Here we go again! I have yet another scene to share with you all in my ongoing one-woman theatre of the absurd piece that I am thinking of titling "Airport Hell: My Life as Suspect". Please note to all of you reading this post who might have ties to or with Customs or Border Patrol, that my tongue is planted firmly in cheek as I write this. I really do respect what these fine people do for a living, keeping the bad people at bay and all, but I just cannot for the life of me figure out why I am constantly being targeted. Also, I need to disclose up front that in this particular case I was technically wrong, but the absurdity is just so acute-well you be the judges.
This evening I am traveling alone on a flight south. I have nothing with me other than my purse and a small backpack which contains a computer, a Kindle, five pair of undergarments (cotton bikini briefs in case you were wondering) and a belt. As is my custom, I use the trusted traveller kiosk. It immediately targets me for secondary screening. The kind agent directs me through ominously frosted double doors where I am forced to relinquish my passport, card, and boarding pass and I am told to wait until called. I sit in the waiting area with two very sketchy looking men, both of whom are schlepping multiple pieces of luggage and gear, and it suddenly dawns on me that maybe I am sketchy looking too. A far too young customs agent calls out my "still-to-me after 49 years" very unfamiliar first name that almost glues me to my seat, believing momentarily that he is barking for somebody else. I approach his desk and have the following exchange.
Him: "Have you ever been arrested?"
Me: (Starting to worry that there might be another with my strange-assed name!) No Sir! (Did you catch the overly solicitous use of the word "sir"? These guys scare the shit out of me!)
Him: "Do you have anything to declare?"
Me: (Trying to figure out the trick question, I answer softly) "No Sir."
Him: "No food?"
Me: (Shit!!! Busted. I forgot about the two throat lozenges that have been collecting lint in the bottom of my purse for the better part of a month due to a lingering cold.) "Oh, I am so sorry. I forgot that I have two Ricolas in my purse." You see-under the trusted traveller program one must declare all food. I swear I forgot that they were there, told him so, and I immediately corrected my error. Not good enough apparently.
Him: (Quite facetiously and snotty) "Do you swallow them? Do they go in your mouth? Therefore they're food. So, why didn't you declare them?" (Every word of this is absolutely verbatim-I couldn't make this up if I tried!!)
Me: "You are right, Sir. I made a mistake."
Him: "So, are you going to lose your card today?"
Me: (With resignation) "I suppose that is up to you."
Him: "Yes it is!!"
He then proceeded to open up my purse and backpack, check every single item, including my bikini briefs, and then made me repack it all. Kind of creepy if you ask me, but really-what dignity was left me? At this point I figured one of two outcomes was before me. Either he sends me home without my card refusing me entry onto the sacred soil, or he makes me eat the offending lozenges right there in front of him and then sends me on my way through, but still without the card. I just couldn't imagine this ending well.
Him: "Consider this your get out of jail free card, young lady! (We have now crossed the line into patronizing.) "You are a trusted traveller, act like it!"
He tried to continue the lecture. I kind of cut him off, figuring that I was screwed anyway.
Me: "I get it. I was wrong. It won't happen again."
Him: "It better not. You have been documented. One more time like this....."
Me: (totally terrified now) "Am I free to go through?"
Him: "On your way."
I qualified this story at the beginning by admitting my guilt. I was technically wrong. I did forget to declare the 2 lozenges, but really.....isn't there a code of logic written somewhere in the customs rules? And are throat lozenges really food? Under his logic if it is put into the mouth and swallowed it meets the definition, but doesn't that make Tylenol food? Medications do not need to be declared under this program. And...how many of you believe that he asked me the declaration question purposefully vague so that I might trip up in the "food" answer? Is it me or did his actions, including feeling up my underwear, cross a line?
I have been targeted too many times to not believe that I am being profiled. I get that they are looking at the swarthy olive skin, the dark eyes, and the Semitic surname. But I am a 4' 11" ,physically unimposing, middle-aged woman who's career is defined as clergy. The profiling loses me there. America-I really like you! Why can't you just once return the love?
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