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Walter Rodgers

At least I haven’t been shot going through airport security

After TSA searched my 'groin area' and found no explosives, I felt mildly defiled. I may have been in Chicago, but it could have been cold-war Berlin or Moscow. I asked the woman next to me, 'Remember when flying used to be fun?'

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Next, two uniformed TSA officers pulled me from the line and into a private room where I was solemnly told, “We’ve discovered you have an anomaly in the groin area.”

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I wasn’t sure whether to pray or wait for them to call a doctor. It looked really bad, especially as one TSA inspector began pulling on rubber gloves like a proctologist.

“Do you have any implants?” he asked. Not sure what an implant was, I wanted to say, “Vice President Cheney invited me to dinner once. Mrs. Cheney served spinach. But I don’t remember any ‘implants.’ ”

“I am going to pat you six times and do a thorough body search,” he told me. After he was done, he was puzzled at having found no “anomaly.”

“Would you like me to drop my drawers?” I volunteered.

It had worked once in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. An Arab guard’s metal detector repeatedly buzzed at the metal rivets in my trousers. I was about to miss my plane. The airline crew was closing the cabin door. In impulsive inspiration I undid my trousers and began to publicly lower them. The modest Muslim security guard was so horrified he virtually threw me on the plane.

Same with this TSA man. “No, don’t take them off,” he said.

“It was the tie, wasn’t it?” I asked him. You see, your clothes always make a statement about you, and they never make a neutral statement. Someone in the TSA cadre probably didn’t like the statement my corduroy sport coat and flowered necktie made. Perhaps TSA was making its own statement: “Real Americans only travel in jeans, T-shirts, and cowboy boots or tennis shoes.”

Seven or eight years ago at the Knoxville, Tenn., airport, I was taken out of line, not because of my tie, but because of my Patek Philippe wristwatch. Then, a uniformed TSA officer had demanded to know how much it cost. He told me to take it off and said he wanted to try it on.

In Chicago, despite the TSA finding no “anomalies” or explosives in my “groin area,” I again felt mildly defiled. Plopping myself down at Gate 22, I asked the woman next to me, “Do you remember when flying used to be fun?”

In an accented reply, she said, “You just shut off your brain and go with the flow. Things have improved.” She added, “I grew up in East Germany, and they shot a lot of us when we tried to travel.”

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.


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