Why I’ll take the scan… #@%* it.

CAUTION: THIS POST CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE & THEMES!

You have to know that I HATE to fly. I hated to fly before 9/11. Post-9/11, with the advent of all the new security procedures, the inanity of the nine ounce toiletry limit, the insanity of having a minimum-wage-earning-ex-full-time-video-gamer check my shoes for explosives, and the gonzo-grope-fest pat down…? Now, I’ll only fly if I have to. And, if I have to, I’m taking the scan. I’m taking the scan because it limits the amount of time and the extent of my interactions with the TSA agents. The less I have to interact with them one-on-one, the better.

You see, a  few years back, I had a series of interactions with TSA agents that have left a foul taste in my mouth. This post is the story of one of those interactions.

On one occasion, I had just donated my hair (for wigs for cancer patients) and was essentially sporting a #2 blade crew cut. When I checked in for my flight, I was informed by a smiling clerk that I had been selected for special security screening. I was ushered to a holding area where I stood with: three African-American gentleman in suits who looked like football players; two women wearing colorful saris; one elderly Hispanic man in a wheelchair; and a half dozen or so men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. In all fairness, I was headed out to the west coast for one of those “let-your-hair-down” sorts of weekends. I was traveling with only a small carry-on and was wearing ragged jeans, all-leather combat boots and a black t-shirt from a men’s bar in Washington. With the crew cut, I’m sure I looked like trouble to the TSA. I was standing there in the corral (I refuse to call it a queue) and the tallest of the African-American gentleman spoke to me, “I get it why they stuck my ass is in here, but how did you get selected?”

I looked at him. He was a human mountain, tall and broad, and powerful-looking. I grinned, “I think I’m here so they can tell you that they’re not practicing racial profiling.”

His brow furrowed, “Those mother fuckers. That’s just wrong. I bet you’re right though. Those mother fuckers.” He and his friends returned to their conversation – whose topic had shifted to the quality of the airport security. I returned to my book. In the distance, I could hear a TSA agent shouting at someone, “Sir? Excuse me, Sir? SIR!” I found myself wondering if the person she was speaking to was deaf. Gotta love the cultural literacy around here, I thought. Suddenly the screaming woman was in my face, shoving my book away from my face, “SIR, I NEED YOU TO – ” and then she stopped and stood staring at my breasts. I looked at her and realized that she had, given my short hair, had figured me for a man when she’d seen me from behind. All this time, she was screaming at me – and I’d had no idea. I could see several large, burly-looking TSA agents heading my way, tucking their ID’s into their pockets. Shit, I thought, this could get bad.

“Sir,” she said one more time.

“I am not a sir, ” I replied flatly. She was still staring at my breasts. Evidently, her brain could not process the short hair on a woman. I was escorted to a glassed-in area, in full view of anyone who cared to watch, and was patted down by the woman who had mistaken my gender. The pat down was witnessed by a half-dozen or so male TSA agents – who were never more than four feet away from her during my pat down. It was really intimidating. The woman’s hands were shaking during the pat down. I wanted to shout “Boo!” when she was  checking my waistband – but figured that might get me arrested, or something worse.

During the pat down, one of the male agents took my ID and my ticket. While I was being patted down, another male agent took my carryon bag and rifled through its contents. They called another agent over and had him swab my bag. When it was clear of any objectionable substances, the agent who’d called the swabber over made him swab it again – and again. It was as if they just knew I was up to something and couldn’t believe that I wasn’t transporting… something illegal… something illicit… surely, I had something… surely, I was bad news, just look at me… but I had nothing. And it was pissing them off. After I had been patted down, I was informed that I could have my bag (I had to re-pack it). The big agent with my ID and ticket almost walked off with them. I had to ask him for them twice.

So, if I have to fly, I’ll take the scan. If my options are taking the scan, or getting blown up – I’ll take the scan. If my options are taking the scan, or getting groped and physically abused by the TSA – I’ll take the scan. Do I think the scan is a good idea? No, I don’t. I absolutely hate the idea. I liked the “sniffers” better – while expensive, I’m given to understand that they are far more accurate and far more telling than any visual scan or grope-down can ever hope to be. It’s probably why they aren’t using them.

Thanks for reading.

L. ~

TSA body scan imagery Copyright 2010, CBS news

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