Friendly skies, mean TSAWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the terrorists used hijacked airplanes to strike their targets Sept. 11, 2001, I lived just a few miles from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. My apartment was in an oceanfront building, and it was my habit to come home from work and waste as little time as possible between walking in the door in work clothes and walking back out the door ready to swim in the warm and usually gentle Atlantic. It used to entertain me for hours, watching the scores of women on the beach and the scores of planes flying in and out of the airport. The miracles and mechanics of both the female body and jetliners are equally mysterious and awe-inspiring, and, coincidentally, both are routinely for sale in South Florida.
On the first few days following the Sept. 11 attacks, I would drift along the coast and stare into the blue skies for hours at a time, fascinated by the lack of airplanes overhead. The emotions and impressions of that horrific week are preserved in increasingly clinical passages of my memory, but those hours spent looking at an empty sky remain as clear and bright to me as anything that is happening right now.
On the second day after the attacks, as I floated in the surf and watched the silent skies, three military jets cracked through the clouds and flew toward Miami, gone as fast as I could register what they were. Then, silence and empty sky. I remember wishing I had a talent for poetry, so I could encapsulate the fear, grief and unease that surrounded that September week, all manifested in the empty skies and undisturbed clouds.
During that era, Shannon, my wife-to-be, lived in Ann Arbor. One of us would fly to see the other just about every month. Single-seat flying in coach was not too expensive, and it was sadly romantic to walk each other through the terminal, to the gate, and wave goodbye as the loved one walked with the line of people to board the plane.
We did not know it in those mid-September days, but the sons of bitches who hijacked four airplanes and destroyed millions of dollars in property and thousands of priceless lives forever changed everything we knew about flying.
Shannon was supposed to fly to Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 12, 2001, but it was more than a month before we could re-arrange the visit. When I arrived to pick her up, I was stunned and saddened by what I saw. Military vehicles lined the entrance to the airport. Broward County police joined state troopers, their cars barricading the arrival and departure lanes. Inside the airport, National Guardsmen with automatic rifles lined the walkways to the gate, a gate that was closed. Never again would parting travelers walk with their loved ones to the gate and watch them walk to the plane.
And the lines! Lines at curbside, lines at check-in, lines to present boarding passes, lines for the metal detectors and scanners. What was once a fairly simple routine was now a gantlet of fear and suspicion.
At the time, I, like most people, accepted the changes as a necessary but temporary evil. Who knew what nefarious follow-up plans were already set in motion, and since it would undoubtedly take our military a month or so to track down and capture Osama bin Laden and his gang of bastards, it was better to be safe than to be incinerated when one’s plane was flown into the side of a steel building.
If anyone had told me then that nearly 10 years later, not only would bin Laden still be free, but that airport security would be 100 times more imposing and extreme, I might have shredded my frequent-flyer cards.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin
Yeah, well, jolly old Ben never had to navigate Fort Lauderdale International Airport with two toddlers.
Every Thanksgiving, my wife, two little boys and I fly back to South Florida to see my brother and celebrate an early Christmas. Flying with two big suitcases, two carry-ons, two car seats, a double stroller and the odds and ends that collect around a 2-and 4-year-old is close to reality show survival conditions. Only so much liquid can be packed, all electronics must be scanned, everyone’s shoes must come off — thanks to failed “shoe bomber” and successful a-hole Richard Reid — and the stroller has to be disassembled to its wheels.
At what point does liberty removed compensate for safety gained? The current focus on the Transportation and Safety Administration’s (TSA) latest efforts to keep us safe is apparently the breaking point. Here are your choices: Submit to full-body scanners that allow TSA workers to see your naked body, a manual hands-on search married men do not experience from strange hands, a possible $11,000 fine and arrest for refusal or … start walking.
Things are so bad and tense, a man warning a TSA worker, “Don’t touch my junk” has become as Internet famous as the “Hide yo kids hide yo wife hide yo husband cuz they be rapin’ everybody” guy.
On Thanksgiving morning, my family will board a plane and head to South Florida. I feel bad for the TSA crew that has to see my naked image just hours before their turkey dinners, but we all have to sacrifice for security, right?
What I am not happy about is thinking of my wife and toddlers being subjected to any kind of manhandling or invasion of privates.
By the time you read this, we will be in South Florida enjoying the holiday, the first half of our TSA hurdle behind us. And I really, really hope that when we return, the TSA will not have given me anything to write about.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Call him at (419) 241-1700 EXT. 223 or e-mail him at email@example.com.