Erin Weed's Blog

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I almost got arrested today

Well to celebrate the final day of my book tour, I damn near got arrested this morning. Like always, it seems to be my way to really go out with a bang...so here’s the story…

I was told the Williamsport, PA airport was small…but this was ridiculous. To return my Hertz rental car, I parked in the spot that had a “Hertz” sign above it…conveniently located DIRECTLY outside the airport door marked “Ticketing.” I returned the car, and checked into my flight. The ticket agent asked the question that frequent travelers like myself wrestle with daily, “Will you be checking any bags?”

Doh! It’s such a tough question. Check them, and they’re bound to get lost. Today I was connecting through Philadelphia in order to get to Detroit. I was scheduled to do a speaking engagement tonight at Bowling Green State University and I needed my bag. Dressed in my normal travel-hippie attire of baggy jeans, slip on Merrills and a black North Face jacket, clearly I’d need the stuff in my bag before getting up in front of a big crowd of people.

Okay, so the luggage getting lost simply couldn’t happen. The only other alternative was to carry it on, which opens up about ten more cans of worms. In an age where gels, creams and aerosols are just as prohibited as machetes, getting through that metal detector under the watchful eye of TSA isn’t such a snap. Especially in places like Williamsport where they scrutinize each passenger, for no other reason than that THEY ARE BORED. I bet this airport scans 100 people a day, max.

Now let me tell you this: I travel A LOT. I would take a gander at claiming that I’ve traveled to or through most airports in the United States by this point. And while people think the small airports are the easy ones, they’re dead wrong. When you go to a place like Williamsport, get ready to drop your shorts.

Well this was no exception. I attempted to carry on my laptop bag, carry on luggage and my trusty court-sized ziplock bag filled with my dangerous liquids. (a.k.a. shampoo and conditioner) The minute my carry on suitcase got hauled off the belt so it could be re-scanned, I knew problems lie ahead. It goes through a second time, and this time it warranted a thorough inspection by a TSA employee. Let me tell you, nothing makes me squirm like a male TSA employee touching my unmentionables in the public view of all other 14 passengers. Barf bag, please!

As he sifts through my stuff, I realized I made a mistake. I had left my house keys in the luggage, and the attached keychain is a pink mini swiss army knife. Uh oh. He found it and proudly announced to the waiting area that I had attempted to bring a knife on board. Rifling further, he then discovered my kubaton. (a self defense keychain, which is 4 inches in length, metal and not sharp.) That’s when shit really hit the fan, and the TSA dude got on the walkie talkie. That’s never a good sign.

So he calls his boss over who then proclaims the kubaton as banned under the category of martial arts weapon. I explain that I’d been traveling with it for over 4 years and no one has ever taken issue with it. I offered to check the bag instead of carrying it on. He told me it was too late, and that he was calling the police. What?? Are you kidding me? Oh yes, he did. So the cops show up about 10 minutes later, and they’re all taking pictures of my knife and kubaton next to my driver’s license. It’s at this point that I realize I will never again go through airport security without being selected for extra screening. “Way to go, Weed,” I thought to myself. Even after a 20 campus tour, I still manage to whip out my unsavvy traveler ways.

So after they take pictures and record all my personal information into several log books, they stand around deciding what to do with me. Meanwhile I was rehearsing my whole speech of who I am, what I do, where I’m going, why I had a kubaton, etc. I even had an extra copy of my book that I planned to give and even autograph for the officer. I waited for the questions. And waited. And waited. And the next thing that was told to me as the officer handed over my driver’s license and boarding pass was, “Have a nice flight.”

One of my teachers, Rafi Ron, would have shaken his head with disgrace. An Israeli citizen who was Director of Security for the Tel Aviv airport for several decades, he would probably think to himself, “Those silly Americans. They just don’t get it.”

They go through all the trouble to stop the security line to deal with me, do a full bag search, come up with two illegal items, log my information, take pictures of my drivers license, call the cops and then tell me to have a nice flight. Is anyone else noticing a possible helpful piece of protocol here that might actually keep people safer on airplanes? Like, uh, maybe asking me a question or two?

People have all sorts of solutions about air security, but let me tell you this. There are two things we lack: security technology and personal interaction between TSA and passengers. Why are we spending billions of dollars across the globe in a war when we’ve spent nothing to re-vamp security at home? The technology exists..we just need to pay for it. And what’s up with not utilizing one of the best ways to detect sinister intent of violent people…such as using our human intuition? Most people know a creepy person when they meet one…why not actually trust these instincts on a level that can help with national air security?

So after sharing this story with my friend Stacy, she found that Snoop Dogg has had similar experiences recently. Read it here: http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/homepage/abox/article_1329696.php

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