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TSA Pat Down Goodies

So today for Whack-A-Doodle Wednesday, I am going to talk about TSA. Isn’t that fun? As you may have read from my previous blogs, I was trapped back East after Christmas in the great airplane debacle of ’10. I finally got out of Virginia on New Years Day. New Years Eve was spent with no booze, no parties and no Alan Rickman. JetBlue couldn’t get me out until after January 5th so Southwest came to my rescue. Actually I have a new slogan for them! “Southwest – The Flying Greyhound Always Gets You Where You Need To Go.” It may not be in luxury. There may not be DirectTV or TerraBlue Chips or more leg room or even assigned seats but they will get you there. You know why? Here is my theory. Ready? Because they are owned by their employees, that’s why! They don’t have the greedy “Mr. Me Gimme Mine” attitude the other big airlines have. My plane didn’t fly because one flight attendant was timed out and since they laid off a bunch of staff, they didn’t have anyone to replace her. But the airline DID make record profit in this shitty economy for their shareholders and bonuses for their top Execs so what do they care?

My plane was scheduled to leave at 8:20 in the morning so we left the house at 6:30. I even slept in my clothes to save myself time. I got to the airport, checked my bag and headed to security without incident. Even at 7:15 in the morning, the airport was very light as far as holiday traffic. It surprised me since there were still people trying to leave after the snow storms in New York and Jersey. Perhaps these souls opted for a late night drunken orgy, instead of an early flight and were sleeping it off.

I have flown four times since the Rapiscan machines have been operational and have never been asked to walk through them. Why don’t I like them?

First, was there ever a more unfortunate name? Just saying.

Second, no hard evidence has been shown that proves these machines are safe. Sure they SAY they are safe. They SAY you get “more radiation from the Sun”. These are also the same people who touted the health benefits of cigarettes, the safety of asbestos, lead paint and all the various drugs that are peddled on TV and then pulled when too many people drop dead, grow two heads or start speaking in tongues.

Third, do I REALLY want someone looking at my bits when I don’t get paid? Umm, no. There is technology that can show just your bones ala “Total Recall” or show a stick figure and still show a square of C4 stuffed down your pants. The inventor of the “little stick man” technology contacted TSA. They haven’t responded.

Fourth, the whole thing is just frosting on a cake that was already eaten by wolves. Meaning? We are real good about responding to things after the fact but not too good at being proactive. Some nut job tries to set off an explosive charge in his shoes and sets them on fire? Solution – make everyone take off their shoes. Guess what? Humans are smart monkeys. They will keep coming up with stupid ways to kill each other that we haven’t thought of. Nothing is 100% safe. The sooner people understand this the better.

Who am I kidding? The people who think that taking our shoes off actually makes us safer also think it’s great when their kid Billy is the 42nd “winner” in Baseball. Yeah, you GO BILLY!! Everyone is a winner!

Anyway, I think it’s stupid and I have to draw the line somewhere. The government treating me like a criminal and peeping at my “cash and prizes” is the line. So I decide if I’m ever asked, I will “opt-out”. After hearing all these groping horror stories I even take to wearing no underwear when I fly. Hey, it’s my only act of rebellion I can currently think of. I’ve never been asked to use the scanner. Today, they are sending everyone through the scanner except for kids under 12. I put my things on the belt and when the TSA guy motions me over I say “I’m sorry. I opt-out.” This is what happened.

The TSA guy calls for a female to do a pat down. There is a female TSA agent on the other side of the metal detector. She calls for a female to do a pat down. No one shows up. Hmmmm, is she not a female? You know, sometimes you can never tell but she looks like a girl to me. I wait patiently and don’t say a word. Finally after 3 minutes (in the near deserted security area) she decided to do it. She leans over the barrier and asks the guy “Did you tell her what was going to happen or should I?”

“WHAT?!” Now I’m thinking this is going to be like prison. Great. I have a lot of smart phrases floating around in my head like “Oh, I’ve been to that frat party!” or “You mean like the last time I was in prison?” or “Just as long as you warm up your hands and buy me dinner, we’re cool.” I say nothing. Saying nothing is better.

