I am not a frequent flier by any stretch of the imagination; a couple of times a year we maybe get to Hawaii, Mexico, or Southern California, sometimes East coast. So we know the drill; we get to the airport in sufficient time to have our baggage x-rayed and snake through security.
I used to be a horrible traveler (as my poor wife can attest); fully annoyed with all the “inefficiencies” of airline travel. I would gripe and groan. Then 9/11 happened and they torqued the process down so bad! Well, I gave up. Now I’m a sheep. I stand in line, take off my shoes, and go with the proverbial flow. I even play a game with the metal detector; I try to go through without “beeping”, tossing my keys, change, watch into my coat pocket and rolling my belt into my shoe. I even wear Dockers instead my 501 Levi’s (button fly) when I travel. Just to play the metal detector game. I usually win.
But the one thing I can’t seem to avoid is the “Profilers”. These are the guys who used to be $10.00/hr Managers at Taco Bell but now have graduated to $10.75/hr security screeners with the TSA. After attending the half-day seminar and receiving a crisp diploma from the laser printer, these highly trained experts are placed strategically in airport concourses to divine terrorists out of the passengers before they get on the plane.
I would really like to get my hands on a copy of the secret Homeland Security “profile” documents - I have little doubt that somewhere in there is a composite picture of me under which it reads: “Watch for a guy who looks like THIS!” I swear to God, it seems like I get pulled out of line EVERY GODDAM TIME for the “extra” screening. I end up being the last guy on the plane, walking down the aisle with my shoes in my hands, passengers looking at me like I am some kind of, what… terrorist.
You see, I have a beard. Well that alone is going to set off alarms in any security arena! Not since Abe Lincoln has any self-respecting government law-and-order type EVER sported a beard. A beard screams sedition, radical, non-conformist… potential “trouble-maker”. The jeans and a t-shirt just make it worse.
A decade before 9/11, when US airport security was more of a joke than it is today, I was the subject of a serious security check at London’s Stanstead airport. Changing planes on our way to Paris, our stay in England wasn’t expected to be more than 45 minutes. But, before boarding the plane for Paris, I was pulled out of line.
Two big Brit security guys had me lean against the wall by my hands, spread-eagle; one watched as the other patted me down… thoroughly. I was aghast; I had never experienced such strict security measures before, certainly never in an American airport. When I got on the plane I realized why this happened. This part of the Stanstead terminal was the Ryan Air concourse; flights between England and Ireland. I guessed that my Irish surname likely profiled me as a wealthy Irish-American funneling support to the IRA… who knows?
I have kind of gotten used to it now. It is all part of the incredible price we pay to get someplace in hours that used to take our parents days. But every time they (supposedly) “randomly” pull me out of line to empty my pockets it makes me a bit sad; and disappointed in our country - because the security people who are supposed to protect us are dumber than the people who would really do us harm. They won’t look twice at the clean-shaven business man type in the suit and tie - they'll let Mr. clean-cut stroll onto that plane and we will have another sad, sad day in history.