Pocketknife was sharper than cell phone addicts

May 15, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Ever notice how people who are in between cell phone calls at the airport will just cradle the phone in their laps and stare at it for the longest time, racking their tiny little brains to think of someone to call?

I don't mind cell phones anymore, basically because I'm going to write a book about all the conversations I've overheard:

"Yeah, hi, it's me. I'm in the airport, just getting on the plane now. Um. What are you doing? Really? That's good. I'm just trying to find a seat now. I think all the windows are taken. I can get an aisle seat, but I really like window seats. I like to look out the window. You know? Oh, you too? Huh. Interesting..."

This old buzzard was behind me, informing the person on the other end of the line that "He was going to meet me when the flight got there, but the flight's delayed a half-hour, so when it gets there is not going to be when it was going to get there. Does he have a cell? He can call my cell, the number is..."


Normally at this point I'd be whipping out a pen to jot down the number for future use ("Good afternoon madam, this is Rutter D. Icer from the Southwest Airlines promotions department, and to thank you for your recent flight, if you can sing me the Southwest jingle you'll win free tickets to anywhere in the continental United States...")

But I just wasn't feeling up to it on this particular day.

Perhaps you remember that three years ago I was shaken down by the toughs of Scotland Yard at Heathrow Airport in London and stripped of my pocketknife, which later was returned to me (long story) two weeks later by a happy girl in Athens, Greece.

Because I can't seem to learn a simple lesson, that same pocketknife was once again the center of controversy at another airport this weekend, but this time there was no happy ending.

In order not to have to check any luggage ever, I have learned to pack the entire contents of the MCI Center into one, carry-on-sized backpack. And because any place I go usually involves climbing, I always pack a survival kit which includes the aforementioned pocketknife.

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the woman at the other end of the X-ray conveyor belt sternly drumming her fingers on my backpack.

She starts pulling stuff out - compass, rope, energy bars, waterproof matches, headlamp, wool socks, carabiners - and looks up and says "Are you a hiker?" I started to say "No, I'm Jennifer Lopez's hairdresser," but I opted out when I saw she was fingering the blade.

"This is prohibited," she said, before turning to a guy about the size of a Canadian province (not the Maritimes, but one of the big ones) and adding "Ike, do you want to explain to him his options?"

Turns out I could FedEx the knife to an address of my choosing, which would have cost more than the knife. I could go back to the ticket counter and check the knife, which would defeat my whole purpose and would no-doubt result in the knife being lost by the baggage crew anyway. Or I could "forfeit" the knife.

I gave some grave thought to my choices, as I absent-mindedly watched the line behind me extend through the terminal, out the front door, across the tarmac, ending, I supposed, somewhere near Catonsville.

"Well Monty," I said finally, "I'm tempted to check it, but I think instead I'll go with forfeiture."

Ike nodded somberly before carrying it at arm's length, as if he thought knives might be a leading cause of anthrax, to a box he tossed it along with the atomic nail files and fully automatic razor blades and other contraband he'd bagged that day.

I looked back at the X-ray chick and said "So now if I get my arm trapped, how am I supposed to hack it off?"

Without thinking, I turned and started to walk away when I heard a strange sound. It was - no, it couldn't be - but it was. She was laughing. She got the joke. An airport baggage checker actually demonstrating some rote form of human existence. Amazing.

I must say, pre-9/11, this never would have happened. I would have gotten some animalistic, slack-jawed stare as if I'd just recited Archimedes' Principle of Buoyancy in Japanese.

But with one, cognizant chuckle, this woman restored my faith in flight. Besides, little did she know, she'd just let a cell-phone terrorist slip through her fingers.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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