by J.M. Sylvan
American Reporter Correspondent
February 10, 2009
SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. -- My next place of work will be Japan. The past few days I have been preparing for the two-month trip. Preparations have included several trips to the chiropractor and acupuncturist.
Traveling is hard work, and I need to be in top condition to deal with the rigors of sitting for long periods, walking through huge International terminals, carrying heavy luggage and standing in long lines while TSA personnel inspect and reject your belongings.
My chiropractor aligned my spine, hands and feet. She also recommended that I purchase suitcases that swivel and a briefcase with wheels. I went on a mini shopping spree and bought the items she suggested. I'm going to a frigid part of Japan so I purchased warm clothes and hand warmers at REI too. They have some awesome books and maps there.
While visiting family in Sonoma, we took a tour of the Di Rosa Preserve in Napa (www.dirosapreserve.org), There we found one of the largest collections of contemporary Northern California art in the nation.
A favorite installation of ours turned out to be a sculpture (really a huge pile) of scissors, nail files, Swiss army knives, corkscrews, bottle openers matches, tweezers and other metal objects that the artist purchased off of eBay from the San Francisco Airport. They were a small part of what was confiscated during the first week they decided to prevent passengers from carrying on planes. This got us talking about the Homeland Security system that has grown by leaps and bounds in this country.
It seems that almost every traveler has a frustrating story that may include missing a plane because of long lines, being denied entry because ones name is incorrectly on a watch list, or having an item that has special meaning to them taken from them.
One person spoke about her encounter with H.S. when she was on her way to L.A. to seek treatment for a broken wrist. Not only did airport personnel hurt her further by moving her broken wrist that was in a sling, but also they removed her from the line to a clear glass box and inspected her with wands and patting down for all to see. She didn't feel safer at all, nor was she willing to sacrifice her well being to the incompetence of inspection staff at the airport.
Another woman reported that she was coming back from Taipei with a bottle of water that she purchased at the airport. She passed through one inspection roadblock, but when she reached another she was told that she could not bring it on - even though it was sealed.
She had to return to the store to get a special bag that indicated she had purchased it in the airport. When she returned to the store, they were out of bags. She went to another to obtain the bag but they said they could not help her because she didn't purchase it at their place of business.
In frustration, she took the bottle back to the store and placed it back on the shelf. She didn't want to add to the gigantic pile of plastic bottles that were creating a mound in plastic bags next to the inspection station. Having heard that there is a pool of plastic in the Pacific Ocean larger than the state of Texas, she is trying to limit her use of plastic bags and bottles.
Another person told about watching a two-year old boy walking through the X-ray machine crying and terrified because his mother was not permitted to walk through with him.
One woman spoke of the time she got to the airport and the baggage check was closed, but she was told she could carry her suitcase unto the plane. The officials took many of her toiletries, setting her back over $100. These products included sunscreen, bug repellant, and lotions for pain, shampoo, conditioner, and mouthwash. The biggest insult, however, was when they took her grandmother's homemade jelly away and through it in the garbage.
When I watch this circus, I just marvel how such craziness is allowed to continue. The workers are often times talking inappropriately among themselves about personal matters. They don't make eye contact with travelers and are not allowed to use their critical thinking skills. Their training in customer service is ineffective; unreasonable demands are made of people as young as a few months and as old as 90.
Most people I talk to don't feel reassured by this very expensive system. They feel humiliated after walking around barefoot, holding their pants up. It is particularly difficult for the elderly or disabled.
What is the purpose of this process again? Who makes money off of this? It seems like a huge show of force and a reminder to us all that we are just one of the sheep. We are put in a powerless position, unable to question what they are doing or ask for some respect. We are trained to be more compliant. Future generations may once again march in lockstep.
I feel fortunate that I am in good shape for this ordeal at the airport.