Home for the holidays.

The first I heard of this TSA mess was about two weeks ago, when a local news reporter somewhere inconsequential did a piece on administration lackeys manhandling his toddler while she kicked and screamed. He had grainy footage from his smart phone’s camera and a sniffling child in the aftermath: all the makings of a sensationalist story bound for viral Internet glory.

I don’t know whether it was this incident or another specific story I somehow missed, or whether these few stories are the final boiling point of the simmering rage of American travelers, but this thing has blown up like a hapless would-be terrorist’s tighty whities.

There are now grown men — in suits, no less — going through security threatening to scream if a TSA agent so much as looks at them sideways, let alone touches them. Stories of verbal abuse and total lack of cooperation, just shy of rioting, really, are all over the news lately. To the point where the TSA has issued a statement saying they’re reevaluating their policies.

Which I guess is a good thing.

A friend of mine thinks the TSA is just another convenient scapegoat for people who love to complain. They want to breeze through security — leave their shoes on, sip from their filled water bottles and generally proceed uninspected — but will certainly be happy to blame them again as soon as another plane drops out of the sky.

It sure is a hassle being an American privileged and moneyed enough to travel, isn’t it? What a life.

It’s a big job, protecting travelers in hundreds of airports all over the country. I’d imagine it’s hard to do well even when 99 percent of people cooperate; just like computer viruses, it’s almost impossible to keep up with changing technology no matter how hard you work.

I don’t necessarily agree with the policies put in place by the TSA, but the world is a dangerous place, and I’m inclined to trust the people put in power to safeguard it. Even if I didn’t choose them or don’t agree with their politics.

But the people who work for the TSA are just little cogs in the system. They are people.

With homes and families and senses of humor and intense pressure to do their jobs quickly and quietly.

Marlene, the woman who checked my ID and boarding pass with a little purple flashlight, wore beautiful eyeliner along her lower lash line: an iridescent blue, perfectly straight with not a single smudge.

I’d made it my personal mission to say nice things to as many TSA agents as possible this morning as I checked in for my Thanksgiving flight home. So I complimented her.

Told her it was far too early for me even to consider applying eyeliner.

She laughed and told me she does it every morning on the bus, before she gets here at 5 a.m. Mascara’s a challenge, especially in the corners, but she’s got the liner down to a science.

“We all have our talents,” I told her. We shared an effortless laugh, one that forgot her government-issue polyester vest and the stocking-feet walk of shame in my future.

I’d been eager to cooperate fully with the body imager; I’d even have submitted to a pat down to make a point. But the process was painless — I removed my shoes, put everything in its appropriate bin and got through without incident.

“What, no Scanner of Doom today?” I asked, trying to make light of the situation. I said I’d been all set to comply fully, which elicited a collective “Awwwwwww…” from staff within earshot. As I sauntered through the metal detector, I mumbled, “What? I’ve got boobs. We all know it. It’s like an early Christmas present for y’all…” The woman doing the last check of my boarding pass chuckled.

Nice to get a laugh.

Finally, Pfister, a man on the other side of the conveyor, gave me good-natured hell when I ran back to the security area, breathless, because I’d forgotten my laptop. Seriously. Of all the things. I’d rather forget my coat or first-born child.

“Yes! That’s it!” I cried when he produced the black and white zipper case.

“How can I know for sure, though?” he said with a smile.

I made him open it up and told him there would be health insurance documents inside.

“Ah. Blue Cross Blue Shield,” he said, with a knowing nod. Just another pain in the rear. Another necessary evil. Just like airline security.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the break room sometime, hear their stories about bizarre carry-on items, the number of bottles of expensive water they had to empty, the old woman who didn’t understand the body scan machine. I want to know if they’ve ever gotten away with confiscating and keeping some expensive perfume or body lotion (it’d be a shame to let that go to waste, though I’m sure it’s against at least a few laws).

These are people with a really difficult, thankless job, who probably have very little hope of finding another position in this climate — especially with experience like this on their résumé — if they protest the wrongs of their working environment. They probably don’t like patting people down or looking at the outlines of travelers’ junk any more than we like being subjected to it.

A tall, older black man in a TSA windbreaker rode the escalator behind me on the way into the terminal. He looked tired. I turned around and said, “I hope people are nice to you this week.”

After he shook off his astonishment, he thanked me. I told him he deserved someone being nice to him. “You got that right,” he said, shaking his head. “You sure got that right.”

Is it really that hard just to have a little compassion? It’s the holidays, after all.

