Saturday, April 22, 2006

Boston: Little Brother is Watching

Along Boston's I-90 near Fenway Park stands a billboard which reads, "Little Brother is Watching." A black and white photo of George W. Bush's eyes accompanies it. I got a chuckle out of this billboard, until I passed through Boston Logan Airport's security yesterday.

I was a lucky passenger invited to pass through the puffer security machine. No problem, I thought. I had done the routine in at the Gulfport-Biloxi airport in Mississippi last year - I knew the drill. The security guard warned me to be careful because I was wearing a skirt and told me I have to make like Marilyn Monroe.

For those unfamiliar with the puffer machine, it is basically a machine that puffs air (similar to that eye exam) and then is evaluated for explosives. There is also a camera in there.

I entered the machine - the plastic doors prevent me from leaving and stood on the footprints. I'm puffed at a few times and wait. And wait. And wait. I get impatient and start to wiggle around. And then, an annoying buzzing noise blasts. "This can't be good," I think.

I'm escorted out of the machine and introduced to Eric #012896 (or something like that). He pulls out a photo of me which was taken in the booth along with a print out with a bunch of numbers. "Is it like an EKG?" I asked.

He laughed. "Yeah, kind of."

He takes my drivers license and boarding pass, punches holes in the boarding pass, keeps everything then hands me over to a female security screener. She explains to me the pat-down process. "I know!" I'm thinking. She was thorough in the pat-down (why can't the cute security men do the pat downs???) and I got a little bit of body stretching in during the process: since I was wearing a skirt, I had to lunge so she could reach EVERY area. "Yup, it's all me," I told her when she patted my stomach.

Meanwhile, two of my industry partners are watching on the "other side" of security - they passed through without incident. They laughed. I laughed. What a way to end the week.

QK Girl: "So, is that camera a face recognition scanner?"
Pat-Down Guard: "Oh, no! Why?"
QK Girl: "Well, I just traveled to a hot zone and I'm sure I'm on someone's watch list."
Pat-Down Guard: "No, it's not."

Should I believe this?

Meanwhile, as I was being molested, I watched while one of the male guards swabbed and molested my carry-on luggage. Do they ever get embarrassed when pulling out feminine pads or plugs? Do they ever find explosives?

After being released, I asked the luggage-molesting guard what was up while Eric #012896 was filling out a report.

Luggage Molesting Guard: "You tested positive for explosives, so we needed to check everything."
QK Girl: "Hmmm. Well, I don't have any."
Luggage Molesting Guard: "Yes, we know. We just needed to be sure."

Deemed no longer a threat, I was allowed to proceed and board my flight home.

These are the things I'm curious about:

  • Upon reaching home, I thought for sure I would find the standard love note from TSA stating they needed to search my luggage. There weren't any notes. Did they search my luggage? Wouldn't it make sense if I had dealt with explosives that I would put it in my check-on luggage (note: I realize by posting this, my check-on luggage will be thoroughly searched next time I travel).
  • Is it a face recognition scanner in that puffer machine? I'll have to do some research on this.
  • If I contact TSA about the incident, will they let me know what will happen to the information gathered about me? Will they let me know what else can simulate an explosive detection?
  • Was I targeted, er, "invited" into the puffer machine because I am on "little brother's" watch list (for my Afghanistan trip)? Or did I set off the alarm because my face was scanned and ended up on someone's watch list?
  • Wonder if I'll ever know!

"United 93:" Are We Ready to Roll With It?

I'm not. I'm not prepared to see a film about the fourth hijacked plane during September 11. I recently read that trailers for the Universal Studio film "United 93" were played in New York City and left the audience in outrage and tears. One woman was quoted as saying, "we're not ready."

Sept. 11, 9/11 or 911 - whatever your preference is, this date is my generation's Pearl Harbor and shooting of John F. Kennedy. When I hear reference to this date, sadness sets in. I can vividly place where I was that day and the subsequent events of that week.

I recall the feelings of fear, grief and sadness felt during that time. The feeling of urgency to get home and the emotions felt on the drive back to Florida (I was in Boston on a sales trip at the time). The feeling of patriotism as me and my pal Cham drove down I-95, passing cars toting American flags, houses waving the flag and our own search for the flag.

We stopped at a WalMart somewhere in North Carolina. Their flag supply had been depleted. We stopped one of the workers who had a red, white and blue ribbon pinned to his chest with a safety pin. We asked where we could find something like that and he told us the store was out of ribbons, too. But, he handed us his ribbon and Cham and I split it and donned our own patriotism for the rest of the journey.

Recall the feeling of unity those following days? Remember the fear of knowing that our way of living and freedoms will be forever altered? What has happened to all of the flags? I'm guilty, too. Regrettably, I no longer wear my American flag pin - out of laziness.

Sept 11 paved the way for new geography lessons and exposed us to new cultures. We, isolated Americans, quickly discovered there is more to the Middle East than pyramids, camels, belly dancers and oil. We woke up to the reality that the rest of the world doesn't like the US.

I feel sadness for the people who lost their lives that day as well as the troops - American and from the international community - who have sacrificed their lives for my freedoms during this war on terror. I can barely imagine the fear and horror the passengers on United flight 93 must have experienced, but I don't need Hollywood painting the picture for me.