Flying with Strangers

TSAThe world is safe now. It’s okay—you can unlock your doors and windows at last. I have the proof right before me. Two weeks ago I was out of town. To get to my final destination I had to fly. I travel light. Seeing families at the airport with stacks of suitcases, I often wonder what people find necessary to take with them. It depends on the destination, I suppose. If you’re skiing you’ll need different gear than if you’re snorkeling. Or spelunking. In my bag there’s just the same old togs I wear at home. Never a clothes horse, I seldom update my wardrobe. I’m not into extreme sports, and for hiking, well, I can wear what I’m wearing right now. One thing is universal, I suspect. Underwear. We all have tucked away in our bag somewhere that necessary item of human social politeness. That’s why the world is safe, you see. I have in front of me a slip of paper informing me that the Transportation Security Administration has looked at my underwear and declared it safe. Go ahead and fly the friendly skies. Just make sure your underwear is clean.

Long ago I learned that if I fly alone I will be singled out for added security checks. I’m a bearded man. A non-conformist. My beard isn’t one of those consisting of trendy hipster stubble either. Just a regular beard. No fuss, no muss. My life is far too busy for me to spend extra time scraping off hair that will only grow back. I have enough pointless tasks as it is. But once you’ve seen the TSA agents looking you in the face and pointing you to the extra-search line time and again, you start to notice patterns. Especially since nearly every TSA agent in Newark parks in the same airport lot as I do and rides the same shuttle in. Sometimes there are so many of them that they ask if I’m lost. No, just looking for a restroom so that I can check my underwear before you do.

The truly ironic part—and I appreciate irony so I know that there’s no way that an agent can know this—is that I’ve been a life-long pacifist. The draft was reinstituted when I was just the right age to sign up. I was a conscientious objector. One of my uncles was too, during the Second World War. The very title of the conflict should’ve made the need for more objectors obvious. I wouldn’t knowingly hurt another person. Or animal. I step over worms after it rains and will yield to an ant on the sidewalk. Still, you’d better check my suitcase just to be sure. To me, it seems the world might benefit from teaching more people to respect those who are different. Bearded men and those whose skin tone differs are not evil. We just don’t have the time to get to know them before we throw their bag onto the conveyor belt.

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