Airport meltdown is happening more frequently than you know. Crazy things happen at airports. A 9-year-old boy just flew without a boarding pass from Minneapolis to Las Vegas. He got on the flight when the check-in crew was busy. His mother had reported him missing. The police greeted him at the airport.
My father once said to me, “Don’t get arrested.” That almost happened, and might well have happened in this age of tightened air security. One day after a stressful studying session for midterms at college, I planned to fly to Miami Beach to see my dear grandfather Harry and his wife, Aunt Lee. I had put enough effort into studying to power a locomotive. A few days of rest and relaxation in the sun in mid-February would be great. I admit I was exhausted and frazzled. I used to worry a lot and tire myself out. “Just get me on the plane,” I thought insistently.
I lost it as I was boarding the flight. I was carrying an orange can of tobacco and the security man asked me what I had inside, to which I made the wiseacre comment that I “had a bomb inside.” “Why are you asking me this, it’s a harmless can of tobacco, I thought to myself just before I said those words, which later brought on feelings of shame and embarrassment.
The airport security guy was doing his job. Nowadays, you have to take off your shoes, stow away your wallet, belt, coin change, cell phone and keys in a plastic bucket.
When this check-in started after 9/11, I got the feeling that if you sneezed during inspection, someone would look at you funny. If I had said now what I uttered then, I might have been arrested, certainly detained. But in those days, there was an air of innocence that was shattered on that September day. Years ago, I reflect when the world had mourned for what happened during the Summer Olympics in Munich, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were kidnapped and murdered on the tarmac at the airport. Those terrible things always seemed to happen “over there.” Until those terrible things happened over here.
The security man’s expression instantly changed from courteous and professional to one of heightened alert. He said to another man, “Did you hear what he said? He has a bomb.” I immediately realized that I said the stupidest thing in my life and profusely apologized, saying I didn’t have one. I was just a frazzled college student wiped out because of my midterms and I was flying to see ol’ Gramps in Florida.
Four men moved in on me in a smooth and precise way, pinning me to the glass corridor.
“God, if my dad finds out about this, I might be grounded for life,” I said to myself in a panic, even though I was 21. The men went into a huddle after seeing my shocked expression and a few minutes later one said, “Son, we have to deplane you and take your baggage off the plane. Wait here and you can take another flight to Miami.” I glanced at the baggage-loading truck as someone searched for my luggage. I felt so humiliated.
I was raised to be a good person. Eight years earlier I was reading from the Torah at my bar mitzvah. Now, I had just threatened a part of the Federal Aviation Administration. My dad was strict growing up and laid down the law. He had a temper and I never wanted to see him get angry, especially at me. I was certain my dad would find out about this — after all I was visiting his own father. I decided after drinking a glass of 7UP on another plane that he would never find out from me.
I got off the plane and weakly greeted my grandfather, fearing that my dad was right behind him. He wasn’t. I was lost in thought for the whole day until the force of the sun drained the worry from me. I sat in a chair near the pool and had a semblance of a mini-break. It was nothing fancy, but not many people have the luxury of staring out at a vast blue ocean from a lounge chair. It certainly beat the cold of the Northeast.
I flew back to the city where I went to college, thinking that the police would be waiting for me at the gates to read my rights. That didn’t happen either. I had put this fiasco behind me. One day, maybe 25 years later, my father was driving me somewhere and said, “Rich, I got a letter that said you were kicked off a plane. What was that about?” I underplayed it, saying, “Oh, that was nothing. It happened a long time ago.” Nothing else was said.
Now when I’m at the airport, I try to be mindful and zip the lip. I’m not as angry anymore, or least I can see it coming better and stop before I go volcanic.