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Security checks at airports no honeymoon

June 27, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

Well, the honeymoon's over. No really, it is - we got back this week after a 24-hour, four-city airport tour that included Paris, Amsterdam, Detroit and Baltimore.

So I think that I can speak with some authority that if you are a terrorist, you have nothing to worry about. But heaven help you if you are carrying an apple.

I'd prepared myself for the rude Frenchman paradigm, but after a couple of weeks on the French and Italian rivieras, I can honestly report that a full 70 percent of the people we ran into were decidedly nonrude and a surprising number even bordered on friendly.

This was a keen disappointment, as I had been honing my France/World Cup jokes for all the anticipated confrontations that never arose. Even after we had fleeced the casino at Monte Carlo for a cool $20 (high-rollers, we) the folks in that neck of the woods were pleasant and highly relaxed.

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It seems to me, if you want the freedom to own a gun, live in America. If you want the freedom to do anything else, live in Europe, where you can take your dog on the train, smoke in the restaurant, park on the sidewalk, wear as little as you want on the beach and you almost never, ever, see one of those red circle-with-a-line-through-it signs telling you not to do something.

There are no government signs or government officials on every street corner telling you not to stand there, not to swim there, not to eat there, not to drink there, not to go there, not to look there or not to put your stuff there.

And the European airports are safe without all this zany overkill you see in American airports. Here, we both had to take off our shoes (that's right, we got Snooked) and in Detroit they took Andrea's shoes, put them in a box and took them off someplace and didn't return with them for 10 minutes.

The problem, I believe, is that these were sandals and sandals, as any good security officer knows, are only a heartbeat away from turbans. While she was sitting there - and I am dead serious about this - another sandal-wearing young lady came through and they nabbed her, too.

This posed a logistical crisis for security, since they had only two stools for shoeless detainees and these were occupied. So the woman takes the girl away, but not before the officer pointed a crooked finger at Andrea and shouted "WATCH HER!"

Knowing Andrea as I do, I couldn't consider this bad advice. "Yes," I added. "Stop her before she shops again."

Meanwhile, while these agents were absorbed in their miscellaneous foot fetishes, 20 desperadoes with bandoliers and wheelbarrow loads of cocaine could have walked right through absolutely unnoticed.

We eventually passed the foot test, but were not so fortunate at customs. Let me preface what happened by explaining that this was the first time I had ever traveled overseas with anybody honest. I always packed the Cuban cigars in with the dirty laundry and valued the $2,000 painting at $399.50 on the declaration card and stuff.

But no, Andrea had to "declare" the tulip bulbs we got in Holland (which were clearly certified for importation into the U.S.) under the agricultural entry. Well, if Osama himself had been behind us in line he would have had clear sailing, because they were so worried over these tulips that they whisked us off to a special room, confiscated the bulbs and searched and X-rayed all of our luggage.

And they were clearly glad they did, because their diligent inspection turned up - AN APPLE!

I only wish I were inventing this story. You would have thought al-Qaeda had walked up to the Twin Towers and lobbed fruit. The customs man looked me levelly in the eye and said, "Did you report this apple?"

I said "No. Why, did it falsify its income?"

Memo to self: Humor is not appreciated in the U.S. Customs and Immigration line. He confiscated the apple and told me he could have fined me $200 for the apple alone, but he wouldn't because we were honest in reporting the tulips.

I thought, "Yeah, and if I'd been dishonest none of this would have happened in the first place." But by that time, I had learned to keep my mouth shut.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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