So they lead me though the gate by the side of the metal detector. She takes me to the belt and asks me to point out my things. I point to the two bins, the PC bag and the carry on bag. She grabs some and a male TSA agent grabs the others and puts them on some chairs. I stand on the standard mat that they use to pat you down when you set off the metal detector and…

not much of anything. I got the same pat down I would normally get if I set off the metal detector. Down the legs, up the legs, the back of her hand over my ass, around the waist of my jeans, down my arms and to the sides, top, bottom and between my breasts. I’ve been groped more working the Renaissance Faire. No nipple touching. No cooter grabbing. I felt a little left out. It wasn’t objectionable at all. Did certain agents step out of line in the past with other passengers. Yes. We have the tapes. But there are assholes everywhere. My experience was fine. Will I continue to opt-out until they get rid of Rapiscan? Yes. My reasons still haven’t gone away but if you are polite, patient and sane, I would wager you “woog them out” less and they are less likely to treat you like an inmate.

Just so you know, you are also entitled to have the pat down in private if you choose and to have someone of your choice present.

So what was the most traumatizing thing I had to deal with on my way home? It was the HUGE guy in a wrestling singlet on the plane with me to Chicago (where we touched down and took on more people). Thankfully he was wearing pants but carrying his jacket. I don’t know what freaked me out worse. The spandex fashion nightmare or the fact that without the jacket his hairy pits were exposed to the world. I started thinking about the poor bastard you would have to sit next to him. Did he wear deodorant? Does he sweat excessively? When he is seated would his pits be in someone’s face? I was at the end of the B group (also known as the “pick your favorite middle seat” group). I just hoped it wouldn’t be me.

How The West Coast Storm Screwed The Country – Part Three

9pm, flight now scheduled to leave at midnight. Things are not looking good for our heroine. But I have hope. Pure, shining hope. JetBlue SAID they had a fresh crew. So what if I don’t get home until 4:30 in the morning. The cat will be happy to see me after she figures out who I am again. I start talking with my fellow passengers, trying to keep our spirits up and full of hope. It’s all we have left.

We don’t have long to wait. Around 9:45pm the Supervisor announces the flight is cancelled. Was the pilot timed out? Nope, both pilots could fly. It was the stewardess. One couldn’t fly so the cabin crew of 3 was now 2. Hey, I’ll volunteer to pass our coffee and chips! Honestly, during a red eye all the attendants do is talk in the galleys. But the UNIONS say you have to have 3 or you don’t fly. You don’t know how badly I want to punch those Union Leaders in the junk right now.

I also want to punch the President of JetBlue in the junk. Why? Because if the company didn’t can so many employees, they would have extra crew! If they had more routes and planes, this mess could be diminished. I did the math and just the customers on our plane have already paid approx. $47,250 to the company. What do we get for that? Well, let’s see shall we as we descend into Hell.

We were told we could stand in line up here on the concourse (already 40 people deep at each of the three counters due to the other two cancelled flights) or go downstairs to the ticket counter. They would then “take care of us” and re-book us. Okay, what about our checked bags? We could pick them up at baggage claim. So off I slogged. I needed to get my checked bag because not only is it heavy, it also contains meat. Elk and prime rib – don’t judge me. It’s cold now but it wont stay that way for long. I head down to the deserted baggage claim. My bag is the second one out. A bitter Christmas miracle that is.

So pulling 52.5 pounds of suitcase and carrying 40 pounds of books and another 10 pounds of vintage porn, I head back upstairs to the ticket counter. The line is long. There are about 30 people in front of me and I estimate it will take me about 1 1/2 hours to make it to the counter based on how slow it’s going. The only thing that makes my heart slightly happy are the 50 people behind me.

Everyone in line pulls out their iphones, ipads, laptops and other devices and tried to get other flights. It was looking grim. I was hearing there are no flights into Oakland or SFO until January 5th at the earliest. Fine. I’ll take San Jose, Long Beach, San Diego, LAX, Sacramento, Seattle, Las Vegas, Phoenix. If I could just get to this side of the continent, I could then hop on a Southwest flight to Oakland. My dear friends from Monterey, LA and San Diego offered to pick me up at the airport or give me crash space or both. In that I feel blessed. We move a whole three feet every eight minutes or so. I was starting to lose my grip on hope.

