Monday, May 5, 2008

Traveling in Canada, April 2008

All ffotos by RBF

The airport was pretty empty at the Canadian airport at 5 AM. It was late April and the sun was already rising. At the ticket counter, while checking-in, there was only one person ahead of me. I was nice and calm as there was an hour before my flight home.

Amazingly, the duty free/newsstand/gift shop was open, so I went in and bought some presents for the person who was taking care of our cats, and a book on local ghost stories that was perfect for travel on a little amount of sleep in that they are short and do not take much brainpower.

There were about 30 people on line for the security check, but the line was moving relatively swiftly. Everyone seemed in a good mood, albeit sleepy. I had my backpack and a small carry bag, with nothing checked. I like to travel light, if compact.

Soon it was my turn and I took off my jacket and put it in the gray plastic basket, put my computer in another, and passed along my bags through the x-ray. They didn’t want my shoes, which is always a bonus. Everything was going smoothly.

However, if there was a soundtrack, the tones would probably be turning into disonant.

I stepped through the metal detectors without a peep, and waited for my bags. And waited. I was used to this; for some reason my bags always get second looks, my guess is usually because of the cords and cables that come along with the computer, or whatever. As I am not a smuggler, and as such had absolutely no contraband, I wasn’t worried. This happened plenty of times before.

Also as common, they asked permission to swab the top of my bags to test for anything weird. No problem. They swabbed and tested. And they closed the line of people waiting to go through behind me. A very stern woman in uniform came over and said, “If it’s all right, I am going to ask someone to come over and frisk you.” Again, nothing of concern as I didn’t have anything on me, other than some minor amounts of paper cash, and cards in my back pocket, such as for the likes of Costco, my work building pass, and the New York Public Library.

She signals over a guy who pleasantly explains that he is going to search me, and is there anything he should know about before he does. I said the truth….nope. After putting on a fresh set of non-rubber gloves, he asked me to stand, with my arms outstretched. He then pats me down. As we’re in the middle of the airport, I wasn’t worried about a cavity search, but it got quite intimate. I was almost expecting him to say, “Mind if I move it over to the left?” It was thorough as it could be, though I didn’t feel violated, but more curious and bemused. I asked him if he wanted me to remove my shoes, but instead he just had me lean of the counter with both hands, and then lift one foot at a time, and he checked them out that way.

Meanwhile, I noted that there were three or four official people taking everything out of my bags, and my jacket, again quite thoroughly. The stern woman asked me (sternly, of course), “Do you know why we are doing this?” I told her no, but that I was definitely curious about it. She said, “Not only did your bag test positive for TNT, but it tested for a large amount of TNT.” Well, she got my attention with that one.

She then inquired if I was near any explosives, or if my bag was near any. Of course, I answered in the negative, explaining that the only place the bag has been in the last 10 days was either on the floor of the bedroom (where there are no explosives), in the cab, and at the airport. That’s it. While I was explaining this, they also swabbed my hands and test it, along with most other things.

Then they had me turn on my computer and my camera, to make sure they were legit. At this point, the stern woman started filling out a form, and I told her my name, rank, and serial number…and anything else she wanted to know (what my job was, where I worked, etc.), and carefully writing with nice, large penmanship).

At this point, I was beginning to wonder if I’d make my flight, as this was taking some time. We never left the space just past the x-ray machines. It was weird, as I was more worried about making the flight than anything else, remaining calm and somewhat cheerful.

She asked me a question that made me nervous then: what is my work phone number. Crap, I don’t know that. I never dial it, so I never remember it. I gave her the area code, the main three digits, but I don’t know my extension; hell, I don’t even know the main front-desk. The idea of checking the computer bottom came to mind, as it is bar coded and property of the place, but all it had was the name of the company. And my work badge is a building pass, not a company pass, so it doesn’t say the name of the company on it. She asked for a business card, but I don’t have one of those either. She finally settled for my home phone.

Still, she seemed to be calming down after this. My guess was it was probably (hopefully) the most exciting thing that happened in that building in a while, other than someone complaining about not being allowed to carry more than 3 oz onto the plane.

Once again she asked about it, and I told her I was flummoxed (though I don’t think I used that word). Basically she said she was flummoxed as well (again, not that word), as just the top of the one bag had the heavy traces, but nothing else did, including the contents of the bag or my hands. I was wondering about the backseat of the cab on the way to the airport, but the trace would have been on the bottom of the bag, not the top. Stern woman said that the fact that it was only present on top eased her conscious, and she turned to the x-ray area and shouted (heck, it was only about 6 feet, she could have whispered), “Open line 3”. With a “have a good day,” she took the form and left.

I zipped up the bags where they had put everything back (would they have returned the contents in NYC?), and walked, somewhat started and bemused, to my gate, and just walked right onto the plane with no wait.

As I only had about 40 minutes between the two next flights (yes, they broke the way home into three sections), I was concerned that my name was on a list somehow, and they would search at each and every turn. But the first connection was smooth, I went through customs with no hassle whatsoever, and when I had to go through the x-ray area again before heading to New York, there was no problem and sailed right through. I wonder what’s going to happen the next time I go through that airport again, though.

[NYC frowny face]
After I arrived home and called my partner to let her know I was alive, I told her of my adventure. She came up with interesting theory about the explosive. Seems the house she’s occupying had a new furnace put in while I was there, and according to the landlady, after it was lit and started, there was a sour smell that permiated the house for about an hour. She figured that perhaps some of whatever it was came out through the registers, and as my bag was on the floor next to one of these vents, it came through an landed on top of the bag. Another possibility was that it was a false positive, such as when one eats poppy seeds and a blood test will read it as positive for heroin.

Either way, I do know that as shortly after I got home, I washed that damn bag.

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