Monday, May 24, 2010

Safe and Secure?

My eighty year old father-in-law is in no way chipper. He has limited mobility and uses a wheel chair. And yet, he feels compelled to prove his old-manhood and fly south to Florida every Winter so he can look out at a golf course he's too infirm to play on and maintain a pool in which he's never even dipped a toe. The yearly migration is all the more of an ordeal because someone on the No Fly List shares his common Irish name and surname. The poor guy has to have his wife wheel him up to whoever's in charge and proactively explain that he is not a member of the Irish Republican Army.

No doubt my father-in-law is the victim of overzealousness on the part of airport security. But my own recent experience exposed incompetence of a different sort. I was on my way to see my family on the East Coast. By the time I realized I had left my California driver's license in my back pack the last time I went hiking, my husband had dropped me off curbside and driven away. I called him in a panic, but there was no time for him to get the license and come back: I was going to miss my plane. Get on the BART and come home, my husband sighed. You'll never get through security.

Instead, I threw caution to the wind. I still had my old, expired DC license in my wallet. The California DMV had punched a hole where the expiration date used to be. Don't know why I kept it. Probably as a marker to evaluate how much I've aged in the past three years. (A lot). I put on my best poker face and handed my invalid, perforated license to the Baggage Checker. He stared intently at my photo. Then at me. Then at my photo.

The Baggage Checker gave me back my i.d., took my suitcase and waved me through.

On to security. I took off my shoes and my jacket, piled my stuff into a bin, sent it down the ramp and headed for the Security Chick's podium, briefly contemplating whether I should cover the hole in my i.d. with my thumb as I handed it to her. The Security Chick snatched my card and aimed her little flash light. She stared intently at my photo. Then at me. Then at my photo.

Did I mention that I was returning from a different city and therefore had a one-way ticket? Danger, Will Robinson! Homeland security red flag!

The Security Chick handed me back my bum license and waved me through.

Having pulled off my subterfuge,I felt strangely guilty. Guilty and nervous. So nervous that when I stopped at the ladies' room, I left my boarding pass on top of the toilet paper dispenser. Fortunately, the nice lady who went in right after me noticed and handed me the pass before shutting the stall door. I went to wash my hands and plopped my carry-on down on the ground. Next thing I knew, a young woman was standing right behind me. "Is this your bag?" she asked.

Irrational thoughts flooded my brain. Is she undercover FBI? Does she think I'm a terrorist? Is flying with an expired license a federal offense?Are they going to call the bomb squad and try to detonate my carry-on? No, no, I don't think so, and no. She was a just a young mother and her own mom was right behind her, brandishing a poopy toddler. My bag was blocking their access to the fold-out changing table.

The rest of my trip was uneventful. My husband Fed-Exed the valid license to my parents' home, just in case the DC airport security staff was more competent.

Somehow, I doubt it.

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