Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Letter to That Sucky TSA Lady at the JFK Airport

Dear Sucky TSA Lady at the JFK Airport,

Yesterday morning I woke up at 4:15 AM. I showered, dressed, zipped up my luggage and then, with the Boy From Work, had one last early-morning dance out on our ocean-facing balcony. I was leaving Mexico. I was leaving heaven, and I was sad about it. I might've cried a little bit. And then I got in a taxi and went to the Puerto Vallarta International Airport, where I was hustled through security checkpoints and onto a plane that would take me to Mexico City, then New York, then home. Over the course of the day, I would pass through multiple checkpoints, have my carry-on rifled through by all sorts of grim-faced people, and pass my bag through many X-ray machines.

And then I came to you. I'd made it through customs, successfully claiming my one substantial purchase: a small and glittery snow globe for Diana, who has a collection of snow globes. When I booked my trip to Mexico, she had only one request: I was to bring her back a snow globe. And I did. I sifted through the horrendously ugly (think: dolphins that looked suspiciously like they were humping as they were suspended there in the soupy, glittery liquid) and I sifted through the so-so (boring sombrero-ed figures having a siesta under slow-falling snow chunks) until I found a seashell-bedecked globe that was the right mix of cute and gaudy--just what a snow globe should be.

I purchased that snow globe and didn't think about it again until I was in line for security at JFK. Unbeknownst to me, I'd accidentally packed it in my carry-on because it was in the same bag as snacks I'd purchased for the trip home (M&Ms, Snickers, and other chocolate-y delights). I'd just thrown it in my carry-on so that the BFW and I would have something to eat on our five hour flight to our layover at JFK. We weren't sure if we were going to get food from Air Mexico because we hadn't gotten anything except a lousy glass of pop from our American Airlines flight on the way down to Mexico. Turns out Air Mexico rocks. They fed us a full lunch (with a cupcake for dessert!) and snacks a few hours later. Also, in the middle of the flight, the smartly-dressed stewardesses wheeled around a cart filled with free booze. And they gave us a movie to watch! It was an experience, let me just tell you. It was like flying Jet Blue, but even a little better. And now it seems so silly that I feared hunger. And it makes me all the more angry about what happened. If I hadn't anticipated pangs of hunger, I wouldn't have raided the gift store before I left the hotel. If I hadn't purchased all that chocolate, I wouldn't have thrown that gift shop bag into my carry-on. And, and, and, you and I would've never met.

After we arrived at JFK, we had to dance between terminals until we found where we needed to re-check our bags and go through our umpteenth security checkpoint of the day. And then, as I was scuffling through the metal detector, I saw my bag being tugged off the line. A lady--not you, not yet--told me I needed to follow her to the dreaded Rifle Through Your Things Corner. I went, and I watched as she pawed through my things. "Where is it? Where is it? Where is it?" she muttered to herself. She examined every inch of the bag before shrugging and sighing. "I need to run this again," she said. "I need to find it."

I wasn't sure what it was, but I didn't want to ask. I figured it might seem pushy or snarky or mouthy if I said something like, "If you tell me what you think you see, I'll tell you where it is."

The lady came back and went through the bag again. She went through every pocket and every bag and fingered my gift shop bag--stuffed with chocolate--one more time. It was then that I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. The snow globe. The SNOW GLOBE.

She found it, unwrapped it. "Nope," she said.

I wanted to vomit.

"What's wrong with the snow globe?" I asked. It was small and certainly under three ounces. I felt confident even though I had forgotten about it and neglected to put it in my quart-sized bag, I would still be okay because it met the carry-on requirements.

"Can't take it," she said.

"Why not?" I said.

"Just can't," she said. "No snow globes."

Now, listen. I've read the rules. I've made myself familiar with the picky TSA stuff you need to know before you travel. I know what I can take and what I can't. I know how to take it. Nothing I've ever seen posted has ever, ever, ever said anything about snow globes. Nowhere in the TSA rules does it say NO SNOW GLOBES.

I mentioned this to the lady. I said, "It doesn't say you can't take snow globes."

She shrugged, and that's when she motioned behind her to you. You were wearing a boxy, ill-fitting suit, and you looked angry. You had a walkie-talkie in your hand. You were glaring at me. "SARAH," you said to the first lady. "NO SNOW GLOBES, OKAY? NONE."

The first lady nodded. "I know," she said. She turned back to me. "You can try to maybe go back to the desk and check this in your luggage, or you can throw this out right here." And then she motioned to a box of abandoned items.

I wanted to cry. My luggage was so long-gone it wasn't even funny. It changed hands earlier, way back in our international wing. It wasn't even in this terminal. I knew there was no way a Delta employee was going to try to track down my luggage and pack a seashell snow globe away for me.

I tried to explain this to the woman holding my snow globe--the snow globe that was so close to becoming Diana's snow globe--but she had no sympathy. "Sorry," she said, but it was clear she wasn't. It had probably been a slow day. She probably hadn't had anyone violating the rules all day, and you could tell she felt a certain thrill at finally having the opportunity to tell someone NO.

By this time, the Boy From Work had sailed through the checkpoint and was standing past the barrier. He had the saddest look on his face. I knew he knew what was going on, and seeing him look so regretful made the tears that I was desperately blinking back double in quantity.

"Fine," I said angrily. "Just throw it out."

