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a story from my trip home

The woman from Florida was losing her shit.

It was eary at Ontario Airport. Early enough that the lights were still on as the sun crept into the sky. The line to the security checkpoint wound down the still escalators, through the baggage claim, and back around, past the front door, all the way to the ticketing counters in a giant U-shaped frustration.


The man behind me tapped my shoulder. "The line starts back there, buddy."

"Oh, sorry."

I took my place at the end of the line in between a moustached traveling salesman from Oklahoma City and smooth-headed black kid who was also going to Oakland. Three people up was the woman from Florida. White hair, wide glasses with pink jewels in the corners, and a frantic quiver in her voice.

I know she was from Florida because everyone within twenty people knew this. She couldn't stop talking about it.

"Is this the line?" she said. "This can't be the line. I can't wait in this line. I have to get to Florida."

Florida. Where old people go to get older.

I wanted to lean toward her and say, you know, it goes a lot faster if you think about something else. But far be it from me to interfere with someone who's losing their shit.

The woman from Florida began to cry, muttering something about a cell phone. She needed a cell phone. To call Florida.

Then she just picked up and walked the 10-foot chasm between the end of the line and the beginning of it. She just cut, to use the 6th grade jargon. The woman from Florida cut in line.

And no one said a word.

I had a pleasant enough trip in the security line. It only took me 40 minutes to reach the point where the woman from Florida cut in. I ascended the still escalator, where the security girl who looked like she was on Thanksgiving break from high school, bragged about making an airline company honcho wait in line with everyone else.

I waded through the security checkpoint, keys in bag, jacket off, laptop separately put through the x-ray machine (which I'm sure put the kibosh on the thing - after dozens of backpacks and train stations and airports, my trusty powerbook up and died moments later), and walked gingerly past the men in camouflage and M16s. (Why do they wear camo in an airport? What, exactly, are they trying to blend in with? The plastic plants?)

I exited the security line and walked all of 15 feet to the check-in line at gate 408 for flight 2166, service to Oakland. And there she was, the woman from Florida, emerging from the ladies restroom looking quite refreshed.

I couldn't help myself.

"I guess you would have made it after all," I said.

She looked at me with a mix of fear and confusion in her eyes. She was trying to determine if I was one of Them, I could tell.

"I was right behind you in line," I said, to clarify.

"Oh," she said. "You know what they did to me?" She looked around. "They took me into a back room and went through all my stuff!"

At that moment, all my energy, every fiber of my being, was concentrating on not smiling.

"I have a compulsive disorder," she said. "And I asked them to wear gloves but they didn't."

"Oh," I said, not smiling.

"They ripped my luggage open," she said. "With a razor. Ripped the fabric! That wasn't here, though. That was in Florida."

"Oh," I said.

She paused and looked at me. I still wasn't smiling.

"You just got out of line?" she asked. It was sinking in.


"Oh," she said.

{ 2:43pm }



» Heh. I had a similar gal (maybe her sister?) in line coming back to Seattle from SF at the end of September. She also cut, and then after I got through the gate, her husband, just ahead of me caught up with her in mid rant:

"I can't believe this! I'm being trated like a common criminal, them going through my bag like I'm a bad person." He also was trying not to smile, I think, and said something noncommittal. Then, outraged by his lackof outrage, she continued.

"They searched through my entire bag, and they made me throw away my tweezers! I'm not a bad person, why are they treating me like that?"

This is when he made the fatal mistake of asking, "Why did you bring tweezers?" After that, I couldn't stop smiling and had to walk away. I suspect this will be one of those family tales she trots out every vacation from now on...

Carol Gunby  { 11.27.01 @ 3:59pm }

» Okay. Here it comes.

I think it was very rude (to put it mildly) manners of her to cut the line like that.

But I felt a twinge of sympathy when I read what happened her bags.

When I was 14, I was taken aside, with quite a few other people at London Heathrow, on our way back to Dublin. We were herded to one side, and our bags were searched top to bottom. Things taken out of bags, poured onto the counters. Questions like "what's this?" were common. Less common, but more audible were "How much Guinness do you drink a day Paddy?" or "I bet you have some semtex ( that's a form of plastic explosive) in there somewhere, don't you?". There were more offensive comments, which I won't quote. When a few of us told the security people to calm down, a couple of the armed guards took the safety catches off their guns.

