I hate flying. I really do. Although it’s not so much the actual flight part that I hate. I like the tiny seats next to people who have no concept of personal space, who stuff their used tissues and giant Evian bottles into the seat pockets in front of them while they pretend they need a necklace-style wineglass holder that can only be ordered from the July 2007 issue of SKYMALL while wondering aloud if the child behind them who won’t stop coughing might be a carrier for tuberculosis. No, that part I love, if only because I can feel superior to them because, excuse me, I know that the wineglass holder comes cheaper from Sharper Image. What I really hate about flying is airport security, especially at smaller airports. The TSA agents at bigger airports won’t look twice at a college student becoming entangled in the straps of a duffel bag advertising a sport she clearly doesn’t play while attempting to turn off her cell phone and remove her shoes and rings simultaneously. Travelers as a whole don’t amuse them anymore because once you’ve seen one hassled undergrad, you’ve seen them all. However, the agents at smaller airports revel in this sort of scenario. They get a huge kick out of watching ink-stained students try to blend in with hardened business-like people who travel with nothing more than a Blackberry and toothbrush. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to travel with only a clutch purse the size of a teacup poodle. I either look like a pack mule or I don’t bother travelling. I’m pretty sure more people would take a note from gypsies if baggage fees weren’t so high.
Six hours into Christmas break, loaded down with trinkets and treasures for everyone I’ve ever met, I approach the one security checkpoint line at my college town’s provincial airport. It’s just me, the wide-eyed coed carrying the maximum number of bags allowed aboard an aircraft and a dozen business people who seem to have invisible luggage. I try to blend in, but I keep tripping over my shoelaces as I attempt to toss them into a plastic bin along with my keys and laptop. While they glide effortlessly past like so many swans, I’m forced to be the ugly duckling in a winter coat I need for my destination but not for the current setting (temperature 79 degrees and rising). I maneuver my bags onto the conveyer belt, locate my boarding pass and photo id and tiptoe gingerly through the scanner, ignoring the idea that my feet are making contact with the unidentifiable stains left by previous travelers. And then it happens: A TSA agent notices me. She looks official in the way that only airport security can, with a navy blue shirt with so many pockets and insignia that I’m completely unaware that she’s holding a wand scanner until she brandishes it front of me. Ohpleasedeargodno. Not this humiliation. Not in front of the Blackberry Wielders. I just want to make my flight. I just want to go home and experience holiday cheer with my dignity still intact. I never did anything to deserve this. I pay taxes, I vote, I limit my carry-on items to one bag and one personal item. I promise I’m a good person.
“Is your bag the orange one?” Wand Lady gives me a look that tells me she has perfected x-ray vision, the perfect reasoning for her title of Employee of the Month.
“Actually, the color is persimmon, but yeah, it’s mine.”
“I’m going to have to give it another look-over.” She tears it from the scanner and dumps the contents on the counter, poking through the detritus with the wand until she finds my wallet. My green, perfectly organized wallet. She hefts it, then opens it, looking up at me in disgust as she openly judges me for my collection of movie ticket stubs. I hope she sees my frequent flyer card so she can tell that I’m a serious traveler, albeit one who can’t remember to wear slip-on shoes for security.
“You have change. It’s setting off the scanner. I’m going to have to send it back through.”
I have change. This is not news, and should be no big deal, right? Right? But she stops the line. She pushes all of the bags on the conveyer belt out of the way of my measly, normal-sized wallet jangling with monetary contraband. She scrutinizes every detail on the overhead screen as if performing complicated word problems about organization of my dollar bills. The Blackberry Wielders sigh, and shift from one foot to the other, and glare at me as though I am the reason that they will not be able to make a call to Sweden before the market closes and their plane takes off.
“I’m sorry!” I want to shout. “I’m sorry I like to keep the state quarters from the places I’ve travelled recently with me at all times until I can return to my childhood bedroom and press them into the commemorative map that has been gathering dust in the back of my closet since the 7th grade. I’m sorry I don’t use exact change at all times, so I can rid myself of these useless pennies before the U.S. Mint eliminates them forever! Please, kindly TSA agent, take all the time you need to separate my copious loose change by value and then by year so that you can make sure they won’t explode in the middle of the flight that is scheduled to take off in 26 minutes roughly two football fields away. I don’t have anywhere better to be. My connecting flight will certainly wait while you accomplish this task.”
After sending my poor wallet through the equivalent of two strip searches and three x-rays, the agent finally seems satisfied that FDR has no intention of jumping off of my dimes and performing an in-flight striptease and returns my wallet to my possession. I can hear it quietly weeping from the indignities it has suffered—especially now that the offending coins are so jumbled that the zippered compartment containing them will no longer close properly. The crowd of disgruntled Blackberry Wielders has lessened, leaving behind only the memory of their snickers at the naiveté of someone who doesn’t know that carrying more than $1.47 in change is unacceptable once past the ticket counters. I return my battered wallet to its rightful home in the depths of my purse, first checking to be sure that the agent didn’t “accidentally” confiscate my Wendy’s card for Free Frosty Fridays in the process. Then, with my head held high, I collect my strewn shoes, jacket, scarf, People magazine and 3oz Ziploc plastic bag of toiletries and make my way to Gate 7B, hoping against hope that I have a window seat next to a Buddhist monk who has taken a year-long vow of silence that will prevent him from asking any questions about the range of a marshmallow bazooka and whether or not a slanket really is superior to a snuggie. Because really, I might just whack the man with my overburdened wallet and hope that the gentle tinkle of my change reminds him of his abiding need to meditate for the remainder of the flight.
“When you think about flying, it’s nuts really. Here you are at about 40,000 feet, screaming along at 700 miles an hour and you’re sitting there drinking Diet Pepsi and eating peanuts. It just doesn’t make any sense.” –David Letterman