I had a fascinating encounter with two transportation systems yesterday. I got the full service treatment from TSA at Boston Logan when I was deemed an explosive risk. I wasn’t supposed to hear one agent’s offhand comment to another. “ I shoulda cleared my wand on that one. It was me.” So I was pretty sure it was the agent’s fault which made me a little less willing to follow the script of docile compliance. Instead I asked a question, “How could I possibly be a security risk when I requested a body check?” I didn’t want to go through the xray machine AND there was a long line. “Ma’am. Do you realize how serious this is?” “I do, but I also would appreciate it if you look at me while you’re talking to me.” Kelly, the supervisor, kept delivering her ultimatums to the floor or sideways to the wall like she was the potential criminal—not me. “I’m a law abiding citizen who hasn’t done anything wrong.” “And I’m doing my job by keeping my eyes on your bags. I’m going to ask you to step inside this room for a more complete security check. Do you have a problem with that? Is anyone traveling with you today?” Were these trick questions? Did I have Miranda rights? Exactly what were my rights in our fascist Homeland Security world of uniformed wildly unpredictable agents and standards? I suddenly wondered about body cavities and strip searches.
What protection and assurances did I actually have once I stepped into that room with these two women and exactly no one traveling with me. But the room was just off the public area and I wanted to make my flight so I followed Kelly and her somewhat sheepish helper (the one who heard the confession from the errant wand discharger) into the cubicle, passed the test with flying colors (just a more thorough pat down) and was interested to see how much more pleasant Kelley became when she no longer had an audience to observe her enforce her authority to terrorize passengers. She never did apologize for the TSA error but she kindly directed me to gate E1A as if struck with a sudden maternal passion for my wellbeing. Did she think that I, the grandma bomber, might have lost my bearings by having been taken 10 steps sideways from the security line? I understood that Kelly was doing her job. But did she have to be so obnoxious about it? Really. Listen up, TSA! If you’re going to protect us, use some judgment. Go to school with the Israelis. Pay attention if you’re going to shake down passengers. If someone CHOOSES a pat down are they a likely security risk? Especially a slim 60 year old woman in a sleeveless t shirt, form fitting jeans and bare feet?
Has that profile EVER blown a plane out of the air? Sure you gotta test when the machine gives an error reading but you could have the good grace and sense to blame it on the machine instead of the person. Hell, I, along with most of the other people in that line, am paying your salary! Be decent about it like the tens of thousands of citizens I encountered just a few hours later at Baltimore’s inner harbor out to experience Sailabration, the celebration of big ships from around the world. Thousands of people jammed the pavements and harbor edges, waited patiently in lines, strolled pathways and oohed and ahhed as the Blue Angels streaked above and past us in aerobatic turns for nearly an hour. Children giggled and danced in fountains as a remarkably diverse parade of Baltimore’s families, singles and couples strolled past. Guards policed the harbor edge and pleasantly requested that people not dangle their feet or other appendages over the edge. What delighted me most was that the turnout was to see our oldest form of transportation. People came not for the loud noise of polluting cars racing past them on city streets (Baltimore’s spectacular waste of precious resources on the Grand Prix) but to see large, elegant multi- masted schooners, rolling gently at anchor at docks sprinkled across the harbor. In our car mad society, we are still attracted to the beauty of furled sails, coiled lines, crows nests, steeply arched prows and bright flags flapping and snapping in the breeze. Other than the Blue Angels and the occasional hawker calling out on a portable PA system it was quiet and friendly.
You could hear your own conversation and snatches of others as they walked by. There wasn’t much to do but see the boats, gawk at the Blue Angels, eat some food, smile and pass the time with strangers, check out a few booths and a smattering of rides. Maybe that was the point. Like so many others, we came just to be there—it was Sailabration. We came to celebrate the boats and the convivial Baltimore that came to see them. We can navigate on our feet, through the air, on the ground, but perhaps the oldest way –on water—is the one that still captures our imagination and sets us free. And there wasn’t a single TSA agent in sight.