Finally I am four people away from the counter when a fussy little man is walking the line, quietly informing people that the agents will only be booking flights after the 5th. Ummm, well what about other cities? Nope, no planes at all anywhere until the 5th or later. Ummmm, how do you know? He just knows. Okay then WHY have I been standing in this frackin line for over an hour. He says “I informed everyone earlier that was the case. I walked by and told people in line.”
“No dude, you didn’t tell me nor the people around me.”
“Yes I did, I made a loud announcement.”
“No you didn’t. I’m not deaf. I would have heard that.”
“I’m not lying.”

Yes, yes you are and you are a douche. But it would change nothing to say that. Do we get our money back? Sure! You can go on-line and do that. How about rebooking? You can call the 800 number. No, no I can’t. I tried that when I first got into line and you know what JetBlue does? They hang up on you! You get a recording saying they are experiencing high call volume, say they are trying the line again, it’s busy, thank you and good bye. click. I will bet a million dollars the President of JetBlue didn’t cut his salary or that of other execs to keep those flight crews. He doesn’t care that all these people are stuck. JetBlue has my Dad’s money and that’s the bottom line for 95% of American business nowadays. “Your business is important to us. Fuck you and have a nice day.” click.

At this point I was too tired to even fight with him. My parents were not picking me up so I need to find a cab at this late hour to take me back to Virginia. There was not much of a selection at this point since the airport was pretty much closed. I have to pay the national debt to get back to my parents house, all the while wondering if this guys is a serial killer who is going to chop my body up and leave me in the snow. He wasn’t but at that hour and traveling alone. You never know. My Dad is all frustrated with the state of American business, government and JetBlue right now. Canada is starting to look kinda good as a country to move to. Problem is, they just don’t let you in. They are pretty pissy about their borders as are most countries. Great.

I go downstairs and find out the earliest flight I can get is Southwest out of Dulles on New Years Day at eight in the morning. Fabulous, first the pricey cab ride, then I realize my car will cost $50 more to get out of car jail and rent is due. This sucks. I need a job something awful. At least I will have elk and beef to eat. I also took 2 cans of ice tea, 2 cans of OJ, a bottle of water, a bag of nasty animal crackers, a bag of Terra Blue potato chips and a bag of cashews from JetBlue. I figured they owed me.

So here I sit, back East, no snow, no wifi for my laptop – until New Years Day. New Years Eve? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!!!! whew. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!! If my sister is feeling better, currently she is sick in bed, she will be going to a beautiful party with her husband at a grand, fancy hotel and spending the night there. I, on the other hand, will be babysitting her kids with my parents and trying to find a way to ferment Otter Pops because there is no bar in that house. If my sister is still sick, then I guess I go to bed at 9pm and try to forget the past few days.

On a similar note, my friends were stranded in London during the Great Ash Cloud of ’10. They spent their time pub hopping and finding new coffee bars in London. I’m not in London, I’m in a suburb of Annandale, Virginia. I have no car. There isn’t even a Starbucks in walking distance. I have no kittah. Just the grey squirrels who live in the trees and mock my misfortune. If my flight is on-time, I will be back at the house by 3pm on the 1st. Oh, did I mention we have one stop (no change of planes) in O’Hare? If they get New Years Eve snow and we can’t take off, I just might do something drastic.

Merry F’in Christmas – How The Great West Coast Storm Screwed The Country (Part 1)

Well, I’ve been out of town since the 19th of December traveling to Los Angeles and then to Washington DC to visit with my family for Christmas. As a result of this abundance of holiday cheer my blog has been on hiatus, due more to the fact that my parents have no idea what a wifi router is, why it has a key or what that key is. As a result, no wifi for me upstairs on my laptop where I have all my writing tools in a row. I have now braved the basement to type on my parents standalone while my laptop sits in the case mocking me.

