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Adventures in TSA Douchebaggery

Over the weekend, I made a trip to Norfolk, Virginia.  Against my better judgement, I flew rather than drove.  Apparently taking an extra day on each end of the trip wasn’t such a good idea, even though the routing would have been simple:

Step 1 – Get on I-64 East

Step 2 – Get off of I-64 East just before you hit the surf.

Anyway, Friday morning I packed up my weekend bag and headed to the airport.  Since I only had my small bag and my laptop, I decided to carry-on everything rather than check a bag.  As I was going through the TSA checkpoint in Louisville, I heard those words that every traveller hates:

“Sir, is this your bag?”

The young lady who asked that question, who I’ll call Ms. Respectful, pulled my bag off the x-ray machine, opened it, and took out the baggie that contained my toiletries.  Then I realized I’d messed up:

“Sir, is that a razor?”

“Uhhh, yes, yes it is.”

“Does it have a blade in it?”

“You’re right, it does.  Do I need to remove it?”

“Yes, sir.  Could you open it for me and hand me the blade?”

I unscrewed the head on my safety razor, pulled it off of the handle, and handed the blade to the nice young lady.  She threw it in the trash can, thanked me, and went back to her job.

Now, before I move on, I want to point out that this young lady was courteous, professional, and competent.  She didn’t insist that I throw away my entire razor, and actually thanked me as I left her area.   She was dressed properly, with her hair neat, her uniform wrinkle-free, and her shoes were comfortable, but didn’t look like she’d just come in from the gym. If we have to have TSA agents, I want them to be like her.

Contrast that with my experience yesterday morning in Norfolk.

Remembering my experience in Louisville, I packed my razor with the head unscrewed from the handle.  This was to make it easier to show there wasn’t a blade in it. But again, as my bag went through the x-ray machine, I heard those words again:

“Is that your bag?”

Sigh.  “Yes, it is.  Yes, there’s the body of a razor in it, but there isn’t a blade. Do you need to see it?”

“Yeah, go ahead and come over here.”

The young person who had my bag, who I’ll call Dingleberry, took my carry-on over to the Table of Doom and proceeded to try to unzip it by pulling both zippers at once.   After explaining to him that you only needed to pull on one zipper to open it, he succeeded in getting that accomplished.  He pulled out my baggie-o-toiletries, and peered in . 

“See,” I said, “there’s the handle, and there’s the head.  No blade.”

“All right.  I need to put this through the machine again.”

“Well, OK, if that’s what you have to do.”

Dingleberry took the baggie and went to the front of the x-ray machine.  As he was doing this, another ‘agent’ came over, and grabbed my carry-on.  He proceeded to swab it with those Tucks medicated pads they use to check for explosives residue.  This caused me to stop paying attention to Dingleberry, who apparently decided that the head of my razor, which I’m sure he calls “The razor thing that goes up”, was the dangerous part, so he disposed of it.  By “disposed of it”, I mean he threw away my property without seeking my permission or even telling me he was doing it.  I didn’t notice that I only got the handle of my razor back until I went to shave this morning*. 

So, in a vain attempt to make sure that I don’t make the crew of my airliner kissably smooth, he threw away a necessary, but inert, part of my razor.  I guess when you only have to pluck three scraggly hairs off your chin a couple of times a week and use a Captain Planet neck trimmer to shape your cheese-dick pencil-thin mustache back to your Angela Davis-esque hair-do, you don’t learn what a safety razor is.   Maybe if he could figure out which of the guys at the block party in 1993 was his father, maybe he’d have been taught that the parts of a razor that don’t have an edge aren’t dangerous.

Oh, and since I commented on the appearance of Ms. Respectful, I’ll comment on Dingleberry.  Like I said, his hair was a fright, resembling something that had been pulled out of a vacuum cleaner bag.  His uniform looked like he had not only slept in it, but had also rolled in a vat of bread crumbs on the way to work.  His shoes, while stylish on the basketball court, didn’t exactly fit in with the whole “professional attire” motif he should have been looking for.  In other words, he looked like someone wearing a Halloween costume instead of a professional.

Next on the hit parade we had two TSA goons I will call “Fritz” and “Heidi”.  They were the two individuals that were ‘guarding’ my gate as we lined up to board.  They were kitted out in what I think I will call the “TSA assault vest”, which appears to be a hand-me-down bartender’s vest from a 1980’s cocktail bar, complete with shiny buttons.  But the TSA makes them look classy by clipping on radios, pens, and an embroidered ‘badge’.  

As we got ready to get on the plane, these two refugees from a World War II spy movie ‘randomly’ asked several people in line if they could see their boarding passes.  The impacted passengers consisted of a mother flying with three small children, an old lady who needed a cane to walk, and three uniformed Navy guys.  The lady with the children was directly in front of me, and she was asked, and I shit you not, “Show me your boarding papers”.  You don’t get more stormtrooper than that unless you’re actually wearing jackboots and smacking an old babushka in the face with a riding crop.  Once they were satisfied that a young family, three sailors in their summer whites, and a grandmother weren’t going to rain death down upon the eastern seaboard, they returned to their spot leaning against the wall and glowering at us as we filed onto the plane.

