The California chapter of NSPRA - CALSPRA - is hosting the annual national conference in San Francisco. Margo is on the board of CALSPRA and I decided to tag along. We have been to the bay area many times. What with family and friends we know Marin and Walnut Creek area well, but, we seem to never get a chance to hang out in the city - and after all - it is one of the top 10 great cities of the US.

Offending Tool
The Offending Tool
Hermes, sculpted bronze figure by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, east entrance, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.

I love Long Beach airport. Partly because it is just 5 minutes away straight down Wardlow Road but also because it's quaint. Reminds me of when air travel was more fun and less of a hassle. Jet Blue has a lot of connections from here - covers most of the places I would want to or need to fly to in the US.

Our flight left at a decent, morning hour, Michal drove us to the airport, we checked our luggage and were waiting in a short line to go through security.

On the drive to the airport we talked about how different people approach travel - well differently. Margo and Michal don't trust the "travel gods" preferring to arrive with enough time for almost every eventuality. I, on the other hand, have full confidence that the same "gods" are on my side and will slow time down should the circumstances require it.

So things were going smoothly. I cheerfuly walked shoeless through the metal detector thinking about all the extra time we will have to spend stuck in our seats before takeoff. That was until the extra carryon bag - that I grabbed, on a whim, from my car, just when we were leaving the house to the chorus of "Come on Marek we have to go!" - caused the head TSA lady to be called over to the x-ray machine's display screen. I knew right away that we had a problem. Suddenly I had a clear picture of the old, Great Land, Leatherman knock off, combination Knife/Pliers/Cutters/Toothpick tool lying there hidden away for years at the bottom of one of the side pockets. No way was that thing going to pass security.

When Latish, the statuesque TSA lady, pulled the offending object out of the bag I saw a small spider scurry away - well he's going to miss his connection in San Francisco. As the lady started to open up and examine each and every sharp extension of the combination tool I could see she was finding it ever harder to conceal her amusement. It almost seemed as if she was looking for at least one function that would not pose a security risk. With the corner of my eye I saw Margo turn white.

My forgotten survival gadget didn't have a chance, but Latisha, the TSA lady, told me in a surprisingly friendly tone, that I had the option to simply check in one of my carryon bags with the offending tool in it. She even, thoughtfully, suggested I use the laptop bag because it had a zipper. She gave the order "Come on!" and lead the way briskly. I sheepishly followed her, repacking my bags as we walked. Than, in my peripheral vision, I caught a glimpse of Margo's desperate expression. It screamed - "Where are you going?" I reconsidered - I can just dump this old, cheap, never used, tool.

I stopped and told my new friend Latish, "You know I'm just going to dump this thing."
"That's fine, but you still have to go through checkin and security again" She said.
"Huh? What! Why?" - I was surprised and confused.
"Because you crossed the line." she said with that certain air of authority that told me Latisha was no longer my friend.

We stood, facing each other, less than 3 feet apart. Between us, on the floor, was the stainless steel guide rail for the rather large sliding glass doors. We could have been on opposites sides of Checkpoint Charlie during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I began to open my mouth to let loose a tirade of well reasoned arguments on why this was ridicules. Latisha cut me short with a simple - "I can't". I knew that look, I've seen it many times before back in the old country, resistance was futile.

I had no time to loose - I dashed back outside, I checked in my bag with the unfortunate tool that had now become very dear to me as a symbol of my obstinate stand against the prankish "travel gods", paid my $3, waited in the now much longer line to get to security, breezed through the scanning and x-raying, I put my shoes back on and headed for gate 2A. Just as I turned the corner and had my destination in sight I heard my name mangled over the PA system. I don't remember the exact words but in my head it sounded like "Come on Marek everybody is waiting for you again!" I immediately thought of Margo - Sorry.

It's good that the airline people are taught to be nice to the passengers in all circumstances and it wasn't that late anyway - we still had about 5 minutes till takeoff.

When I reached my aisle seat I could see Margo was visibly upset. I felt bad - flying is not her favorite pastime and this incident added an unwarranted layer of anxiety. But, in the end "all's well that ends well" and we were best friends again by the time the plane wheels left the tarmac.

It's a short and pleasant hop from Long Beach to San Francisco on Jet Blue. Comfortably up in the air I gave some thought to my recent airport incident. I realized that I didn't see Latish at her post on my second pass through security. I bet she was relaxing in the secret TSA lounge, sipping a rum and cola and relishing her recent bureaucratic triumph.

I hardly had time to finish my coffee. Well, all in all, this was easy - I thumbed my nose at the "travel gods" as the wheels hit the tarmac again.


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