Apparently, it was Bring Grandma, the Dog, and All the Kids on Vacation day at the Salt Lake City airport. Everywhere around me stood gaggles of children, herded about by frustrated parents and matriarchal old ladies. The place was packed.
The small-child stench of Gummi bear drool and eight-dollar Happy Meals filled the air, while the barks, howls, and yips of dogs and owners alike echoed off the check-in counters. I wanted to go home.
All week long I’d been in a small town huddled on the edge of Salt Lake Ogden, stuck in a room full of cheerless, uptight Mormons, teaching them things about their new software system they had no desire to know.
I was running late. My flight departed in forty-five minutes and the security lines were five blocks long. But I avoided all that angst by heading over to the line for First Class passengers. I wasn’t one, but that’s never stopped me. Those blue-suited TSA Smurfs don’t care—they hardly ever complain, and even when they do, they never send me back.
I walked smugly past hundreds of weary, frustrated traveler and—just like that—was fourth in line.
Except it wasn’t that easy. I soon discovered the TSA Smurf in charge of the Preferred Traveler line was on his third lunch break of the day. There were only two agents for six screening lanes and thousands of passengers. The crowd was rowdier than a Lady Gaga concert. The lines dissolved. No class merged with First Class. It took twenty minutes to move three feet.
I checked the time. My flight was ready to board. After an endless wait, it was my turn. Driver’s license in hand, I picked up my bags and braced my foot like a sprinter at the starting block. Come on, people, let’s go! The TSA Smurf raised his hand…and signaled for a family of nine to move in front of me.
“What the fuck?” I must have said it aloud, because a lot of people were staring at me and the agent gave me a dirty look. As punishment, he checked IDs and made small talk with the family for five minutes before finally motioning for me to approach.
“Where you headed today, sir.”
“Phoenix, if my plane hasn’t already left,” I said. “You guys ought to get more help, you know that?” I was really mad.
“You have to leave that here, sir.” He pointed at the bottled water in my hand.
I couldn’t believe it. What a newbie mistake, buying bottled water outside security. But there was no way I was leaving a five-dollar bottle of Dasani—I’d just bought it! I cracked the top and started to chug, daring him to stop me.
But I’d no sooner lifted the bottle when a blue-frocked fat woman with two kids at her side bumped my elbow. Water poured down my shirt. My iPhone was soaked.
I turned on her. “What the fuck!” I said again. I didn’t mean to. It just came out.
She drew back in horror, shocked at my coarse language. Apparently she’d never heard that word before. One of her kids started to cry, then the other. The TSA Smurf crossed his arms in disgust. Somewhere, a dog barked.
I stood there dripping water, several hundred people staring at me, and watched in dismay as my arm pulled back of its own volition and launched the five-dollar Dasani across the security area.
The plastic bottle bounced off the wall to strike the line supervisor in the back of the head. When he turned around, I recognized him immediately—Officer Bronson, the same guy who’d detained me a few months earlier for the Jihad story I once wrote.
“Hi, Butch,” I said, chagrined. “Sorry about that. It just got away from me.”
Officer Bronson before me, rubbing the back of his head. “You again. Write any more terrorist stories?”
I shook my head no, and waited for the axe to fall.
“Sir, you’ll have to go back to the end of the line,” he said, and pointed to a spot near the end of the concourse. “Next time you should be more careful.”
I gathered my stuff. “But, Butch. Officer Bronson. My flight—“
“Have a nice day, sir,” he said, and turned away.
I started my long walk of shame past dozens of smirking travelers. Hopefully, there’d be another flight later.