Sunday, August 13, 2006

Spy at the Airport

So you know from the previous posting that I got down to LA and back before all screaming hell broke loose. Among the other concerns one has when flying ("Will my luggage be lost?", "Will the drink cart miss me?" "Will the fat guy coming down the aisle have the seat next to me?") I've recently had to add "Will a terrorist operation leave me stranded in a city far from my home?"

Now I can add, "Will a terrorist operation not be severe enough to strand me a city far from my home, but be severe enough to completely screw up the grid, necessitating huge waits and strange new request from the TSA?"

In particular I'm thinking about all those gamers at GenCon, who on Wednesday arrived for the convention and only now are emerging, blinking in the hard sunlight like mini-Rip Van Winkles, into a world similar to the one they left behind but so very different. After being told for four days of intensive Indiana heat that the most important thing is to hydrate themselves, they are now supposed to surrender their waterbottles and fizzy drinks. How will they ever adapt?

The news, such as it is, is pretty good. The Brits, using local sources and working within their laws, cracked open a conspiracy to pull off a massive bombing attempt. They did it by treating these potential criminals, not as military targets, but as, well, criminals. Hard work, investigation, resulted in not only heading off the potential attack but making the case against those involved. If no one in the US Government has said thanks (and I haven't seen it yet, but they may have), then congratulations to the United Kingdom. It is no surprise you gave us James Bond.

Our side of the pond? Well, not so much. Having been alerted what was coming, our government was immediately prepared to send out press releases stating that this attempt proves that we needed to invade a country that had nothing to do with the attack. That and the necessity of questionable and widespread phone taps. And drilling in Alaska. OK, they didn't ask for that one yet, but it's only a matter of time. The American people, for their part, shrugged and grumbled and waited in the SeaTac parking lot for three hours and change to reach a very haggard young man who has been saying "I know its just perfume - please pour it out" all day.

Which gets me to a story from the 70s, when I was in college. I was flying home from college (and yes, we had security in those days as well). I walked through the archway and I tripped the metal detector (It was my big western belt-buckle - it was the 70s. You had to be there). Anyway, the security guard asks me to empty my pockets. I reach into my winter coat pocket.

And my hand close around a water pistol I had put there the day before. Not a lime-green water pistol that looked like a raygun, but one that looked like an old derringer. Just like an old derringer. I flinched, and in a sheepish voice said, "Sir, I have a water pistol in my pocket. I would like to take it out and give it to you."

The guard's face had only a flash of amusement. Then professionalism returned and he said, "We'd have to confiscate it."

I nodded and said, "Can I get it back when I return?" He said yes, and I handed over the water pistol and got on my flight.

And when I came back, I went up to the same security post and asked for my water pistol back. And they looked for it in the storage area and handed it back to me. None of this "Sell it on Ebay" stuff.

But when I had handed it over the week before, the water pistol had been empty. It was handed back to me half-full.

Which made me wonder what the security guards were doing during the slow periods.

And yaknow, I never figured that THAT story would be part of the "Golden Age of Air Travel".

More later,