WASTELAND BAIT & TACKLE / James McMurtry

 

Keeping Tulsa safe.

 

By
James McMurtry

 

Why
is it that small Midwestern airports have all the most up to date passenger
screening equipment, while some of the busier airports do not? Do they think Al
Qaeda is planning to hit us from the heartland, or is the fear index just
higher out there, prompting the local politicos to bring home more homeland
security dollars? Of the three times I’ve been ordered into the full body
scanner, a cylindrical device resembling a see through version of the
orgasmatron from Woody Allen’s “Sleeper”, one was in Tulsa, one in
Green Bay(I think it was Green Bay, pretty far north and more or less up the
middle), the third was somewhere east. Tulsa
was a trip.

 

I
flew to Tulsa from my home town of Austin, Texas.
The Austin
airport is small but often very busy. Sometimes, if one of the three
checkpoints is mysteriously closed, it can take one nearly two hours to
complete baggage check and security screening. I’ve grown used to it. I haven’t
noticed if the Austin
airport even has one of those clear orgasmatron like machines. If so, I’ve
never been in it.

 

My
tour manager and I made it to Tulsa, played the gig, got paid, well, most of
it, spent the night, and were back at the airport two hours before our return
flight was scheduled to depart. It was Saturday, and the Tulsa airport was practically deserted. There
was no line for baggage check.

 

There
was no line for security. In the screening area, there were about fifteen TSA
employees and maybe five passengers. Seemed like a bit of overkill.  After I ‘d done the ex-ray conveyer dance,
shedding belt, necklace, cell phone, change, shoes, pulling the lap top out of
the bag and setting it in its very own bin, I noticed that I was being barked
at. It was ten in the morning, the voice might have been human, it sounded like
a higher pitched version of the teacher’s voice from the Charlie Brown holiday
specials from my childhood. I held up my boarding pass to signal that I was
familiar with the procedure. The voice became more shrill, I had to focus.

 

“You
have something in your cargo pocket!” yelled the woman behind the voice.

 

“Yes
ma’am, that’s my wallet”, I yelled back.

 

“Take
it out or they will search you.”

 

I
noticed then, that the only lane that was not taped off lead right through the
orgasmascanner. Hmm. . . I wasn’t familiar with the procedure after all.

 

The
woman with the voice approached. “You have to take everything out of your
pockets”. I clutched my wallet, boarding pass and baggage claim checks.

 

She
motioned me through the machine and I obeyed, but neither of us had noticed
that the woman on the other side of the machine had her back turned, I realized
too late that I had walked up behind a large woman with a Glock pistol on her
hip. She didn’t startle, her hand didn’t reflexively go to her gun. She just
seemed tired and slightly annoyed that I wasn’t familiar with the procedure. I
should have remembered from Green Bay, but Green Bay was so long
ago. I was beginning to get irked. Snappy comments were bubbling their way to
the forefront of my half consciousness. It was still two hours until flight
time and I was wondering if I could get in some serious trouble and still get
out of it in time to make my flight. What would’ve happened if I yelled out
something on the order of “No I don’t know this procedure because real
airports don’t bother with it and if any of you ever flew you’d know
that.”?

 

Not
nice. And the woman with the Glock actually did seem professional and pretty
much lacking in delusions of self importance. 
She ordered me to step back into the machine, put my feet on the yellow
footprints and raise my arms over my head while keeping my hands together. I
did as I was told, while the ghost of Evelyn Waugh whispered, “The
pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous . . .”

 

The
machine made a rather loud noise as the scanning device circled me. I was aware
that some poor soul staring at a TV monitor was seeing a good deal more of me
than any of us got to see of Diane Keaton in “Sleeper”. I was told to
step out. The woman with the Glock (come to think of it, I guess they all had
Glocks, or some such modern polymer framed hi-cap semi auto) went through my
wallet and told me I was cleared. I walked to the conveyer and reassembled
myself. I felt jarred somehow, more so than after the usual screening ordeal,
and more jarred than I remember feeling after any of the few times that I’ve
been bodily searched. Why is it assumed, in our culture, that an individual
would rather be visually spied on than physically touched? I’m not sure which
act is more invasive.

 

The
lady with the Charlie Brown’s teacher voice sure seemed to think that the
threat of search would snap me into line, but I’m not sure it will next time. I
don’t relish being frisked but I don’t like that jarred feeling the machine
left me with. I doubt that the machine increases one’s risk of cancer more than
does life in the twenty-first century, with its constant bath of
electromagnetism from cell phones and all our other necessities, but I don’t
like the machine. Still, I might be hesitant to request a bodily search for
fear that to do so might place me under extra suspicion and increase the hassle
potential in an already hassle filled day of travel.

 

Tim,
my tour manager, was waiting in the hall when I finally got myself back in
order. “Glad they’re keeping Tulsa
safe,” he said.

 

Singer-songwriter James McMurtry lives in Austin, Texas.
When he’s not touring, you can see him at the Continental Club every Wednesday,
‘round about midnight. Full details at his official website. His
latest album, Live In Europe, was released
last year on Lightning Rod Records – read the Blurt review here.

 

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