The first I heard of this TSA mess was about two weeks ago, when a local news reporter somewhere inconsequential did a piece on administration lackeys manhandling his toddler while she kicked and screamed. He had grainy footage from his smart phone's camera and a sniffling child in the aftermath: all the makings of a sensationalist story bound for viral Internet glory. I don't know whether it was this incident or another specific story I somehow missed, or whether these few stories are the final boiling point of the simmering rage of American travelers, but this thing has blown up like a hapless would-be terrorist's tighty whities.
There are now grown men — in suits, no less — going through security threatening to scream if a TSA agent so much as looks at them sideways, let alone touches them. Stories of verbal abuse and total lack of cooperation, just shy of rioting, really, are all over the news lately. To the point where the TSA has issued a statement saying they're reevaluating their policies.
Which I guess is a good thing.
A friend of mine thinks the TSA is just another convenient scapegoat for people who love to complain. They want to breeze through security — leave their shoes on, sip from their filled water bottles and generally proceed uninspected — but will certainly be happy to blame them again as soon as another plane drops out of the sky.
It sure is a hassle being an American privileged and moneyed enough to travel, isn't it? What a life.
It's a big job, protecting travelers in hundreds of airports all over the country. I'd imagine it's hard to do well even when 99 percent of people cooperate; just like computer viruses, it's almost impossible to keep up with changing technology no matter how hard you work.
I don't necessarily agree with the policies put in place by the TSA, but the world is a dangerous place, and I'm inclined to trust the people put in power to safeguard it. Even if I didn't choose them or don't agree with their politics.
But the people who work for the TSA are just little cogs in the system. They are people.
With homes and families and senses of humor and intense pressure to do their jobs quickly and quietly.
Marlene, the woman who checked my ID and boarding pass with a little purple flashlight, wore beautiful eyeliner along her lower lash line: an iridescent blue, perfectly straight with not a single smudge.
I'd made it my personal mission to say nice things to as many TSA agents as possible this morning as I checked in for my Thanksgiving flight home. So I complimented her.
Told her it was far too early for me even to consider applying eyeliner.
She laughed and told me she does it every morning on the bus, before she gets here at 5 a.m. Mascara's a challenge, especially in the corners, but she's got the liner down to a science.
"We all have our talents," I told her. We shared an effortless laugh, one that forgot her government-issue polyester vest and the stocking-feet walk of shame in my future.
I'd been eager to cooperate fully with the body imager; I'd even have submitted to a pat down to make a point. But the process was painless — I removed my shoes, put everything in its appropriate bin and got through without incident.
"What, no Scanner of Doom today?" I asked, trying to make light of the situation. I said I'd been all set to comply fully, which elicited a collective "Awwwwwww…" from staff within earshot. As I sauntered through the metal detector, I mumbled, "What? I've got boobs. We all know it. It's like an early Christmas present for y'all…" The woman doing the last check of my boarding pass chuckled.
Nice to get a laugh.
Finally, Pfister, a man on the other side of the conveyor, gave me good-natured hell when I ran back to the security area, breathless, because I'd forgotten my laptop. Seriously. Of all the things. I'd rather forget my coat or first-born child.
"Yes! That's it!" I cried when he produced the black and white zipper case.
"How can I know for sure, though?" he said with a smile.
I made him open it up and told him there would be health insurance documents inside.
"Ah. Blue Cross Blue Shield," he said, with a knowing nod. Just another pain in the rear. Another necessary evil. Just like airline security.
I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the break room sometime, hear their stories about bizarre carry-on items, the number of bottles of expensive water they had to empty, the old woman who didn't understand the body scan machine. I want to know if they've ever gotten away with confiscating and keeping some expensive perfume or body lotion (it'd be a shame to let that go to waste, though I'm sure it's against at least a few laws).
These are people with a really difficult, thankless job, who probably have very little hope of finding another position in this climate — especially with experience like this on their résumé — if they protest the wrongs of their working environment. They probably don't like patting people down or looking at the outlines of travelers' junk any more than we like being subjected to it.
A tall, older black man in a TSA windbreaker rode the escalator behind me on the way into the terminal. He looked tired. I turned around and said, "I hope people are nice to you this week."
After he shook off his astonishment, he thanked me. I told him he deserved someone being nice to him. "You got that right," he said, shaking his head. "You sure got that right."
Is it really that hard just to have a little compassion? It's the holidays, after all.