It’s the height of holiday travel season right now. Having spent a few years traveling to races, I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about flying and airports. I even fancy myself a bit of an expert. But it doesn’t matter what the subject, whenever I get comfortable with my level of expertise, Experience always shows up to trump the house.
OK, LOW LEVEL EXPERT
Admittedly, I couldn’t give ‘executive flyer status’ security line advice on par with George Clooney’s Up in the Air character, Ryan Bingham: “Never get behind people traveling with infants. I’ve never seen a stroller collapse in less than 20 minutes. Old people are worse. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left.”
But I can tell a race-travel newbie about the benefits of compression socks and disinfectant wipes for the germ party petri dish that is your foldout table.
And if you’re new to air travel after September 11th, like my mom, my ever-so-sage list of helpful hints is much longer. ‘Don’t bring yogurt unless you want to pound it in the security for the amusement of TSA’ tops the long list. (Shout out to Stans NoTubes rider, Nina Baum on yogurt culture confiscation. Props for keeping the snacks healthy, Neen — no matter the odds.)
KNOWLEDGE…PASS IT ON
Anyhow … I recently drove my mom to Denver International Airport to put her on a plane to Kansas for a visit with her sister. While I was nervous about her solo flight, I was more occupied being cocky as the resident expert on air travel. I pestered her (ok, probably grilled her) on permissible carry-on items. She assured me many times she didn’t have lotion, liquids or flat-changing Big Airs to worry anyone.
So I see her off at the start of the security queue and then jog it up to the second floor where I perch myself at the overlook above the TSA area. I hung out while the line snaked its way to the metal detectors. When I saw her waiting extra long to get her purse and shoes back, I wasn’t surprised. There’s always something to slow the process.
But I did become a little alarmed when I noticed the number of TSA agents increase around the screening monitor in her line. Even so, as she was escorted to the side for inspection, she looked and waved at me with a smile, reminding me this is the norm. With her cute grin, she looked like a classic sweet little old lady — what could possibly be the problem.
Then it got interesting.
After some curious charades and hand gestures, my mom and the TSA agent looked up and waved me over to the side of security. I hustled down the stairs and on my way, remembered I forgot to mention Swiss Army pocketknives along with yogurt contraband.
Pocketknives seem to be a Freeman thing. My dad gave us all pocketknives every Christmas for years on end. Either he thought everyone dulled blades as quickly as he did or he was a huge proponent of being prepared for letter openings and emergency eyebrow tweezings at a moment’s notice. Under this reasoning, I’ve long suspected the Swiss must be well manicured and ever expectant of big Publisher Clearing House winnings.
THE TEACHER GETS TAUGHT
Either way, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I got to the roped-off area where the TSA agent handed me a Winchester-Western 38 Special blunt nosed bullet.
The conversation went something like this:
Agent: Are you Judy?
Agent: Here you go.
Me: A bullet?!
Agent: Yeah. She said it was some sort of memorabilia. Have a nice day.
And with that, the agent walked off. Annoyed or indifferent, I couldn’t tell. But her brevity punctuated the absurdity of the moment.
Motivated by disbelief, I scuttled back to the viewing area to give the woman the wide-eyed “What the hell?” look that was paining my face. But when I got there, she had already moved on.
I watched her move out of sight; chilling on the escalators cruising down towards the trains. She was cool as a cucumber and totally oblivious to my waving arms and saucer eyes that tried to catch her attention from behind the glass.
There was nothing left to do but take my bullet and go home.
As it happens, a friend of the family and FBI agent had given the bullet to my mom over 20 years ago. Reason? For good luck.
Yeah, lucky. It got a 77 year-old lady pulled over and frisked by federal agents as she was getting ready to board an airplane with live munitions. Super lucky.
And with that, I guess you learn something new, every day.
Wishing you happy and safe travels this holiday season and a wonderful new year.
Thank you for reading.