Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The LAX meltdown

As mentioned by the wife, I had a bit of a run-in with some federal agents at LAX on Monday morning.

After enduring the ridiculousness of airport security and the TSA on just four or five round-trips since Sept. 11, 2001 (God help me and/or the TSA if I ever have to start traveling for business), I snapped. Here's how the whole thing went down (the wife makes the encounter sound much too civil):

- Waiting in line to be cleared of any terrorist intentions by the metal detectors, I began my mental checklist: phone in bag, no keys or coins on me, plenty of handsome gray bins to put my laptop in; shoes .... damn. I was wearing a new set of kicks bought in sunny Southern California.

[When we flew out of Atlanta, there was a little black box you could put your shoes on to see if they would set off the detector. A clever bit of customer service to help mitigate the stupid shoe situation. At LAX, however, there were no such shoe checkers. We were running a little early for out flight, so I figured I'd let the detector itself be the checker for my new shoes' usefulness as a terrorist tool.]

- So I get up to the checkpoint, put the bags and laptop on the conveyor and prepare to walk through the detector. The helpful TSA agent manning the human scanner tells me I might want to take off my shoes. I told him I did not think they would set off the machine and asked if I had to take them off. He told me I did not have to take my shoes off.

- Once I get through the detector (without setting it off), TSA dude tells me to step to the side for a pat-down search. I asked why and was told "because you didn't take off your shoes. We search everybody who has thick soles and does not take off their shoes." I spent only a few seconds on the "but you told me I didn't have to take off my shoes" line of reasoning before releasing TSA goon No. 1 from my wrath.

- Enter TSA goon No. 2. Actually a fairly friendly guy. I asked him why I was being searched even though I am 100% certified to be clear of dangerous nail clippers, tweezers, etc. He told me it was TSA policy to hand-search anyone with significant shoe soles who walks through the detectors in such shoes. He said Atlanta was not following the rules if they didn't search me when I went through in similar shoes, and I guess that's correct. As he wanded and patted me, I tried to get him to admit that what was happening to me was ridiculous. He seemed to understand this, but would only throw out the government line: "It's what we're told to do, sir." "Absolutely ridiculous, but I know you're just doing your job" was my reply as I was released from federal custody.

- I thought I had things under control, but seeing the wife getting her patdown while I was gathering my stuff from the conveyor sent me over the edge. As I walked toward the last batch of TSA goons (headed by TSA goon No. 3 - a guy at a desk who must have been a supervisor), I kept repeating "absolutely ridiculous" in a voice loud enough for all the nearby TSA goons to hear.

- TSA goon No. 3 then replies "we're just trying to keep everybody safe." Bad move.

- I kept walking, but let off a good tirade about how this "security" does nothing to increase safety; is only meant to make people "feel" safe and is just plain stupid. No. 3 then said perhaps I was stupid.

- I was about 15 feet past No. 3 when he let fly with the "I bet the people on Sept. 11 wouldn't have thought it's stupid" line.

- I don't remember much after that, except that I turned around and got up in the guy's face and was then dragged away by the wife. I was aware enough of what I was doing to not say anything like "if I wanted to hijack a plane, I bet I have something in my bag that I could use," but otherwise he'd pushed me into auto-rant mode.

I didn't get locked up with Robert Blake at LA County Jail, so I consider it to be a successful protest.

And in retrospect, the thing that bothers me most about this TSA "airport security" crap is not the rules about shoes. It isn't that your grandmother is as likely (if not more likely) to be searched as a Saudi national. It isn't that we've spent God knows how many billions of dollars on a "security" infrastructure in reaction to Sept. 11 when anyone with half a brain knows airliners are the last thing that Islamic terrorists will try to use next time.

No, what's bothering me most now is that we, the innocent, non-Arab, natural born U.S. citizens, put up with it so willingly.

We buy see-thru luggage to make searches easier. We obediently take off our shoes for fear we might get a patdown. We don't ask the TSA goons why they pulled an old lady out of line in front of us. We don't say "that guy looks like a terrorist; search him" when we see an Arab in line. We don't march on Washington demanding change. Simply put, we don't complain about it.

I did my part on Monday.

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