“Is this your bag?”
I glanced up, my hand suspended over my brief case. There must have been six thousand TSA agents working Terminal 3 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport that day, all of them smiling, kind and friendly–except this one.
“Why yes it is,” I smiled. “Is there–?”
“Come with me.” He snatched up my brief case and escorted me to a nearby table. On a large overhead monitor, he scrolled through a series of colorful images and selected one. I presumed this was the scan of my bag.
“Anything sharp in here?” he demanded.
“Nope! Well, a clipboard.” As Officer Unfriendly fished around in my bag, I tried to humanize the interaction by confessing a vulnerability. “You know,” I admitted, “I’m looking at that scan, and I can’t relate anything I see up there to what I know is in the bag; in fact, I–”
I made a flash decision to diffuse the mounting tension with a little humor, though I have a lifetime of evidence suggesting this is not an effective strategy for me. “My scissors!” I exclaimed. “I’ve been looking for those for weeks! Thank you so much!” I looked around for my wife to back me up, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Agent Unsmiling did not smile. Instead, from my bag he produced a large drill bit. It was twelve degrees outside that day, but at that moment I felt the indoor temperature drop even lower. I hung my head. I saw myself spending the weekend in a TSA holding tank, ninety feet below Baggage Carousel 13, while my wife went on to Wichita to visit her mother in the nursing home, alone.
“I am so sorry,” I murmured. “I grabbed this bag at the last moment while packing this morning. It didn’t occur to me to dig though it for contraband. I don’t travel often; I’m not much good at following the rules; I’ve made your day difficult; I–”
He hailed his supervisor, who took away my drill bit — and gave me back the scissors! Stunned, I grabbed my bag (and shoes, and belt, and jacket, etc etc) and moved off to get dressed. I found my wife and as I told her about the incident I realized what had happened: it was a setup. Those guys knew perfectly well that at smaller airports, like Wichita, the TSA staff, while ALWAYS smiling, kind and friendly, also have little to break the monotony of a tedious job. The Chicago guys knew the Wichita guys would be MERCILESS to a dude with SCISSORS! Officer Unkind had visions of me spending a month in Kansas in a TSA holding tank made from a converted tornado cellar, while my wife returned home to Chicago, alone.
But now I was on to them. I left the scissors in Wichita.