It was dehumanising and offensive. The passengers not called aside passed by on the way to their gates, looking at what was going on - all this was going on in full view.

Why were we taken aside? We all held Irish passports, a fact recorded when we checked in for our flights. That was all. True, an IRA bomb had gone off the previous day - but it wasn't the fact we were searched so thouroughly. It was the fact that we were humiliated as it was done.

So I felt sympathy for the old woman in your story. She was rude in cutting the line, but she didn't deserve to be humilitated like that. At least they did it in more private surroundings, unlike what the English security did to myself, and the other Irish people that day in 1992.

There. Story over. I hope it made some sort of sense.

tomcosgrave  { 11.27.01 @ 4:09pm }

» Tom, with all due respect for your experience, you're empathizing with the wrong character.

I think that anybody who cuts in line like that should have to forfeit their ticket. In this case, having a bag searched wasn't an unjust humiliation.

It was instant karma, baby. And I love it.

Derek M. Powazek  { 11.27.01 @ 4:36pm }

» It is incredible to watch the throngs of travellers at airports these days instantly adjust to the new standard in safety protocols. You want me to wait 50 minutes to check in my bag? No problem! You want me to wait another 40 minutes to go through security? Bring it on! You want me to remove both of my laptops from my bags and throw them through your x-ray? I'd be happy to.

I've flown five times since 9/11, and I often wonder why I haven't seen a single person crack upon facing these (previously thought of as) insane delays. I guess I've been missing the bound-to-Florida set. Lucky me.

I'm glad you had the chutzpah to approach her, Derek. Line jumping is not a sport, indeed.

sandor  { 11.27.01 @ 4:53pm }

» Once while on vacation in Europe, my wife and I decided to visit the Vatican in Rome. Well, just our luck that we decided to visit on the last Sunday of the Month - traditionally a free-admission day, so the line was enormously long. We figured - what the Hell, how often are you in Rome? So we got in line (many blocks long.) After about an hour and a half, we could see the door up ahead - and a young Italian couple just cut right in front of us! They had the gall to do it so brazenly. I couldn't believe it, but I tapped the kid on the shoulder and said "Hey - back of the line" in my best gruff voice. He smiled, shrugged, and turned to his girlfriend and they stayed put. Before I could figure out what to do next, the troupe of old ladies standing beside me just barrelled past the cutters, shouldering them aside. We joined in, and soon about 30 or so people in line had just shoved these kids aside.

By then the kids were so far back, nobody knew they had cut, so they got a pass. That was so infuriating - and so fun! (shoving them aside). Funny enough - the old women were from Florida - no kidding. They took us out to coffee afterwards.

AT  { 11.27.01 @ 5:41pm }

» While travelling to and fro for our honeymoon in Mexico in October, I was surprised at how patient most everyone was. The only exception was one woman, who after passing through the metal detector with no alarms going off, was asked to step aside and be scanned with a detector wand. (I was too, any my husband's carryon was hand searched.)

Well, wouldn't you know that she certainly was pleased. Going on and on about how she "didn't set off no goddamned alarms on the metal detector" and how "rediculous this all is" and blah blah insert expletive here. It took the security worker all of 30 seconds to scan her, but you would have thought it was 30 minutes the way she was bellyaching.

And yes, our bags were search, several times. And after the first time, I learned quick:
Pack anything you think may set off the detectors or xray scanners in your checked luggage. Put anything even remotely suspicious in an easy to reach place, so they don't have to dig though your luggage trying to find your eyelash curler (they look like scissors in the xray machine.) And deal with it. Because it's gonna keep on happening for a while. So long as you aren't humiliated or taken aside for a discriminatory reason (with nods to Tom, my sympathies) the searches are for your own good.

Good for you Derek, for taking that lady to the mat. Just because people appear old and confused doesn't always mean they are. There's a good chance they are just taking advantage of the situation.

