There I was waiting to board a plane for the first of a multi-legged flight from Chicago to Chile, Easter Island, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, then retracing the flights back to the States. Patiently, I cooled my heels and attempted to get into my travel zone. I had steeled myself for traveling in the wake of 9/11 and the resultant lines, delays, and security checks. Little did I think that I would set off the racial profiling alarm at my very first check-point. While winding our way through the waiting line like a giant dragon in a Chinese New Year's celebration, I carefully listened to instructions to make the security check go smoothly. As a dutiful firstborn, I followed the instructions to the letter and did what I was told. Suddenly, with alarms going off, I was shuttled to a private line for further security check by the newly organized TSA screeners who had gone through some forty-hours of special training to pick out the usual suspects-like me.
My wife whizzed through security without any problem-but not me. I was detained. First, I was asked to take a seat in a fiberglass chair in the middle of the terminal with at least two thousand onlookers watching the new security personnel do their thing. The young security person ordered me to take off my shoes. What? I have seen pictures of Richard Reid a.k.a. Tariq Rajah, the stupid shoe-bomber. I don't look at all like him, and besides, didn't I look a little brighter than that dolt? Then he examined my feet. Fortunately, I was wearing clean socks. My mother always told me to wear clean underwear and socks when traveling. Finally, after a half century, her repeated warnings paid off.
Next, I was told to stand up and put my feet on a pad that looked like a doormat with two footprints painted on it. All that I needed was the side of a car upon which to lean to make the scene complete. Instead of frisking me like some common criminal, the security personnel started to move a wand over my body. After a quick circuit of my physical frame, he really got excited. The light and beeper went off at least a half-dozen times. He probably thought that he had caught his first terrorist on the way to some horrific mission.
First, he had me empty my pockets of keys and money. Then the wand journeyed over my spread-eagle poised body. The lights and beeper still sounded its clarion alarm. By this time, all eyes were on me-security personnel and all the other travelers within sound of the alarm. Not only were the security people reaching for their weapons, but the other passengers on dozens of other flights were keenly aware that a possible terrorist was in their very midst. I imagined what those onlookers must have been thinking: "Boy, I hope that that old guy isn't on my flight."
Then the new federally trained security guy thought that he had discovered what was causing the red alert. He said, politely, but with a sense of satisfaction that he finally found the cause of the suspicious alarm. "Empty your shirt pocket." My pocket contained two felt-tipped pens and a pack of Spearmint gum. Obviously, it was a false alarm unless I was going to be the first felt tip pen or gum bomber.
Then the wand started levitating over my body again. Still it angrily announced that I was hiding something. The sounds got louder as it passed over my bellybutton and lower groin. Finally, he told me to undo my belt buckle. I complied but started to get concerned about a strip-search in front of the growing number of onlookers. I heard a couple of women in their early seventies cheering on the security personnel, which made matters worse. I was mortified.
However, it got even worse. He said something, which I thought was a command to undo my slacks. However, he merely wanted me to turn down the front of my waistband. Then out came the wand again. The alarm seemed to be activated when he passed it over my crotch. I was worried about what he and the rest of the audience must have thought what I had hidden in my slacks. By this time, I was just doing what I was told to do without even thinking. I was the center of attention and knew that I had to comply with his requests as soon as possible lest I would draw more observers to my plight.
I don't recall how or why the security guy let me pass with an alarm triggered by my pants, but he fortunately did. I feared that he would inquire whether I used Viagra or not, although those fears were foundless. Soon, I was passing through Gate K-4 on what was soon to be the first of many security checks-but none like this one. Sheepishly, I boarded my plane with everyone onboard wondering what was in my pants and I relieved that racial-profiling didn't exist on that day at O'Hare.