September 23, 2007

No Snow Globes, Ever!


My friend Derek was preparing for a trip when one of his daughters sent him a list of the things he was no longer allowed to carry on a plane. Derek was both amazed and pissed—not just at the annoyance and inconvenience of it all, but at the sheer dull-headedness of whoever put the list of “potential threats” together.

      “Not only are they operating with no scientific knowledge,” he wrote, “they have no understanding of human nature.”

      Personally I’ve always found those lists funny for just those reasons—sort of the way I always look forward to that “Most Dangerous Toys” list that comes out every November.

      A couple of weeks back, Morgan told me that tourists returning from Lourdes were forced, poor fuckers, to pour out their Jesus Water if they were carrying more than three ounces. That gave me a chuckle. Still, I think my favorite airport paranoia story popped up a few years ago, when some intelligence agency or another announced that the terrorists, see, were going to start using these “pen guns” to hijack planes. They looked just like regular old ball point pens, but could fire bullets. As a result, they started banning writing instruments on planes (with the possible exception of crayons—and then only certain earth tones would be allowed). It didn’t much matter that there was no, you know, evidence that pen guns actually existed. James Bond used them, and that was evidence enough.

      Yes, well, I once wrote a novel about a man who took the movies too seriously. He might’ve been an annoyance to those around him, but he never tried to force everybody in the country take the movies at face value, too.

      But that was just par for the course—the kind of insane paranoid thinking that forces everyone to play a game of Twister before boarding a plane.

      Maybe I find it all funny because I don’t travel very much. (As little as possible, actually.) I haven’t been on a plane in a couple of years, so just out of curiosity, I tracked down the Transportation Safety Administration’s list of things you can and can’t bring on a plane. The full list is about ten pages long, and even when compared with other government publications, it’s pretty gosh-darned hilarious.

      Now, those of you who do travel regularly know all about these things, but let’s just consider some of them.

      Because of that would be “shoe bomber,” of course we now all need to take our shoes off while going through security. So what exactly are they looking for? Comfy shoes, apparently. Not only are those new-fangled gel-filled insoles no longer allowed; they’ll very likely lead to an airport shut down and a friendly, eight-hour chat with several FBI agents.

      (Yet for some reason “gel heels,” whatever those might be, are allowed. I guess they haven’t run into any “heel bombers” yet.)

      Removing your shoes for inspection is taken for granted now, even though nobody ever brings up the fact that the original shoe bomb didn’t work.

      You obviously aren’t allowed to bring knives on a plane. No swords, sabres, bayonets, straight razors or machetes either. The list goes on and on. But you can carry knitting needles, scissors and screwdrivers (up to seven inches long) with no trouble at all.

      I’m sorry, but if a couple of supposed “terrorists” used plastic box cutters to hijack four planes, can you imagine what sort of damage an old lady with a couple of knitting needles could do? You ever get poked with a knitting needle? Those things really smart!

      You can carry four books of matches with you on a plane (so long as they aren’t of the “strike anywhere” variety), but you cannot put any books of matches in your checked luggage. Why this is was never fully explained.

      Over half the list is devoted to various types of liquid, from baby formula and make-up to medicine, contact lens solution and soda (though there’s no mention of holy water). The TSA is absolutely nutty about classifying their liquids. Yet despite all the categories, they all pretty much boil down to the same thing: you can carry damn near anything short of gelignite, but no more than three ounces of it (and half-empty bottles and rolled up toothpaste tubes don’t count). And all those containers must be separated from the rest of your luggage and placed—I love this—in a quart-sized clear plastic bag with a zipper top. No gallon-sized bags, no sandwich bags with fold-over tops. Nope. Quart sized, zipper topped, clear plastic bags, or you’re in big trouble, buddy.

      Some things are obvious—you can’t carry guns, nunchuks, or throwing stars. You can, however, carry “non-realistic toy weapons,” a provision which should give some creative weapons designers pause. And for some reason, a special provision has been made for Transformers toys. They mention no other toys by name anywhere on the list, but those Transformers are A-OK with them. (I’m guessing it’s some cross-promotional thing to tie-in with the movie.)

      Meanwhile canes—support canes and the kind I use—will only be allowed on the plane after being carefully inspected to make sure they aren’t carrying any concealed weapons.

      Oh—and most important of all—no sno globes of any kind are allowed on any US flight. No ifs, ands or buts—sno globes are apparently one of the biggest threats facing America nowadays, so lord help anyone who tries to sneak one on a plane.

      I say thank god for that—not as a safety measure so much, but just as a measure of good taste.

      “The goal seems to be making air travel absolutely impossible,” Derek said.

      Who knows? He might be right. I mean, think about it. If regular people—people like you and me—finally decide that air travel is simply too big a pain in the ass to deal with and begin opting for buses, trains and boats again, then the only people taking planes anymore would be the terrorists, thus making them much easier to pick out of the crowd!

      My gut feeling, though, is that the idea is much less subtle. By not allowing people to carry anything with them onto airplanes—or only very small amounts of things—the passengers are now being forced to replace all those things after they land. They’ll need to buy new shampoo, deodorant, sno globes, machetes and shaving cream, and they’ll need to buy them in whatever town they’re visiting, thus boosting the local economy!

      Yes, well, it’s an idea.

      Thing is, there was a time before 2001 when, whenever there was a bomb threat or an attempted hijacking, a batch of new security rules would be instituted. But if you paid attention, those rules would only stick around for a couple weeks. Then everyone would forget about them, and things would get back to normal again.

      Somehow I don’t see that happening here again for a very, very long time. Hell, every time it seems people are ready to forget about these ridiculous rules, some pesky local news undercover team sets out to prove how vulnerable we all are, forcing another security crackdown to save face.

      And you know, not a lick of any of this is gonna stop any damn “terrorist.” Unless, of course, they decide to use a nose bomb or an umbrella loaded with knock-out gas.


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