And with that, the lady tossed the snow globe into a shallow bin of other items that had to be left behind. It landed with a thunk, and I glared and brushed past her. You watched me go. You shifted from one foot to the next. Your ill-fitting pantsuit looked even more ill-fitting than I had originally thought. You were a mean, wicked woman.

Once I was outside the checkpoint, the Boy From Work put his arm around me. "I'm so sorry," he said, and that's when I lost it. I started crying for real. "Come on," he said. "Let's go talk to them."

But I saw you were watching me. I didn't want to give you the satisfaction of having made me cry. The whole thing was so ridiculous. I'd gotten three hours of sleep. I'd been on umpteen planes and moving walkways and escalators. I'd been patted down and X-rayed and questioned. And now--just when I was in the home stretch, with one more flight to go until I was back to Buffalo--you were going to make my day extra hellacious.

"Let's just go," I said to the BFW. "I don't want them to see me cry."

And so we walked away from you. But fifteen steps into our walk toward our gate, my sadness flipped into something else. It flipped into exquisite and irrational anger. I was pissed. I was consumed with rage. I turned on my heel and hustled back to the checkpoint, where I leaned over the barrier and tried to get your attention. "Excuse me, Ma'am?" I said, loud enough for you to hear me. You ignored me. I raised my voice. "MA'AM!" I said. "EXCUSE ME! MA'AM? MA'AM?"

Finally, you turned. You looked bored. You looked constipated. You looked like maybe your panties--no doubt some cotton affair that crawled halfway up your back until it ended in some bunched elastic--had ridden up into places that had never seen the light of day. It was clear you were not pleased about being flagged down, confronted.

"What?" you said.

"I was the girl just a second ago with the snow globe," I said. "I am a little confused. I've read the rules several times, and I know there is nothing in there that says anything about snow globes being a prohibited item."

You stared at me.

"It was clearly under three ounces," I offered. "I don't understand why it was taken away from me."

You sighed. "I have no way of knowing that was under three ounces," you said.

I blinked. Just by looking at it, the grossest, stupidest, most drool-y idiot in the world would've been able to see that it was under three ounces. Bottles in my zip-top bag contained more liquid than that sweet little seashelled snow globe.

"It's under three ounces," I said.

"No way of knowing that," you insisted. "If the manufacturer doesn't label the items with the liquid measurement, we have no way of knowing for sure, and we can't let them through."

I thought immediately of my cheap travel-size lip gloss and how it had absolutely no label or measurements on it, and how it had just passed through the scan without raising any eyebrows. I wanted to tell you about that, but then I figured you'd take away my lip gloss, too, and I wasn't about to lose two things to your gaping box of "prohibited" items.

"How can you not have a way to measure liquids?" the Boy From Work asked. He was standing behind me, rubbing my back.

You looked at him like you wanted to kill him. "Because I don't," she said.

"It's a simple thing to figure out," the BFW said. "You should have something to calculate it for you."

And then things started getting ugly. The two of you started tossing a few harsh snips back and forth, and I knew this was getting us nowhere. You wouldn't budge. You wouldn't. You didn't care how red my eyes were or how many tears were simmering behind my lids. You didn't care how evident it was that the snow globe met regulations. You didn't even care when I told you about all the other security checkpoints I went through that did not have a problem with the globe. You just told me my snow globe was staying put.

I cannot begin to explain how much I loathed you at that moment. And you know what? I came home yesterday and read the official regulations on the TSA website, and none of what you told me was listed there, so there would've been no way for me to know that I was not supposed to bring a snow globe whose liquid content had not been properly branded onto the underside of its base.

It must have been clear that the snow globe was a big deal. Important. But none of that mattered to you. You just rolled your eyes and spit nasty things at me in your Brooklyn accent and sent me on my way. And I bet--oh, I just bet--that later that night when you went home and walked into your tiny, dingy apartment you poured yourself a glass of cheap wine and listened to your messages--did anyone call? Who would call you?--before you walked over to your table and unwrapped a tiny globe from its packaging, gave it a mighty shake, and settled in to watch its glitter rain down on tiny shells from Puerto Vallarta.





Jason said...

I like that you used the phrase "gaping box," because I think it's a euphemism. No, not for her genitalia. For her.

She's a gaping box.

People suck.

Diana said...

Jessica Elisabeth, I already adored you but now, the impossible has happen: I adore you even more. Thanks for fighting the good fight, Cookie! That means even more than the snow globe, which by the way I know was FANTASTIC!


Jess said...

Oh just wait, D. You got a replacement. And that, too, is quite the story.

Kristin said...

What a fucking whore. Those people have nothing better to do. I used to have run ins with them all the time flying from Austin home to Minnesota.

Once, one crotchety bitch made me go back through security and take off my boots EVEN THOUGH THEY DIDN'T SET OFF THE ALARM. Yup I passed through the metal detector, was grabbing my stuff, and then this piece of trash made me go back. I cursed her out for a good 5 minutes until an airport policeman came over and politely threatened to detain me. I shut my mouth for a good 6 seconds, got out of there, and continued cursing.

Those people fucking suck.

Anskov said...

Reading your blog made my blood boil. I hate that. I think it's tantamount to stealing. I serious believe you should write TWA and demand that they ship the globe to you or have a lawyer write a letter to the same effect, hinting that you will press charges. SERIOUSLY. That would get a response I'm sure.