The TSA doesn’t trust me. And probably for good reason. I have a tendency to act very suspiciously in airports. It’s never on purpose; I just always fear that people are on the lookout for large men with beards in airports, so I try way too hard to act casual.
No one trusts the guy who is happy to be at the airport at five in the morning. I like to get places early, especially the airport. As I’m walking through the sleepy checkpoints, I know that nobody truly wants to be there so I like to put on a big smile and a little bounce in my voice, give everyone an excited “Good morning.” But I don’t get smiles in return. No one is handing out high fives or hugs. Just triple checks of my ID and pat downs. While the agent checks my boarding pass he asks my name and I hesitate. Not because I am trying to remember the alias that I booked the flight under but because I am surprised. No one’s ever asked me that before. And I could see the red flags rising all around me.
But I make it through without any need to deeply violate my civil rights.
My luggage is probably the most contentious part of my journey. Every time I arrive at my destination and begin to unpack I find a nice little note from the TSA saying that they went through my luggage. These are so frequent that I feel the need to leave a note in my luggage, something sweet to cement our pen pal style bond.
The problem is that I have two suitcases to try to fit everything I need to live at school five states away from my home in Austin, Texas. It’s a tough squeeze but over three years I have managed to perfect a system that allows me to squeeze my entire wardrobe, over 200 DVDs, half a bookshelf of books, a DVD player, and all my toiletries (toothbrush, razors, shampoos, etc..)
Obviously these two bags are overweight, each averaging around 56 pounds. Not crazy but just enough for Southwest to require $100 in overweight fees. After my first trip where I spent half an hour trying to rearrange things from suitcase to suitcase in an attempt to get the bags under weight only to fail miserably, I have started making sure I had the money on me to cover overweight charges.
This preparation always baffles the clerk at the check in counter. I know it is ridiculous to spend that much money on my stupid stuff but I always see that it would cost just as much to ship the stuff I want to me, so why not just have everything with me when I get there. I try to explain this to the clerk, I say that I do this all the time, that I know it’s overweight and I’m sorry but they always want me to try to move stuff around. I know they want me to save money, but I am willingly parting with it to make this process run smoother and they refuse to see that.
“Wanna just move a couple jeans around so that only one bag is over,” I always get.
“No, I appreciate it, but things are packed pretty tight. I can’t really shift stuff around.”
I am literally stuffing my money into his hand. “Please, don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”
He pulls out a random box he found on the floor. “You can put ‘em in this. It can hold like two or three jeans.”
I kindly refuse. Not only because I don’t want to stuff my clothes into some asbestos ridden box this guy just happened to find, but also because if I were to add a third item to my luggage it would result in a $50 fee anyway. Eventually he gives up and takes my money and out of guilt I tip him twenty dollars because I was being difficult.
The flight goes fine but I know that this guy is wondering why I wouldn’t even open my suitcase. He’s thinking that I don’t want to show him my bomb, I’m thinking that I don’t want to show him Bosco, the stuffed dog that I insist on bringing back and forth from school. But they X-ray my bag with a suspicious eye and see a small rectangle full of wires. Bomb? No, my DVD player. They leave their little love letter and we do this tango all over again in six weeks.
I used to think that flying back in forth across the country would make me a skilled traveler. At this point, if I could make it through a round trip without TSA agents giving me second and third glances and mumbling things beneath their breath, I’ll call that a win.