You ever have one of those moments where the stars align just so and you say, “I’ve poured my heart and soul into this thing and I just know there’s no way it will live up to my expectations” and yet it does and you’re left in shock? That was my weekend at Uncharted Veterinary Conference, and I’m not saying that just because I helped plan it. It was that good.
As good as the conference was, the travel sitch getting to and from was equally bad. It brought balance to the force with extreme prejudice. The Delta cancellations were terrible and horrible, but believe it or not this story has nothing to do with that. It was SO BAD that despite my head vibrating with excitement from the weekend, the story I have to tell you now is this one: I got to play an involuntary starring role in a live re-enactment of The Fugitive, and it’s all because of TSA.
Our story begins at the PreCheck checkpoint, where an incredulous agent holds up my drivers license and peers at me. “This looks nothing like you,” he says. I beg to differ. It’s an old picture and my hair is shorter and browner and my face has yet to take on the weariness of my 30s, but it does look SOMETHING like me, since it’s me, and I didn’t have any plastic surgery or disfiguring accidents in the interim. Maybe it doesn’t look like me because I’m smiling in the picture and frowning at him?
I move on to the metal detector. I pass through it easily, because I’m not wearing metal, then it beeps anyway because TSA. So they pull me aside and tell me I have to stand in the stupid backscatter machine. I stand in the stupid backscatter machine and the agent spins the screen around and shows me the result: it’s a body outline, with little yellow squares that indicate…who the hell knows what it indicates because I’m convinced they’re making this shizz up as they go along. Despite wearing nothing but normal people clothes, I’m lit up like I got dipped in gunpowder.
“That’s really odd,” I say.
“It’s because you’re wearing a dress,” she replies with the casual air of one who sees this happen to travelers in dresses ALL THE TIME which should tell you something that is not good about how these things work. “I’m going to have to pat you down.”
She goes into the spiel about how and why, and I’m not paying attention because what choice do I have, but then I remember TSA has announced new and invasive patdowns and I snap to attention around the time she says the word “inner thigh junction.” She asks me if I want a private room. In elementary school they tell you never let the bad people take you to a secondary location so I say no, I’m fine, and she proceeds to spin me around and asks me to spread ‘em just like they do in Cops.
Perhaps you have seen the YouTube videos where people are getting patted down and wind up crying like the Dread Pirate Roberts when Count Rugen sucks a year off his life? And maybe you think to yourself, “What’s the big deal, it’s just THE BACK OF SOMEONE’S HAND on your butt for a second?” I did, back in the halcyon days before yesterday. I have since revised my opinion.
This. What they do, in full view of the rest of the airport, is the sort of thing that in any other situation would result in a police report. It’s gross and violating and offensive and, despite being one who tries not to overreact to necessary evils- it’s traumatizing. It’s groping, hands up the dress, humiliating. I don’t blame the agent, it’s her job- I blame the morons who think that this somehow makes the world a better place, that somehow this is justified and serves a purpose. It doesn’t. It makes me hate people who come up with these rules and want to send goons to grope them when they’re just trying to go about their day.
To make matters worse, as I’m sitting there enduring my public groping I look up and see about 15 conference attendees making their way through the line trying to avoid eye contact. Their last image of me was supposed to be happy!victorious!speaker! not “why is someone putting their hand up her dress while she just stands there looking pissed.”
YOU GUYS. This is only the FIRST part. I’m just getting warmed up.
They don’t find anything, of course, because there’s nothing to find. So I grab my bags and, still feeling unclean, make my way to Hudson News, where Sue Ettinger is buying water. I share with her my tale of woe, we have a laugh, and she goes on her way. I start to leave, then realize I’m horrifically dehydrated from my State Mandated Grope and grab a bottle of water.
I go up to the counter, place my bottle of water on the counter, and hand the guy my credit card. He runs it, then stops. He mumbles to himself.
“I’m sorry?” I ask.
“I have to. I have to call them,” he says.
“I’m sorry?” I ask again.
“I have to call TSA,” he says. He’s looking down at the counter, eyes flitting left and right.
Perhaps you are confused by this. I know I was. Does TSA randomly flag water purchases? Does Smart Water correlate with Dark Deeds- the official water of troublemakers- and therefore require additional screening?
“I heard what you said,” he tells me. “THEY’RE COMING.”
He still has my credit card, so I’m just standing there processing this conversation. He is fidgeting, clearly unhappy at what is about to transpire, avoiding eye contact as I’m trying to figure out WHO is coming and WHY and what they could possibly do that they haven’t already done. The background check, metal detector, backscatter, and patdown weren’t enough? He’s drumming his fingers on the counter, not answering my questions, whispering something that sounds like “ohjeezohjeez.”