One  { 11.28.01 @ 6:39am }

» Once, a few years ago, before any of the security was beefed up at all and waiting lines were this long, I thought I was a funny guy.

I was doing the obligatory drop-your-change-and-watch-into-the-bucket thing and I went off in the metal detector, anyway.

So the lady with The Wand waves it over my crotch, and it goes off, so she looks at me.

Me, being a funny guy, I rap on my beltbuckle (which was the thing actually setting it off) and say:

"Metal Plate"

With a foolish grin.

You know, because I'm a funny guy.

Needless to say I missed my flight because I spent the next 3 hours in a room answering questions and having my luggage searched.

I had a lucky shirt that I used to wear whenever I had photos taken, so my License, Passport, and school ID all had me wearing the same shirt. They freaked. Took a looong time to explain. And have people vouche.

So I've long since stopped messing with airline security.

Though, to this day, I get "randomly searched" everytime I fly. To and from. Without fail.

Great story, Derek.

christian  { 11.29.01 @ 1:37am }

» While on the one hand i'm sad as i kiss some of my previously-assumed civil liberties good-bye, on the other... i'm *glad* when they search through bags of people who show something in their presentation that appears to be suspicious (other than their appearing to be from particular countries). and, c'mon... imo, anyone who would cut in line and with all of the "american" mumbo-jumbo being displayed out loud (and loudly, and louder still), *is* suspicious. it's, maybe, too well done. it's too perfect. it makes me think of a character in an agatha christie novel -- a famous actress was portraying an "american mother" -- and she did it by being Very American, by 1960s standards, if you know what i mean.

Or ... hmmmm ... it could have been my beloved's aged great-aunt, who i think may have moved to florida. whoops, nope, she passed away a few years ago. er, in michigan. *whew*

– mew  { 11.29.01 @ 9:12am }

» I personally think the "extra security" is a crock of sh*t. What exactly are they preventing? All they are doing is wasting people's time. If they really wanted to make airlines more secure they do things like make the cockpit doors bullet-proof and have them locked from take-off to landing, and scan all luggage for bombs before loading it onto planes (not just x-ray machines, and not just narcotic dogs.) If you'd like to read a pretty good article relating to airplane/airport security check out

amy  { 11.29.01 @ 10:34am }

» Derek, I loved this story when I heard it and I loved it again when I read it. :-)

I can't stand rude people...

Jay  { 11.30.01 @ 12:43am }

» Having just flown back from holiday in New York, I think the reason security checks are such a drag is the layout of US airports.
At UK airports all security checks are done when you enter the departures lounge, not when you go to a particular gate or hub. Therefore maybe five gates can check a steady stream of travellers, rather than two overstressed workers trying to clear a flight worth of passengers in an hour.
Guess there's no way round it though?

– Aleppo  { 11.30.01 @ 9:28am }

» Nothing is more frustrating for a kid than a long line for a popular ride at Disney World. My little brother and I developed a routine to get in faster: we used to walk thru the line pretending to look for our parents. The combination of two lost-looking kids calling "mom? dad?" melted hearts and parted the thickest lines. It was like Moses parting the red seas, and shucks, wouldn't you know it? The door to the Haunted Mansion closed just as we were about to "reach them".

The best, though, was when the 3D Captain Eo movie was playing. There was a 1.5 hour long linup to get in. My brother and I ambled up to look at the movie posters beside the entrance, and when those doors opened, we melted into the crowd. Sorry, folks.

I guess at least we weren't blatant about it, like the old lady from Florida.

tommy  { 12.3.01 @ 10:29am }

» Airport security? What airport security? I've flown from New York to Chicago twice in the last two months and the longest it took me to get from the sidewalk to the gate was 30 minutes and that's because I had to stand in line to check a bag (shortest time 6 minutes[!], average of about 15). There was a guy with a wand at La Guardia who didn't seem to understand lingerie layout (i.e., the little metal bits in back), but IMO it's a joke. My favorite airport experience so far was in Munich last winter. They X-ray the checked bags while-U-wait. (Truth be told they did this the last time I flew out of NYC, but not one of the guys in the room was looking at the monitor. Sheesh.)

maggie  { 12.4.01 @ 7:11am }


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