Friday, June 18, 2010

Looking through and seeing it all...

For most people, going through airport security can be downright unnerving. I wonder why this is true when 99.999 percent of us should have nothing to fear.

The way I see it, I am an honest person, earning an honest living, going on an honest to goodness vacation. At the security check, I dutifully take off my shoes, remove my belt, empty my wallet and displace my computer from its case.

And then I hear the security officer say, O.K., Miss, please step over here while we check your bags, and I realize she is talking to me. The reality suddenly sets in that airport security is not only going to go through my carry-on bags, they are going to check my body.

After the whole body imaging technology took an X-Ray right through my clothing, the female security officer asks me to lift my arms and stand with my legs apart as she proceeds to pat me down. She actually touches me! Holding my breath, I feel like a criminal in an everyday lineup.

Staying calm and employing a healthy dose of self-talk, I remind myself that I must have been the umpteenth traveler to meet her hourly quota. She must be using me as an example to prove to other travelers that she really means business. When packing, I followed all the rules on the TSA and airline websites. I squeezed all of my liquid containers into one tiny quart-sized bag. I didn't pack nail clippers or anything sharp.

I begin to worry about being wrongly accused and fear being left behind all because of some error I may have made in reading the fine print on a gazillion Do's and Don'ts for international travel. No water bottles, no fresh fruit, no liquids in containers larger than three ounces, must have all prescriptions with pharmacy receipts, pack everything in see-through zip-lock baggies. Funny thing is I haven't left Chicago yet.

Next, I have to answer to the Customs agent upon arrival in Dublin. After Chicago, what would in the world are they going to do to me there?

Why do you want to come to Ireland? the agent asks with an Irish brogue, barely looking up.

I want to tell him the real reasons: You see, Officer, this is a dream come true. My whole life I have wanted to visit Ireland. Now, I am here. My feet are firmly planted on Irish soil. I am ready to kiss the blarney stone. I am living my dream!

I decide not to go there. Containing my exuberance, I plainly explain, I am on a study tour with the university where I am employed.

Welcome to Ireland. Have a good time, was his response. That's it? Is that all there is? One question and I'm through to ancient castles, storied villages and historical lands?

Even though I was relieved, I had spent so much time worrying about going through Customs, I felt let down and wished it had been a little harder to make all my fussing worthwhile.

I had heard that Customs would be really, really bad when returning to the U.S., so I braced myself for the worst. Carrying images of Night Line and 20-20 horror stories of innocent travelers, I imagined a 3-D body scan, strip search, three-hour interrogation and detainment, never to see my home and family again.

Instead, the U.S. customs agent, who told me his job would be a lot easier if he only could spell, asked...what reasons did you travel to the U.K., what do you do for a living, what does your job entail?

"That must be a very hard job," he stated. "Welcome home."

Jiminee! It was that easy...

2010 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national and state award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 and 2010 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took first-place statewide. To contact Paula, email, follow her blog at and find her on Facebook.

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