Janet Sheridan: Gettin’ over it

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Janet Sheridan

I sometimes dream I’ve breached airport security: lights blink, buzzers buzz, heads swivel, and security personnel — clad in pants two sizes too small — converge and yell contradictory orders.

But, this time the nightmare was real.

Joel and I had halted security operations at the St. Louis airport by dumping a bag of large ripe tomatoes all over the conveyer belt.

Our daughter had sent us home with tomatoes from her garden: “We’ve eaten so many this summer, the kids will cheer when you take them.”

At the airport, we carefully placed the swollen paper sack in a bin and watched it roll past the watchful eye of the screener. We met our treasure on the other side, grabbed it, and turned to hurry to our gate.

Made soggy by a squashed tomato, the sack’s bottom gave way. Red spheres bounced, rolled, plopped and squished as we bounded, stooped, caught, and corralled.

Then we fled, leaving tomato stains and hostile looks behind.

I dread airport security.

As I stand in line between an impatient businessman and a befuddled family, I prepare to obey the ever-changing rules: put shoes in a bin, unless told to place them directly on the belt; remove the laptop from its case, but not the iPad; walk at will through the metal detector, or wait for an invitation.

I try to streamline my passage, only to wait for those travelers baffled by the bins, argumentative about removing their thigh-high boots, or carrying metal objects in every pocket, which they empty one at a time as they get beeped and turned back.

Again.

And again.

And again.

I went through security with my dad when he was in his late 80s. He observed carefully, and did everything correctly, until he decided he shouldn’t wear his hearing aides through the metal detector.

Before I could intervene, he ripped the expensive gadgets from his ears and threw them on the moving belt.

They cleared the scanner, but dropped through the rollers on the other side and hid in the dirt, dust balls, and debris underneath.

Our crawling search-and-rescue mission held up the line and caused some passengers to grumble and complain. But, Dad didn’t mind — he couldn’t hear them.

Thanks to my pacemaker, I now play a gambling game with airline security: If I say nothing, some metal detectors don’t pick it up, and I stroll on through; other machines shriek in alarm, and I have to turn back and confess.

If I confess that I have a pacemaker before being waved through, some agents tell me to proceed, but most direct me to stand aside while they broadcast a call: “female agent needed for hand search at security line four.”

I stand in giant footmarks painted on the floor and extend my arms shoulder height. When asked, I respond that I’ve been hand-searched many times before, but despite my prior experiences, I’m forced to suffer through a detailed explanation of what Ms. Female Agent will and will not do to me.

“Fine,” I mutter to myself, “get on with it. Your pat down is much less intrusive than wedging myself between strangers on the crowded tram that takes me to concourse B.”

So Ms. Agent goes through her memorized litany and repeats it as she performs each operation, using the back of her hand in the “sensitive areas.”

After making it through security, we passengers enter the land of the lost: dazed fellow travelers shuffle around in bare feet, clutching their shoes and holding up their beltless pants, while dribbling dirty laundry from their hand-searched-and-not re-zipped carry-on.

Some squawk indignantly about the loss of their purse-sized hand sanitizer and others weep into their cell phones as they tell loved ones how Ms. Agent stuck her hand down their pants.

No, my dear, you didn’t listen. She merely inserted “two fingers into your waistband front and back.”

Get over it.

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