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17 Responses to “Home for the holidays.”

  1. Deanna Says:

    I am entirely in favor of people wanting to protest the violation of their constitutional rights that the new TSA policies have all but guaranteed. I was subjected to a pretty intense and embarrassing pat-down at O’Hare last month, so I understand the ire, but I also wasn’t a dick about it as it happened, either.

    However, being impolite to the TSA employees is not an effective way to petition the government. Our culture encourages abuse enough without our individual efforts; I agree completely with your call for kindness, while we all work to pressure the TSA to recall these search policies.

  2. Gabriel Says:

    The only uniform that’s any fun to wear in this country is that of an NFL player– and only that when your team’s winning.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Paige Worthy.

  3. Claudia Perry Says:

    Great post. I have a pair of knee replacements and boobs big enough to require underwire bras in most public moments. I have never been made to feel uncomfortable by the TSA people. I always get patted down and am sometimes given the option of the full body scan. Depending on how late I am running sometimes I scan and sometimes I don’t. The Constitution doe mention unreasonable searches and seizures. Maybe cos I’ve had 13 colonoscopies, the TSA pat downs don’t seem unreasonable to me. Some of this is the whining of the privileged me thinks.

  4. MHA Says:

    I really have mixed feelings about this. I want to say it’s no big deal to have strangers I can’t see looking through my clothes, or strangers I can see groping me. I want to say I’m glad these folks are on the front lines, keeping the airways safe. But it is a big deal, to me and to lots of other folks, and the one thing we can be pretty sure of is that this, even this, won’t keep us safe.

    Not once, so far, has a terrorist been caught by any of the measures TSA has instituted since 2001. The attempts since have used methods we haven’t been looking for because they thought of them before we did. Unfortunately, we already know what approach will get past the advanced imaging scanners that see through our clothes, because we know they don’t see through our skin. We know this, and yet we think these known-to-be-useless scans are a good idea anyway?

    I’m uncomfortable with people peering through my clothes or feeling around my crotch, and I don’t have any particularly traumatic reason to be. Add to the general discomfort of the general populace the specific fears of anyone who’s been a victim, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster that the TSA just isn’t in a position to cope with. That’s not even counting the people with purely physical medical conditions that pose a problem, or would be exacerbated, such as the woman with prosthetic breast or man with urostomy bag we’ve heard about the last few days. No matter how civil I’m willing to be to the TSA agents I meet, these folks just don’t — can’t — have adequate training for these situations.

    Next time I fly, I’ll be civil. I’ll be prepared with my belongings separated. I won’t be obstructionist for the sake of protest, but I also won’t submit to invasive searches that violate my privacy or my person.

  5. Karen Haithcock Says:

    Paige – I love how you capture the world with your grace; wit and charm. You are so right to share the human side of TSA as somehow lately in the media that element has been lost. My neighbor is a TSA agent at Detroit metro. He was not at work yesterday because he was attending the funeral for his mother in law. Despite all the best mother in law jokes yesterday he buried a dear friend of over 30 years. A women who in her late 80s had such spunk that I just know the angel orientation class is playing pinnacle on break at her lead. I hope he did not return home from a day of mourning and turn on the nightly news to hear all negative about TSA. He took his job with TSA because it is in line with his beliefs of defending America’s freedom. One he fought hard for as a young man in Vietnam. He is a hard worker and very dedicated. In the winter in particular I will often here his car heading out at 4 am as he sets off on the hour drive to the airport through a blizzard and think he is a dedicated man and one tough cookie. Despite his seemingly tough guy exterior this is a guy though who bought my daughter her first teddy bear. Not out of some sick convoluted way the media has so muddled through trying to lead us to belief they’re all perverts, but because he has a heart of gold and because he cares. He is after all a person – a human – and does not deserve the criticism raging through the media of recent. As a person he certainly has enough grief in his day to day. These TSA agents are doing their best to keep us safe and I firmly believe they deserve our respect for doing so. I applaud you Paige for sharing this OTHER side of the story – the human side – and as always look forward to reading your talented writing.

  6. Tweets that mention Home for the holidays. | paigeworthy.com -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paige Worthy, Tony Ham. Tony Ham said: RT @paigeworthy On the TSA and remembering that we're all just people, for goodness' sake. http://bit.ly/dY6B06 […]

  7. jocelyn Says:

    Amen, MHA. I’m never okay with being dicks to people. But I’m NEVER okay with losing my freedom for no reason. 1984 has gone from being a creepy novel to a creepy reality, and I’m not going to stand by and say it’s okay. If I am forced to fly in the near future, of course I’m going to choose scanner, but the whole thing is a sham and a joke and we need to stop putting our faith in such theater.