And people wonder why I prefer to drive.  The whole TSA needs to be scrapped.  The two or three people who are worth a damn that wear that uniform will find something either as good as or better to earn their daily bread, and the rest can return to their former jobs of couch surfing, recycling dental floss, and cleaning out the grease trap at the rendering plant.

Now, if y’all will excuse me, I’m off to buy a new razor.  I’m tempted to mail the handle of the old one to the head of the TSA along with a note of thanks for the ‘professionalism’ of his organization.

*By the way, shaving with one of your teenage daughter’s unused hot pink and lavender disposable razors isn’t exactly the same experience as using a nickel-plated Merkur safety razor.

Travel Tips

Fox News has an article about what to do if you get into trouble with the law while travelling abroad.  I thought I’d add my two kopeks.

  1. Don’t be stupid.  That means educate yourself.  Learn how to contact the local consulate or embassy.  Know a few words of the local language, starting with the words your grandma wanted you to use:  Sir, ma’am, please, thank you.  Learn a bit about the local customs and laws. Look to see if there’s a European or American expatriate community in the country, and use their resources to learn about the country, the customs, and places you can get food and water that won’t kill you.   If you’re going to a third world country, learn how to contact Doctors Without Borders so you don’t get treated for eating the wrong food by someone who has to consult the bones before making a diagnosis.
  2. Don’t travel to countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with the United States.  If we’re not talking to the government of the People’s Republic of Douchebagistan, then that should be an indicator that Americans just aren’t that welcome.  That means don’t try to get into North Korea on the sly, or go hiking in the mountains on the Iranian border.  
  3. Tell people where you’re going, where you plan on staying, and how you’re getting there and back.  Bonus points for having a GPS and an international or satellite cell phone.  I hate to tell someone to tell the government anything, but registering with the local embassy or consulate will at least let them know you’re in the country and they can tell you areas you probably should avoid.
  4. Stay in the tourist areas unless you know the local language very well and know the local customs and laws almost as well as you know the ones in your home town.   And then be prepared for a lot more hassle and danger of doing things that you didn’t know were illegal.
  5. Stay away from the seedy part of town.  Yeah, you’ll never be in that little city again, and you want to see some of the local night life.  But going to a dive bar in Singapore that’s not frequented by anyone but locals will tend to get you in trouble.  Bad parts of town are considered bad for a reason.  
  6. Stay in a reputable hotel.  First, there’s better security.  You’re less likely to be arrested for assaulting someone for trying to take everything you have on you.  Second, if you tip well and are decent to the staff, they’re more likely to help you get the heck out of Dodge in the event that the country goes pear shaped.
  7. Budget for bribes.  You can call it a “Warning Fine” in Germany, or you can call it “Mordida” in Mexico.  They’re all bribes to me.  But hey, if passing a 20 euro note along with your passport to the nice gentleman in the uniform clears things up that quickly, what’s a little official corruption between friends?  Interestingly enough, most of the time that I’ve had a cop hassle me for a bribe was right around either lunch time or shift change.  The only place I’ve had to deal with law enforcement that a bottle of booze or a bit of cash didn’t smooth the waters was the United Kingdom or most of the United States.  
  8. Don’t break the law.  This goes back to not being stupid and staying out of the seedy parts of town.  If you’re in a Muslim country, stick to water and soda.  If you’re in a country that frowns on the use/trafficking of narcotics, stay clean and don’t carry any packages for anyone.  Don’t speed, don’t run from accidents if you’re not in danger, and for God’s sake don’t handle weapons unless you’re absolutely sure you can do so without ending up in a Turkish prison.
  9. OPSEC is your friend, and be respectful.  Unless you’re fluent enough in the local language and customs to pass as a native and you look like one of the locals, you’re going to stick out as a tourist and as an American.  But walking around in your “America, F*** Yeah!” tee shirt or having your kid walk around in miniature ACU’s yelling “Airborne Ranger Hoowah!” will make it even easier for the locals to play “Pick out the Gringo”.  Also, if the country has a dress code for your sex, follow it.  You can argue about your grrrllll status when you’re back home.  No-one gives you bonus points for getting beaten up on the street by the local morality police because you just had your hair done did and you’re not wearing a head scarf for any man.
  10. Follow your POW training.  If you are arrested, and a little silver crossing a palm or two isn’t working, name, nationality, and “I want to speak to the American government” is all that should come out of your mouth.  Don’t argue with them, don’t try to talk your way out of it, and don’t admit to anything.  The embassy staff isn’t going to act as your lawyer, but they’ll at least make sure you get what amounts to a lawyer and try to make sure you don’t get strung up by your thumbs while two guys with a deep well battery play “Make the Tourist Twitch”.
As you can see, most of these are preventive in nature.  Remember, the best way to survive a gun fight is to avoid it in the first place, and the same goes for dealing with foreign legal processes.

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