By Steve Dresselhaus
There is an inviolable law of the universe which states cum tempus breve est janua clauditur citius. (Loosely translated this means the closer the time to the closing of your boarding gate at the airport, the surlier, more incompetent and more deeply maladjusted the TSA agents become.) TSA agents are endowed with some kind of psychic powers, able to sense stress levels in the sweating, panting, wide-eyed travelers nervously rocking back and forth on their feet, rolling their eyes towards heaven, and like a high speed metronome glancing at their watch every other second. These agents also have sensors capable of detecting the agony of sleep deprived, jet-lagged travelers who are on the final leg of a multi-day return trip from the most remote parts of Africa. I was now only one short two- hour flight from home when the TSA agents devolved into cruel sadistic despots determined to make my life and that of the other travelers even more miserable than it was. I was only two hours and a short car ride from home. Only two hours left to go after two days of hard travel with enough time zone changes to imbue Greenwich mean time with true significance.
When TSA agents see a passenger rushing from the international terminal attempting to make a connecting flight, they flip a switch and life goes slow mo. As the frequency changes, their voices deepen and their body movements go glacial. You can detect the individual oscillations of the quartz crystal in your watch. Concurrent with the change to slow motion, lines instantly get longer as people spontaneously generate in front of you, disproving the theory of gradual evolution and evidencing that Louis Pasteur falsified the outcome of his research on the spontaneous generation of life. I have personally witnessed the instant apparition of new life forms in front of me as a worm hole to a parallel universe opens, and dozens of humanoids suddenly block my way to the head of the line. At that point, half the TSA staff abandon their posts, and every other passenger becomes a post-retirement-age non-English speaker, none of whom remembers that both a photo ID and the boarding pass must be presented to the TSA. Of course their passports are located in secret locations long since forgotten; and it takes an experienced archeologist to dig them out.
It is now that the TSA staff become faux friendly and chat up everyone, not only to eat up the time clock but likely in a Machiavellian attempt to make the people happy so that the guaranteed crash to bitter disappointment over their missed flights is all the more cataclysmic. Then someone in management who has clearly been promoted to his point of incompetency decides to have each TSA agent handle two lines of harried passengers. What ensues is a comedic hay foot straw foot as the TSA folks try to remember if the last passenger they hassled was from the right or left side of the podium. Blue uniforms are known to be a major contributor to dyslexia.
Once the passenger has cleared the first TSA obstacle, he or she enters the luggage search and body scan area. Experienced travelers know all about the little zip-lock rule for what to do with your liquids, about taking off their shoes, about taking their laptop out of the luggage and putting it in its own tray. Experienced travelers know how to confirm the emptiness of shirt and pants pockets by doing the Macarena self-check. The problem is that in my lines, no one but me is ever an experienced traveler. Every other passenger seems to be unaware of the fact that coins, jewelry, and navel piercings all show up on the body scan, making a secondary search a line-slowing reality. Then there are the kids with so many ear rings that the TSA guy says, “Sir, please put your spiral notebook in a separate tray” before he realizes he is looking at the head of a teenager. French Foreign Legion desert boots–the kind with stiff rawhide strips that lace up to your armpits–should be banned from airline travel.
Finally, it is your turn to go through the body scan. Feeling like a lizard, you enter the terrarium. You raise your hands in surrender, the human equivalent of the beta dog on its back, legs in the air, waiting to be sniffed by the alpha dog. When enough people have had the opportunity to humiliate you, TSA lets you out of the crystal cage–but only as far as the yellow footprints on the dirty carpet. You stand, legs spread, waiting to see if the TSA agent thinks you are worth touching or not, all the while desperately praying that the passenger before you didn’t contaminate the yellow footprint with Mozambican foot fungus. The proximity to your plane’s departure, now only minutes away, determines the length of time the TSA agent will look at you before deciding whether or not to touch you.
Then come the dreaded words, “Sir, is this your bag? Step this way please.” I don’t know why they say “please.” False manners are a form of hypocrisy; and my guess is, it is just one more ploy to disarm you as they attempt to make you miss your flight. “May I open your bag?” What kind of question is that? If I say “No,” I will not only miss my flight but likely spend the night in some federal hoosegow on trumped-up terrorism charges or, worse yet, become the target of an Obama drone. “Yes, go ahead, but can you do it quickly because I’m about to miss my flight.” “Sir,” comes the surly and edgy reply, “May I open your bag?” I had already said “yes” once, but I repeated myself in case the TSA agent suffered from some kind of comprehension disorder. “Yes, but please do it quickly because I am about to miss my flight.” Wow, my comment must have put me on the top of some kind of FBI terror watch list. My lone agent through some kind of miracle mitosis became three. They slowly opened my carry-on, one zipper tooth at a time – click, click, click. I had never counted the teeth on a zipper before, but I think there are several gazillion of them. They opened the carry-on and with gloved hands went through everything. I derived some small pleasure in that the only thing in the bag was dirty laundry which I hoped–after 48 hours in the bag en route from Harare, Zimbabwe–reeked of dirty, sweaty clothes. After touching everything, they took it out of the bag, placed it in trays, and ran everything through the X-ray machine again.
Something prompted them to call over their supervisor to look at the X-ray image on the monitor. Discussion ensued. Jokes were told, about what I don’t know, but the three of them plus their supervisor all laughed, each chuckle eating away at the zero margin I had to make my flight. The speeding second hand of my watch seemed to gather speed in direct proportion to the slowly petrifying and fossilizing bodies of the TSA guys. They brought my stuff back to the metal table, the kind used by Nazi torturers because of their easy cleaning properties, and said I could repack my bag. The threat to national security proved to be an extra battery for my laptop which had already been through eight, yes eight, X rays. Why TSA chose this time to threaten me with enhanced interrogation and why it took them those five interminable minutes to go through this process only proves they knew I was about to miss my flight.
I jammed the dirty clothes back into the carry-on and ran down the concourse. “This is the final boarding call for Jet Blue to Chicago” sounded out over the airport PA system. “ Passenger Steve Dresselhaus, report to gate 18 immediately.” Out of breath after my half marathon to gate 18, I arrived to see that the sign now read, “gate closed”; but the door was still open. Like an NFL receiver I dove for the podium, body parallel to the hard floor, hand outstretched, boarding pass clutched in my fingers, hoping to cross the goal line before the door slammed shut. “Are you Mr. Dresselhaus?” queried the friendly Jet Blue agent. Like, who else could I be, running to make the flight like that? Winded, out of breath, unable to do anything other than wheeze out a nearly inaudible yes, I nodded in the affirmative, handed the agent my boarding pass and then walked down the ramp to the plane and my two-hour flight home.
I did it. I beat TSA fair and square on their home turf. I outlasted a federal agency. Despite their best efforts, I made my flight home. With the words to Queen’s song “We are the champions” ringing in my ears, I say to the TSA with my head held high and gloating in my heart, “Nanny nanny boo boo.”