    There have been countless times that I have stood in security lines, being my polite, timid self, trying not to do anything that would arouse suspicion (and WHY? I’m doing nothing wrong, I have nothing on me — but I’m terrified that I’m going to get pulled out for a random search and be delayed and internally humiliated in front of people, having them wonder what it was that set them off — and this is BEFORE all this bullshit), when a myriad of thoughts flood my mind. I could do *this.* I could have done *that.* Especially when I get away with scissors or a bunch of extra aerosol (not that it’s going to actually be able to take a plane down, but since they’re trying to stop me from taking it on, and then I take it on …. well, how great is their security? Or is it that I’m a nice, white midwestern girl?) or some other “contraband” that could conceivably make my plane a death trap.

    I’m always nice — I feel like I’d be an idiot NOT to be. It’s like when I hear stories of my friends being snarky with police officers. They have *guns,* dimwit! They are always and forever will be in control. Who do you think you’re playing there? I keep my eyes down and my voice calm and do my best subserviant. The BDSM crowd would be so proud of me.

    But I’m outraged at the whole thing. It’s not security, it’s not keeping us safe. It’s nothing. And the levels of the Kabuki keep getting more and more crazy. The terrorists are winning, politicians’ friends are getting rich off fear, and we’re getting terrorized by our own people. How is this helping anything? If we keep saying yes to this shit, we will wake up one day to find we’re in a police state and then it will take a literal revolution to get out.

  8. Brian Says:

    Hot button topic… I’d fly naked if I had to…but no one wants that…

    Can’t we all just get along?? I’m sure the TSA folks don’t want to have to do all that stuff, but it’s the job…

  9. RondaMarie Says:

    If you follow procedure you’ll get through these line with little to no trouble at all. As they say, those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. Go ahead, pat me down, check my bags, whatever, let’s just move it along so I can get where I am going and have some amount of confidence that my plane won’t be overtaken, either with a bomb or a pair of nail clippers, on my way.

    Sure, there are some people who have special needs, there are some TSA agents who will abuse their power and maybe linger over a boob a little longer than they should. Rest assured, our litigious society will make sure everyone knows about these cases and will try their best to get us all in a uproar about it. As they have successfully done.

    I find I have very few problems in life if I just follow the rules and procedures as outlined and keep my damn mouth shut.

    • Paige Says:

      True, Ronda. If you follow the rules and keep quiet, no one will give you trouble. I understand that the problem for a lot of people — the ones who are in the right — is that their constitutional rights are being violated. But they’re going after the wrong people and protesting in a way that’s disrupting everyone’s lives at an inappropriate time that’s already stressful. I get that drastic change is often uncomfortable for all involved. But…urgh.

  10. Sam Sarbinson Says:

  11. Nina Says:

    Thank you for separating the people from the policies. This is wonderfully written and a fantastic reminder that all people – from gay teens (in one of your earlier posts) to TSA agents – are people and deserve to be treated as such.

  12. Wardell Says:

    I do fee bad for TSA agents because they are only doing their jobs, but I do think things need to change within that agency and the travel industry in general. People who don’t fly often may be willing to just grit their teeth and bear it in order to make things less difficult, but can you imagine having to go through that same scrutiny every time you wanted to ride a bus or a train, or enter a public building, and at any point during said activities you could be “randomly” chosen to under go even more scrutiny.

  13. TC Says:

    If those TSA workers get paid more than a lowly school bus driver, I have no sympathy for them. Or for anyone who makes a decent wage. It’s what they get paid to do. You’d think some of them went into their profession blindfolded, but I highly doubt that. I endure more than most, but I knew what I was getting into. I don’t expect anyone to have sympathy for me, nor do I want it. On the other hand, a little empathy for us all would be nice every now and then.

  14. Paige Says:

    @TC – I would never suggest being sorry for a TSA worker. I don’t feel SORRY for anyone who has a paying job, no matter how “lowly” it is.

    I don’t think anyone here feels bad for TSA workers because they have to wand people or pat them down. (Though I would argue that many of them who have had their jobs for a while didn’t know they would come under fire and such scrutiny years later.)

    I feel badly that people are mistreating individual agents in the name of civil disobedience or supposedly peaceful protest when they should be taking things to a higher level. No one deserves that.

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