There are few things scarier than approaching a TSA airport security checkpoint when you know you have something weird in your carry-on bag.
Will they be able to tell what it is with the fancy X-ray machine? Is it allowed? What if it’s not? What if they see it as some sort of a weird threat? What if I tell them why I have it and they don’t believe me? What will they do? Will I be detained? If I am, will I miss my flight? Can you get a refund if you’re detained by security?
These are just a few of the questions that raced through my mind as I headed into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport this week for a flight to see my friend in Oregon. It’s a fear that only grew as I progressed through the process of boarding a flight. Each step brought me closer to the security gates and one step closer to panic.
As I approached security, there were more TSA agents than I’d ever seen before. There were blue shirts everywhere. I scanned the crowds of them, wondering which would be the one to arrest me when the contents of my carry-on were revealed.
I had to look suspicious. If nothing else, I had to look insanely nervous. And since nervous is the first cousin of suspicious, I was in trouble.
I stood in line waiting for my turn. I didn’t think I would ever wish for a long line, but today I did. The longer I was in line, the more time I had before I was outed. I could have stood in line forever and been just fine with it. I would have been the picture of patience. But, of course, today the security lines were flying.
So, alas, it was quickly my turn. I grabbed the little plastic trays for my belongings. I took my shoes off, threw them in the tray. I took my phone out of my purse, threw it in, too. The only thing left to do was unpack my laptop. As I removed it, I was very careful to not open the bag too much. I didn’t want anything to show, and Heaven forbid if it were to fall out.
I slid my trays onto the rollers. Within seconds, the conveyor grabbed hold and there was no going back. This is it, I thought.
I stood at the end of the chute, waiting for my trays. My laptop and purse appeared from the darkness and rolled to a stop in front of me. So far so good, but those aren’t what I was worried about. I waited for my bag. It wasn’t coming. I waited longer.
Finally, a female TSA agent turned to me.
“Is the black bag yours?” she asked.
In my head: Oh no. I’m so hosed. I knew I would get flagged! I just knew it! What was I thinking? What are they going to do to me? Should I run?
Out loud: “Uh, yeah.”
She looked at me with her head tilted slightly. She looked confused, and I’m sure I looked panicked.
“So, uh, do you have corn in your carry-on?” she asked with raised eyebrows.
In my head: Oh no. Should I lie? Should I tell the truth? What if they don’t believe me? I wonder if I get a phone call in airport prison. Who should I call? Are there lawyers who specialize in this sort of thing? Should I run? When does running become a viable plan?
Out loud: “Uh, yeah.”
She just kept looking at me, so I started talking. Talking fast. Rambling is probably more accurate.
I explained that I was going to Oregon to visit a friend who was born and raised in Indiana, just like me. I explained that I was going to surprise him with some Indiana sweet corn. That I was trying to give him a taste of home, I rambled.
“It’s just corn. I swear,” I said. “Can you take corn on a plane?”
She still just looked at me, and I was trying to decide in which direction I should run. I was mentally scoping out an exit strategy if this thing went south.
“Well, I’m thinking about confiscating it,” she said.
“Uh, well…” I started in but she interrupted with “’cause it looks really good. Any chance you brought enough to share?” she asked, jokingly.
All I could think was my friend better enjoy this stinking corn. The stress of its delivery shaved a good year off my life.
Misty Knisely, managing editor, can be reached at 574-732-5155 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.