I flew to the US on 9/11. Not the infamous one, but last year. That day wasn’t my choice, as my doctor had booked me to have a medical scan that wasn’t available in The Bahamas where I live. I wasn’t actually unhappy, or even worried about the date, as I am not American. Like most people of European origin, I couldn’t give a damn about the date, as I never worried about terrorism. Even if I had, I wouldn’t let it bother me.
I was actually rather pleased with the day fate had chosen. I believed that there would be many fewer Americans traveling, and that would mean that there would be short lines at the check-in desks, and at the security checkpoints. It would be less crowded in the airports, and the whole experience would be much more relaxed and enhanced than the usual frantic bustle. Boy, was I ever wrong!
Since I was going out and back the same day, I had an early flight out, and an evening one around seven coming back. This was for two reasons. My wife had naturally given me a shopping list that I had to fill before my scan, which was due around one, and I had given myself a good amount of leeway because I have learned over the years that anything involving doctors can be hugely delayed.
I arrived at Nassau Airport at about a quarter past five, breezed through the check-in desk, and strolled into security to see the shortest US immigration preclearance line ever. Even though we were still in the Bahamas, there were two lines, one for US citizens, and one for others. Strangely there was nobody in the US line, and us ‘others’ whisked through at a startling pace.
Until our officers finished our formalities, that was.
They then politely asked if we would be so good as to come with them for a ‘second interview’. That was my first inkling that my day might not be as mellow as I had foreseen.
I was guided into a waiting room already crammed with somewhat forlorn passengers now eyeing each other up, as if to ask, “What the hell are so many of us doing here?” Soon it was a case of standing room only.
After a bit, and realizing how many of us were packed into that processing area, it wasn’t long before we started worrying whether we would make our flights. We were assured that because it was immigration who were delaying us, that we would not miss our flights, but that they just might be delayed. They were, for at least a half hour, but not but enough to inconvenience me too much. Of course, knowing all about the domino effect, I did wonder how badly this would affect all the subsequent passengers on this shuttle service.
I was glad to put all that behind me as I stepped into a mall in Fort Lauderdale, with my wife’s shopping list. I was already casting mournful eyes as I quickly eased past the food court, not having being allowed to eat or drink from the night before.
My procedure was one of those cute ones where they shoot you up with some sort of radioactive stuff first, and then scan for where the radioactive stuff ends up. Fortunately everything went smoothly, and I got back to the airport with enough time to eat breakfast, lunch, and even dinner before my flight home was due to depart. Wanting to dump the bag with my wife’s booty in it at the earliest opportunity, I went to check in first, and I was offered the opportunity to stand by for an earlier flight. Since this would still give me time to calm my aching gut, I accepted and was given a stand by number, but couldn’t yet dump my suitcase.
I had been snarfing down airport chow for only a few minutes, when a uniformed and gun-toting official with a Kevlar vest proclaiming him to be part of some acronymic arm of Homeland security, asked me, “Excuse me, sir, but did you have some sort of medical procedure today?”
“Yes,” I replied, looking up at him, “How did you know?” It was then that I noticed him holding some sort of device which I immediately deduced to be a type of Geiger counter.
He confirmed it by asking me, “Are those your bags?” and then giving them the once over with the device. By now, I could see that he was in hog heaven, as he took his radio from his belt and called his boss. For him, I was clearly his justification for this special day.
“I can give you the details of the clinic where I had the procedure,” I told him, “if you need to verify my story.” He wasn’t interested, although I did dig the information out of my carry-on for him. Seeing this was not about to end quickly, I figured I may as well load up on some more fuel, as my appetite was still clawing my insides.
Soon one guy became several. They were all very polite, but that didn’t help because I had effectively been detained, even though it was in the middle of the concourse. The holdup was that none of them were empowered to make the decision to let me go. After a while, and seeing the writing on the wall, I asked one of them if I could go and turn in my stand by position, and check in for the flight I had originally booked. Good thing it was a late one.
I was made to wait a long time before the boss showed up, as he had been dealing with another ‘incident’ in another part of the airport. Even when he came, he was unable to make an immediate decision about me. Neither was he willing to explain why. By now I was inured to their milling presence, finishing the book I had been reading, and starting another. Kindles are wonderful.
Eventually I was allowed to proceed. Since they had already sat on me for over an hour and a half, I asked the boss if I could have an escort to the security checkpoint to let them know I had been cleared by them, as I really didn’t want the whole rigmarole to start up again there.
With a male officer on one side and a female one on the other, I had got about halfway there when one guard got a message. We all had to wait some more. They never told me why, but fortunately I knew enough not to be a pest. I wish we hadn’t been in front of a candy store just then. Twenty minutes later, we thankfully got the green light again, and made it to the checkpoint.
There was no line. Probably for the first time ever. I could count about fifteen officials, who all seemed hopped up and hyped, looking at me as if I was the Thanksgiving turkey. Breezing through the initial formalities, I was stopped at the very end, and asked to wait. Who would have guessed? What on earth could it be now?
Someone appeared with a box of rubber gloves. Gaaah, I thought, not that! No, thankfully it wasn’t. It turned out that these were special gloves imbued with certain chemicals that made mini explosions when in contact with tiny amounts of explosive residue. In other words they would make crackling sounds when in contact with clothes that had been in the vicinity of explosives. As soon as the man put on the first pair of gloves, they started crackling, which didn’t help, so he changed to another pair. They did the same thing too, so someone decided to get a fresh box. I mean they were all really keen; this must be the one day out of the year when they were allowed to delve into their whole toy box without any limits.
Eventually, after another long wait, a fresh box appeared, and this time, they were good. The man had to rub the gloves over all parts of all my clothing, and when he got to my crotch, and felt something unusual, I at last had a way to get some petty revenge for the day’s indignities. “That’s my incontinence pad,” I told him, in a not so quiet voice, “Would you like me to take it off and show you?”
After that, they couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.
The moral of the tale: If you travel on 9/11, it isn’t the terrorists you need to be concerned about, and don’t even think of having any medical tests in the previous week.