Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fear and loathing at Phoenix Sky Harbor

Find out just what the people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
~Frederick Douglass (1817-1895),
American Abolitionist

I recall a day long ago, before we slipped into our bizarre post-9/11 mindset, when you could arrive at the airport just a half hour before your flight left. Only time it took longer was over the holidays.

A couple weeks ago, I flew to Detroit to see my mom in Toledo, Ohio, for a few days. The following is an account of my experience prior to departing Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

— • —

Arrived at 7 a.m. Checked in, no problem. Went to the rest room, then headed toward the cattle chute.

Not too busy. Just a family in front of me, some of whom spoke English and were translating for other family members who didn't. I saw some passports out so I gathered they were taking an international flight. I think the other language I heard was Italian — sounded something like Spanish, but not quite.

One young woman in the party was helping an elderly lady, probably her grandma, with her bag. The rest of their party were up at a podium speaking to the TSA guy who was checking their papers. He was yawning, not saying anything. Looked as if he might have had a late night — shirt wrinkled, hair mussed up. I heard him direct them to Station Four. They'd started to head over when Mr. Jackboot shouted at the young girl (who was maybe 19 or 20) and the old lady, "Keep up! You need to stay with your party! Over to Station Four now!"

Well, I was next in line, and I noticed there were actually two TSA guys, at podiums maybe ten feet apart. The other one wasn't doing anything, so I headed toward him, only to hear a curt, "I'm closed — over there." He pointed me back to the other guy. (TSA: "Thousands Standing Around".)

Bracing myself, I went over to him, ticket and photo ID out and ready. He looked at it, handed it back and said, "Station Two." From where I was standing, I couldn't read the numbers above the various stations, so I backed up to see where Two was. Got it — last station on the left.

I began to head over to it, and there was a large concrete pillar in my way. I made to go around it on the right, as there was a bit of a hold-up on the left involving a lady in a wheel chair. As I attempted to go around, another TSA guy at a desk (don't know what his job was — he wasn't checking IDs or anything) barked out, "Don't go through here! Other side of the pillar!" No "please," no attempt at kindness. He sounded annoyed. (Hey, maybe that is his job — keeping people from walking around the wrong side of the pillar!) I did as he said, muttering "jackboot" under my breath — he didn't hear me. (The P.A. guy was droning on about something, and it was really loud.)

Made my way to Station Two. There was one couple ahead of me, retirement age, nicely dressed. I heard him speak with a British accent. I put my coat, daypack and shoes in the bin, placed the bin on the conveyor, and stepped through the metal detector — no problems. Waiting at the end of the conveyor for my stuff, I noticed the lady ahead of me — the other half of the British-sounding couple — was agitated. She was talking to the TSA gal, who was examining her bottled water. It was still sealed — a small bottle, about 16 ounces. Heard the passenger explain that she has to drink water every hour due to a medical condition. Her husband broke in: "We called the TSA last night, and they said it would be alright."

But it was a no go. Miss Jackieboot said she'd have to go back out of security and drink the water back there. (Question for Kip Hawley and the rest of the TSA idiots: Why not simply have her break the seal and take a healthy swig to verify that the bottle does not, in fact, contain a chemical component that could be used in a — ahem"binary liquid bomb"?) The lady said she couldn't drink it all at once. Then her husband asked, "Can we purchase water past this point?" The TSA gal said yes, so the lady said, "Just bin that one, then. I'll purchase another." They were clearly annoyed. I felt badly for them.

Meanwhile, another gal at the x-ray machine had my bag, looking intently at its image on the screen. (Could she read my book titles?!) She called a supervisor over, and both viewed the image, consulting a small spiral-bound notebook. She told me she'd have to run the bag through again. I put on my shoes and took my coat. She scanned the bag a second time and made a few notes on a paper I couldn't see. Then she ran it through a for a third time.

By then there was quite a line behind me, and a bit of panic began to rise within me — what the hell was she looking for? She made a few more notes, still looking at her small spiral notebook, then gave me my bag.

Whew! I couldn't believe how nervous I was getting! I had a few books with me and some choice articles printed off the Internet — figured they'd come in handy for conversations with my old friend Connie, whom I hadn't seen in several years. I suppose the "authoritahs" — not to mention the current regime — might not like my choice of reading material: Chris Hedges' War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning ... Michael Scheuer's Through Our Enemies' Eyes ... and Iraqi bloggerette "Riverbend's" second Baghdad Burning compilation.

But as far as I know, the First Amendment still applies, even to us hapless folk who have to fly on airplanes. Still, I'd love to know just what the TSA lady was writing down about my daypack.

When I caught up with the couple who was in front of me, they were purchasing another bottled water. I told them I sympathized totally, and we mused how awful it is to fly anymore, at least in the US and UK. The couple turned out to be Swiss citizens, headed for home.

I told them I hoped they could keep their republic, and how inspiring the Swiss were to me personally. And how, sadly, we had lost our republic and were descending rapidly into a police state. They nodded, and the gentleman said, "America is not what it once was. So much has changed since 9/11, and not for the better."