So, anyway I was suppose to be home today. Relaxing in the bosom of my family, drinking and comforting my now neurotic cat who hasn’t seen me in 10 days and wont see me for 4 more. Over two weeks is a life time to a cat. I’m sure she will ignore me, then stick to my side like glue and then possibly pee on me while I’m sleeping just to show how annoyed she is.

Well, I’m not home. I’m back in Virginia at my parents house and will be here until the New Year. How did this happen? I blame it on the hippies. A huge winter storm sweeped into California on the 19th (the day I started this traveling nightmare), pounded Southern California with rain for days and then moved on. Northern California wasn’t too badly hit. Mainly due to the fact that we are too smart to build our houses on toothpick stilts or build houses in secluded canyons that regularly catch fire without a quick way to get a fire truck to them, which in turn causes these houses to slide down the canyon in a river of mud.

I thought, big deal, so we walk around in the pouring rain at Disneyland. No biggie. The crowds will be less. But the storm moved on and moved across the country. You would think moving over land would dissipate the storm. Nope. It built and put a big hitch in everyones plans. It gets to the East Coast and newscasters are warning there could be a blizzard on Christmas Day in the District. Great. I figure I will never be able to get out because my plane will be mired in snow. Nope.

Christmas Day dawns with light flurries of snow that dump a grand total of 1/2″ on DC and Northern Virginia. Yay! I’m saved! There is no snow. I realize it sucks to be you if you are stuck in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts or any of the other Eastern states that had to deal with the huge dump truck load of snow. Parts of New Jersey were buried with 4 ft. of the stuff in a day. New York airports and Boston Logan were at a standstill. It was as bad as Heathrow although we have snow plows and snow melting machines to help clean up. London just has fortitude. I wondered why they didn’t pay some their unemployed to shovel the runways but that is a blog for another time.

I figured I was home free. No snow, clear skies. I arrived at the airport at around 4:45pm for a 6:45 flight. I check my bag. It is 2 pounds over the 50 pound weight limit. I offer to take things out rather than pay the freight. They let it go. A Christmas miracle! I skip (fine – slog) to the security line. Hey, when you are carrying a laptop bag full of tech toys and 3 Playboys from 1965 and a tote bag with 40 pounds of books – it’s heavy!

I get my ID checked. They either don’t notice or don’t care that my drivers license is expired. Yes, I have the temporary paper but I have no idea where it is at the moment. I am waved into another line by…. a maitre’d? A marching band conductor? It seems some TSA agents at Dulles are sporting thick, looping braid that attaches to their shoulder, goes under their arm and back to the shoulder again in a loop. WTF? They look like demented doormen. Is this a special badge of honor for grabbing the most junk in a month? I have no idea.

I take off my shoes, step up to the belt and start putting my things in bins. Again I am prepared to opt out of Rapiscan and am going commando. Hey, it’s my only means of protest! The guy in front of me starts for the metal detector with a backpack and a rolling bag. ummm Dude! What? Are you new? What are you doing? So he gets called back, puts his shit on the belt and then he doesn’t have his laptop in its own bin. Dude! Finally he goes through. I am waved to the metal detector so no groping for me. I feel a little sad. As I am waiting for my bags I notice the TSA agents looking at something in the Xray machine. You know when they stop the belt, reverse it, look again, point, look again? The prison matron Helga, I mean the TSA agent Helga glances at me. I immediately point to Mr. Clueless. Yeah, it’s his bag. She pulls him aside and proceeds to rifle through his bag like a demented squirrel. I get my things and go. However, curiosity gets the best of me. As I laced up my tennies, I watch to see what Mr. Clueless has in his bag. Ready?

A full sized bottle of Pepto Bismol. Dude! Are you new! Is that a 3 oz container, sealed into its own quart baggie, that was declared before hand? No. No, it’s not. The potentially lethal Pepto goes in the trash while Matron Helga roots around for more contraband liquid meds. I move on to my gate. Dulles has been renovated and it’s lovely. They now have high speed trains instead of the plodding “Star Wars – Moon of Endor” trams that use to play Frogger on the tarmac with the planes. I check the board. My flight is delayed. I was suppose to leave at 6:45pm, now I’m scheduled for 8:15pm. Not too bad. There is a wine bar. I can wait.

If I had only known……