Finally, I ask, “are you detaining me?” to the cashier at the Hudson News, because this is how surreal my day has gotten, and he pushes the water bottle and my credit card over and says, “I can’t detain you but I suggest YOU GO NOW.”
I’m on the lam, and all I’ve done up to this point is endure a groping, tell someone else about it, then buy a bottle of water.
Me, my non-metal wearing pelvis, my radioactive dress and my bottle of water take off to melt into the crowd, which sounds great until you remember Greenville has 4 gates so I ran about 100 feet from the Hudson News before I arrived at my plane gate and had to stop and sit down.
YOU GUYS, this was only the SECOND part.
I kid you not, five minutes later two TSA agents come up to the gate. Now I’m like in total panic mode because seriously, WTF? This is when paranoia sets in. I don’t know why they’re there but how often do you fly when TSA parks themselves at the jetway? Is it unrelated to the water bottle incident or are they on the lookout for a blonde with a water bottle who, I don’t know, said something to a friend about them shoving their hand up her crotch and then bought some water and now want to really make her pay? (I speak only the truth! Are we now in North Korea?)
I’m freaking out. I’m Harrison Ford all “I DIDN’T MAKE ANY BOMB JOKES”
And TSA is all
This is where paranoia sets in. Quietly, furtively, I take off my jacket, because I think that might fool them. They were, after all, fooled by my 2008 hair. They (there are two) are talking to the gate agent.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she announces. “TSA is here checking IDs and your bags here at the gate.” No reason given, but I think we all know. Is this really random? Are they looking for a bottle of Smart Water in the hands of a dress wearing girl who is blonder than her ID and therefore…?? Am I in the Upside Down? WHAT HAVE I DONE?
I’m not taking chances that this point. With great longing and misgiving, I abandon my SmartWater under the seat. They have not announced why they are there, but really, how much suspicious action can be going on in Greenville South Carolina at any given time? Are there really so many shenanigans that TSA is running around to the newsstands and the gates on the regular? Such is my paranoia that I don’t want to draw attention to myself by throwing the SmartWater away, in the trashcan right in front of the agent who is clearly out to get me.
So I littered. I left an unattended item at the gate. Thanks to TSA, as a direct result of their craptastic policies, they have taken an upstanding, Global Entry Prechecked citizen and turned her into a goddamn criminal.
YOU GUYS….no, seriously. Not done yet!
We start to board. My jacket is in my bag and my water bottle is in the gate area and the agent looks bored AF and I get on the plane. I sit next to another woman who looks just as thrilled as I am with life in general and they close the door. Perhaps she was groped too. She had that defeated air about her. She, too, has a bottle of Smart Water. We sigh and I put in my headphones.
The flight attendant starts to give the safety spiel, except something is clearly wrong because the woman next to me starts to curse. I have my headphones in so I don’t know what she was saying exactly, but I can lipread certain things well enough.
They’re making us get off. The entire plane has to disembark.
By now, I’m so sleep deprived and dehydrated that I’ve resigned myself to arrest. I am convinced that I’m going to be met at the gate by 15 armed officers and the Hudson News clerk, who will point and say “THAT’S HER!” before bursting into tears out of guilt for helping to take down an innocent woman, dragging me off as my dress bursts into flame. It’s not paranoia, guys- at the exact same time a thousand miles away, a doctor was getting forcibly dragged off a United flight because they wanted to send a flight attendant to Louisville and needed his seat. Travel has become a brute fight to the death. It’s not OK. We can’t normalize this.
They claim it’s a maintenance issue. I’m not so sure. I see them pulling all the luggage off the plane and have visions of them grabbing my purple Tumi and blowing it up on the jetway in one of those bomb boxes. Defeated, I go retrieve my bottle of water, which is still sitting there on the floor. I have no idea if it’s been spit in, filled with bleach, or pegged with truth serum while I was on board but I’m so dehydrated and I’ll be damned if I’m BUYING ANOTHER DAMN BOTTLE so I drank it. I resentfully rehydrated.
We sat there for an hour and a half and the other six conference attendees also on the flight were hanging out but I was so tired and feeling vaguely shamed about the groping show and guilty because….not sure why, but now I was a legit criminal because of the littering thing. We sat there for 90 minutes before being reboarded without explanation and then half the people missed their connections in Dallas. I’m not sure I can trace all of this back to my 2008 haircut on the drivers license, but it sure feels like it.
Moral of the Story? There is none, other than the fact that our security measures are a farce, we treat our own people like criminals and by the end of the day I was willing to take the chances with a contaminated bottle of water rather than buy a new one thanks to the actions of the TSA, who violated my body, my safety, and my sensibility. But hey! At least I got a great story out of it! Thanks TSA!