|Gee, I don’t know…do you think it’s invasive? (and are those her shin bones that I see???!)|
Erik and I fly very rarely, preferring Amtrak to the Theater of the Absurd otherwise known as TSA security. This week, though, I had to fly, and for the first time I couldn’t opt for the metal detector, so I requested the grope both on the way out and on the way home. I am here to say it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I kind of liked it, and I’m opting for the grope from here on out.
Why do I object to the scanners? It’s just wrong. The whole thing. For so many reasons. I figure you’ve got your opinion on them already, so I’m not going to belabor my reasons. I’m not here to change your mind, just to offer an alternative.
Why do I like the grope? Ah. Now that’s more interesting. I’ve been thinking about my groping a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it was perfectly logical for me to opt for the groping, considering my other lifestyle choices. It’s organic, if you will. Sustainable and locally sourced security! But seriously, when you choose to lead a more considered life, one closer to the ground, you often trade speed and convenience for what I can only call authenticity of experience. Sometimes that authenticity is messy or frustrating or slow, but it’s solid and tactile and often unforgettable. When you’re in it, you know you’re alive. It’s the difference between struggling to light a fire in the wind and watching one of those survivor shows. It’s the difference from picking up take-out chicken for dinner and holding a hen in your arms as she dies.
Human touch is always charged. Always important. During my first pat down, I stood there, arms outstretched, thinking about how the TSA officer’s energy and mine were combined at that moment. I wondered what secret communications were passing between our bodies–communications which would never rise to the level of the conscious. TSA Lady and I were in relationship. Human to human. And it’s hard to articulate this, but that seemed important. It brought meaning my day, meaning and interest which I’d not have experienced otherwise.
I walked away from the grope smiling, skin still tingling a little from contact. I’d escaped the dehumanizing scanner technology and found a more meaningful, low-tech way to pass through airport security and I’d had an experience I could chew on for a while. I was satisfied. In the halls of Security Theater, you take what you can get.
The second search on the way home was almost identical to the first, equally positive. An odd moment of interest or intensity in an otherwise routine airport experience.
Though more than a week has passed since my last trip through security, I still remember both of the TSA officers who conducted my pat downs: their faces, their bored but professional voices and the gentle touch of their blue-gloved hands.
Of course, if the body search is done against your will or disrespectfully, it’s going to be a really bad experience. And there’s no denying that people have had plenty of bad experiences with the TSA since the Theater came to town. Perhaps next time I fly, I’ll draw a mean spirited TSA officer and change my tune. But until then, I’m going to go to the airport a half hour earlier than I would otherwise, with my heart full of serenity, and I’m going to say, all bright and cheerful, “I’d like to opt for alternate screening, please.”
After the break, a description of the pat-down, for those of you who might want to give it a try:
I think it benefits the TSA when we are terrified of the pat down. “Alternate Screenings” take time and personnel. They want you to just give up and walk through the scanner. Media reports help them by sensationalizing bad security encounters. Don’t let any of that put you off. If you’re cooperative and they’re following their own guidelines, it’s going to go smooth.
In terms of procedure, this is how you get yourself groped:
You take off your belt and shoes and coat send all your stuff through the x-ray as usual, but at the point you stop and say to whichever officer is closest that you’d prefer “alternate screening.”
At this point they’ll call for an “assist” from an employee who matches your gender. You stand to the side until this person can be produced. Both times I waited only a minute.
The screener arrives and asks you to point out your belongings on the conveyer belt, and they pick them up. You don’t handle any of your stuff until the screening is over–they’re touchy about this–but they take it to the screening area with you so you can keep an eye on it while you’re being patted down.
So you pad over to the side of the screening area in your stocking feet, following the agent who has all your precious goods. I believe you can opt for a private room if you like–I was offered that option the second time–but there’s no way I’d ever opt for that. Transparency is a good thing.
Next there’s some highly-scripted patter at that point in which they ask if you have any painful areas or medical devices, and tell you how and where they’re going to touch your “sensitive areas.” Being a perpetual adolescent, terminology like “sensitive areas” makes me snigger, and I had to bite my cheek in order to remain suitably sober and cooperative looking.
The search itself is far from a “drop ’em and spread ’em” kind of experience. I’ve been more aggressively searched on my way into concerts.
The screeners ran their hands up and down my legs and torso and made elegant sweeping gestures around my breasts, knuckles down–I guess to ascertain that I didn’t have a Glock tucked in my bra. They certainly wouldn’t have found anything smaller than a Glock. My “sensitive areas” were not unduly handled. They did run a finger around my waist band, but there was no exploration of my crotch. I’m not sure if gentlemen get more of a crotch grope or not.
After the search, they scan their gloves for traces of explosive dust or PCP or Leprechaun blood or whatever, then you’re free to go.
The whole search takes about five minutes. You do have to allow time to get a screener assigned to you at the start. As I said, that only took a minute for me, but during holidays you’d want to count on more of a wait.
Both times I was searched, only one other person was also opting for the grope. (Commrades!) It’s not a popular decision, to say the least. But I think it’s a good one.
ETA: It’s occurred to me to mention dress. You can choose your wardrobe to make this go more smoothly. Ladies–if you have a choice, I wouldn’t opt for a skirt. Or as one of the commenters said, her overall-clad boyfriend got a serious crotch grab. Baggy is suspicious to them. Form fitting clothes are best. I wore narrow jeans and a tank top, figuring the less excuse they had to go delving, the better.