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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Terrorist Wait List

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Scene: 7:00 am, February 14th, 2007. Valentine's Day. But this story has nothing to do with love.

I'm attempting to check in at the Los Angeles International Airport, at an electronic self check-in kiosk with Alaska Airlines. After having to start over a couple of times because of the conspiracy launched upon me by Travelocity and my printer to cut off the last and most important third of my confirmation e-mail, I finally find my flight on the system and swipe my passport. But then, as I think it's all over, instead of printing out a boarding pass, the screen reveals a message in big, red letters:

"WE'RE SORRY, BUT WE ARE UNABLE TO CHECK YOU IN AT THIS TIME BECAUSE YOU ARE A TERRORIST."

Other people might not have seen that last phrase, but only because they weren't reading hard enough! These surface-dwellers might only have read an innocuous message about seeing a counter representative instead of using the machine for a non-specific reason. But my reading was quickly justified upon progressing to the counter.

"Would you hold on a moment, sir? I need to clear you with the authorities."

The clerk walks offstage, my passport in hand, to "check something," as others might have heard it, naively enough. But then, finally, upon returning, the truth spills out in plain English that even the most innocent could understand. She hands me a poorly photocopied sheet of paper that seems to explain something about TSA and Federal Watch Lists.

"Is this because I 'partially matched' some name on the terror watch list?" I casually suggest.

"Yep, that's it, sir!" she jovially replies.

We chuckle about it for half a second, or until I realize there's nothing funny about it, and then move on with our business. This has happened to me the last three times I've flown, as well as being pulled aside two of those three times for "random additional screening." Yes, I have an unkempt beard. Yes, I often travel with a guitar case that must inspire thoughts of mafia hit men. And yes, I probably usually look suspicious because I'm always tired and make weird faces to keep myself awake. Do these things make me terrorist?

Possibly. I suppose as much as anyone, and possibly just a little bit more so. That's the sad truth about profiling. It's not always about skin color or whether or not you happen to have the Qur'an sticking out of your butt pocket. Sometimes, you really can just look shifty and attract all the wrong attention.

However, even more disturbing than my seemingly constant annoyances at the gate, is how easily I was cleared at the check-in counter. I didn't do or say anything, but apparently my name matched something somewhere, and then, with a mere gesture, I was magically absolved. Of course, I speak mostly here out of an inborn sense of civic paranoia, though, and I so realize that I have no idea what goes on backstage and how thorough and solid a process it may or may not be. Maybe it's actually a series of occult motions.

"But...no! If all the new security measures aren't making us any safer, what oh what are we to do?!"

Fear not, fellow citizen. The good thing about mice and mousetraps is that better inevitably begets better. Take comfort that, in these chaotic times, we can still maintain balance with something.



About the Writer

mattjosh is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on Terrorist Wait List

Log In To Vote   Score: 0
By V on February 23, 2007 at 04:22 pm
Well written! I leave longer customs leeway time for myself when traveling. I almost always end up being 'randomly' selected.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By mattjosh on February 26, 2007 at 08:16 pm
An update to all interested parties: On the return trip I had the same encounter, minus the polite laughter.
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