The TSA Encounter


Armed with Christmas sugar cookies, a pair of crossing-my-fingers-they’re-disguised tweezers, and a hodgepodge of swimwear and related poolside fashions, I stood in the squandering line of fellow holiday travelers at the San Diego International Airport. I had just flown in from Dallas Fort Worth the evening prior, and had managed to score about four hours of sleep before returning to this revolving door for a very exciting and adventurous journey to Hawaii. Mechanically, I dressed myself in the dawn hours in a getup of compression capris- which my husband argued were too tight, a barely-there pilled Hanes running tee, and a neon coral fleece. Against my better sunrise judgment, I had tackled the fairly new accomplishment of applying thick Bobbi Brown black eyeliner to my upper, tired lids.

I’ve read my fair share in the papers and online about the newest set of TSA regulations, creating quite a scuffle for the elderly, the children, those fearful of radiation, those fearful of groping, and a random surveying of the general population. Seeing as I am quite a gambler, I’ve boldly announced to small chatterers on the topic in polite conversations that they can grope me all they want, so long as they ensure there are no terrorists on board my plane. My primary concern is to worry about living for today.

I usually get antsy in those thirty seconds or so between grabbing the bin and sliding my stuff into the x-ray machines. It’s quite a shuffle to kick off my shoes, empty out the laptop, try to find that much-too-large plastic bag of embarrassing toiletries, and somehow manage to hang onto my identification and ticket. So when the TSA attendant asked if I could skimp off my fleece, I was in a further flustered state. I walked through to the body scanner, where I was instructed to hold my hands up just like antlers and stand still while they checked out my bod, front and back. I cheerfully let the attendant know that I wouldn’t give her any troubles; I knew what they’d been up against from the stories reported in the news. She smiled. She gave me little warning before beginning a pat down across my bust and waist. I did think it strange to do both procedures, as I knew it was supposed to be a choice (cancer or molestation). Today, I got the double treat.

She informed me that we would need to swipe my palms with cotton cloths to check for chemicals. This third exam didn’t seem to be a popular one.

After seeing the questioning look on my face, she commented, “ If you were to put some type of explosive in your bra or underwear, it would show on the palms of your hands.”

“Wow, “ I said. “You must get some very creative types.”

“You have no idea,” she said.

I watched her do a quick swipe and focused my gaze where hers rested, on a small computer screen that I assumed yielded the results. Instantly, it lit up bright red, flashing, and declaring boldly enough for anyone to see, “Chemical Explosives!”

“Oh my gosh!” I stammered, surprised at my own results and hoping my reaction was also perceived as genuine. I was speechless.

“We’ll have to wait right here so I can get the supervisor,” she calmly informed me, becoming slightly less friendly and losing direct eye contact.

Three women stood guard over me while the first went to grab the supervisor, currently in the middle of her lunch break somewhere in the back groom. By now, the rest of my entire party (my husbands’ side of the family) was standing in a polite line, cleared and confused, waiting for me to join in. About six or seven minutes later, a scruffy woman with low cigarette-infused vocals ushered me into a tiny room with no windows. She locked the door and another TSA attendant stood with her back to the door. You can imagine the hysterical set of thoughts I had soaring through my mind. I mean, I was in a makeshift exam room that resembled a claustrophobic abandoned locked closet in skin-tight pants and a ratty tee with two uniformed women.

The woman, though brisk in her frisking, was very kind. She kept announcing ‘back of my hands, back of my hands’ in repetition so that I knew she was not using the front of her sensory digits. I didn’t care. I assured her there wasn’t much to investigate and was about to offer that I could just remove my top when she pulled open the spandex around my waist. She took a peek in the behind crevice and then again gently in the front. My eyes widened. It was very early in the morning to be showcasing my goods. She asked me if there was any reason I could have chemicals on my person. I had been holding out.

How embarrassing! Yes, yes I knew exactly what it was. Yesterdays’ spray tan had been a private affair, something I hadn’t shared with my spouse and was something that would just add a little glow to my winter-white skin in Hawaii. Now I had been caught, orange-handed. After disclosing my chemical whereabouts, I assured the crew that I would not ever again mist myself before travel. They released me from the chamber and I walked/ran to my gate, where I was the last call for boarding. I had to explain to my father-in-law that, no, I didn’t have a bottle of tanner in my bag, it was more advanced than that and was coated on my person. Being detained for explosives and the private-part-peek, all before 8am…Aloha.

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