The Too-Close Encounter with TSA

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6/9/19 Driftwood Hotel, Juneau, Alaska

In case the reader doesn’t know, I’ve organized the Odyssey into four (or five, depending on how you count them), smaller trips.  Each one starts in Anchorage where we somehow navigate to a different part of the state, see the parks, as well as Joan’s rebellion items, and then return to Anchorage for a couple days.  Although we hope to get in some sightseeing in Anchorage, the major task is to get ready for the next mini-trip.  That means doing things like buying groceries (we found a grocery store), getting more cash (an ATM machine), and doing laundry (the hotel has laundry facilities).  After all those chores are done, we can repack and get ready to leave.  The hotel is storing our backup suitcase while we are away, so we only have to take one bag on each of the mini-trips.

The first mini-trip started yesterday with a bang.  First, we had requested the hotel shuttle for a prompt departure at 6:00 AM so we could get through all the damn security and make our flight, departing just before 8:00.  Naturally, since we have entrusted our plans with someone else, the hotel shuttle driver didn’t make it to work on time.  Getting extremely nervous, about making our flight, I finally called a cab.  He managed to arrive pretty quickly and as we were leaving, the shuttle driver showed up for work. (Rough Friday night maybe?)

So now I’m starting to get nervous.  But the cabbie deserves extra credit as he got us to the airport in near record time, barely over 15 minutes.  We dashed into the baggage check area and I tried to wave my phone, with the electronic boarding passes, over the first-station reader.  As to be expected, when you want things to go smoothly, they don’t.  The reader wasn’t having anything to do with my boarding passes on my iPhone.  (Of course, I probably did something wrong but hey, I’m an RVer, not a frequent flyer so…)

Off we go to the ‘Special Assistance’ counter where I join a line of half-dozen other special cases (one woman was checking a bicycle…). I suppose this is all an argument for carry-ons but not only am I philosophically opposed to big bags clogging up the aisles and falling on my shoulders but I also wanted to manage only a single bag, plus our backpacks.  The result is that ‘single bag’ is a whopper, both in size and in weight.  So it really needs to be checked.

We finally get the bag checked and our tickets straightened out (turns out that even though they issued me boarding passes, somehow the check-in process failed to complete) and we, like OJ Simpson used to do before he stopped running, we dashed for the TSA security gates.   And that was where the fun began.

I suppose it was because we were late and risked missing our flight, but I was sweating a bit (it is also more humid in Anchorage than it is in New Mexico).  So maybe I looked a little suspicious.  It probably also doesn’t help that I can’t hear everything when people are talking.  But, whatever the reasons, I’m not sure I deserved the treatment I got from that TSA agent yesterday morning.

I thought I had processed my personal belongings appropriately, pulling out all of my metal stuff.  I know I placed my boots, my iPad and phone, and my metal tin that contains my chapstick and pills in the plastic bin.  But in my haste to get to the gate, I had forgotten the metal loop on my belt – and no-one asked me to take it off.  So I triggered some sort of alarm in the scanning machine.  But what happened next was really surprising.

This young ‘sergeant’ type TSA agent comes up to me and starts, literally, yelling at me.  Before I know it, I am surrounded by TSA agents.  I don’t know if any of them had guns, but it felt like they did.  This exuberant sergeant type is yelling at me and saying something about how he is shutting down the lane and that he is going to search me completely from top to bottom.  Because of my hearing and my stressed situation, I don’t understand much of what he is saying.  I also have to process the fact that his face is so close to mine that I’m feeling spit on my space when he speaks.  The man was intimidating, or at least trying to be.

The entire security area comes to a screeching halt and I felt like the entire world was watching me as if I was some sort of terrorist.  

Although I’m not sure exactly what he is saying, I somehow decide that it would be better to say ‘yes’ than to answer ‘no’, so I do that a couple of times, all the while holding my hands above my head. (You know, the ‘Don’t Shoot’ pose).  Interestingly, though, I’m not really scared, just kind of angry that I have to go through this humiliation.  Following his instructions, I remove my belt and then, putting my hands in my pocket I realize I also had a couple of quarters in there which I pull out and try to give to him.

Finally, he asks a question I can understand – do I want to be body-searched out here where I am standing, or in a private location in the direction he nods.  Thinking about it, I said that no, I was late for a plane and that he should search me right there and then, in public – I wanted him to finish this damn thing up quickly – maybe we could make our plane.

Interestingly, that seemed to unnerve the agent.  The way he worded the question, as best I could understand, he was going to be touching me everywhere and he had assumed that I wouldn’t want that done in public.  He really seemed disappointed that I wanted him to do all of that in front of fifty or so people.  I think that momentary hesitation on his part helped me understand what was going on.

Yes, I probably screwed up by forgetting my belt and the two quarters.  But, it seemed that this guy had a grudge and he wanted to play out his position of power.  Maybe I reminded him of someone, maybe it was the fact that I was bigger than he was – I’m not sure, but he wanted to take me down and when I denied him the opportunity of doing it without witnesses, he was pissed, but ultimately defeated.  

Yes, he did search everywhere.  I didn’t have to drop my pants and bend over, but his hands went up and down my ass, the insides of my legs, and he pat down ‘my stuff’.  And I made him do all of that in front of dozens of witnesses.  

He found nothing of course – I’m sorry I couldn’t ‘make his day’.  And he didn’t apologize for his behavior either.  I guess I’m not understanding why, after removing my belt and the quarters, he didn’t have me pass back through the scanner – would have saved everyone some time and trouble.  As it was, all it did was make him look fairly foolish and me even later for my flight.  Some people do not deserve the trust that we place in them – I suspect this guy is suffering from some deep seated insecurities and giving him the power of a TSA agent is a serious mistake.  That’s how people end up getting killed, despite the good intentions.

Ok, then.  I’m done with that.  We made our flight and, not at all due to my issue, it left a little bit late.  But there was substantial legroom, the attendants were very pleasant and the coffee and cookie were free.  Only took an hour and twenty minutes before we arrived in Juneau, Alaska’s capital city.  

This is our starting and ending point for the Panhandle segment of the trip.  There aren’t any parks in Juneau, but Joan has a rebellion item, so we will spend a couple of days here before moving on to our first park.