than it really was, with a modest upgrade to the legroom and whatnot. And I was the only one in the room with such a designation. The first-class passengers were led away before me.
Once it was my turn, Delta Dawn led me out of the room and back around to the actual gate. She held up her hand to stop the flow of non-Comfort Plus, low-rent miscreants from boarding, and shoved me toward the boarding agent. He scanned my boarding pass and then shoved me down the gangway. (Okay, there was no actual shoving, but it felt like it, with the obviousness that something was not right about me, a theorem that my family would fully support.)
When I finally got on the actual plane and worked my way toward my assigned row, I spied Partner just getting settled in. He looked at me. Do you want the window seat or the middle seat?
I don’t care. I just want to sit down. And never fly on a plane again…
Click here to read the next bit of madness in this series…
Categories: My Life