Power is a strange little commodity. Some people have the power to affect large enterprises and hundreds of thousands of people, yet they channel that power through myriad levels of delegates. At the other end of the spectrum are those who have very little actual power, but who wield it like a maniacal dictator. In between those extremes are all manner of relatively powerful or powerless individuals who simply follow and enforce rules, laws and policies.
I’ve been jotting down notes about this subject for years. Way too many to cram into one post. I noticed that several of my observations occurred in airports. I think we all understand that Airport Security is a human power grid that is not to be trifled with. Among the tools at their disposal is the ability to put you in a small room with large and heavily armed people. Combined with the fact that you usually encounter these people when you are on a mission, in a hurry and looking forward to being treated like cattle; you can see a dangerous situation brewing.
I want to say, that since 2001, every single one of my encounters with TSA personnel during the screening process has been remarkably civil. I have found these people to be courteous and professional, albeit well in control of their sense of humor.
Unfortunately, there are many people outside of the screening station who either don’t have actual power, or shouldn’t have been given the power that they have. As you will see in the three stories I decided to share today, not everything can be blamed on 9-11.
On a return flight from San Francisco, after putting my shoes back on, I asked the TSA agent at the booth if I could take pictures of the planes on the tarmac. He said yes, adding that I should avoid taking pictures of or pointing my camera at any of the TSA operations. That seemed reasonable.
A few minutes later, I was taking a picture of the plane I would be flying on. I wanted to send it to my wife with the caption “always good to see your plane at the gate.” No. No, no, no, that was not going to happen. A TSA agent approached me and directed me to “put that camera down.” She then asked me to show her and delete any pictures I had taken. I was cooperative – wanting to avoid the little room – but I explained to her that I had asked the man at the booth. Deaf ears. I showed her the one picture I had taken. I deleted it. There was no discussion.
Incident number two happened a few winters ago. I was fetching our daughter from the airport as she returned from visiting family in Iowa. I waited at the cell phone lot, and when she texted to say that she had her bag, I drove to Arrivals. I pulled to the curb and was immediately approached by a security guard who instantly reminded me of John Candy’s character in National Lampoon’s Vacation. I honestly expected him to say: “sorry folks, park’s closed, the moose out front should have told you.” Instead, he said:
“You can’t park here.”
“I’m picking up my daughter.”
“Fine, but you can’t wait here, you have to wait in the cell phone lot.”
“I was in the cell phone lot. She just called.”
“Then you have to drive around.”
“I can see her coming. That’s her over there.” (Pointing).
“I’m going to issue a ticket and have your car towed if you don’t move.”
“Can my daughter put her bag in first? She’s standing right behind you.”
Seeing my daughter opening the lift gate, prompted him to walk away, but didn’t embarrass him enough to offer an apology.
As I promised, I’ll close with a pre-TSA story that actually ended-up being funny. This happened in 1981, when anyone could walk into an airport and sit at the gates. I was on a no-budget trip from Seattle, WA to Newark, NJ to begin searching for a new job. To reduce costs, I had taken the red-eye and reserved a rental car with Thrifty or Enterprise. The name isn’t important. What was important was the fact that their airport operation wasn’t open between midnight Saturday and 6:00 am Sunday.
I wove the shoulder strap of my suit bag through the handles of my other luggage. Then I stepped through it and curled up in a chair. A short while later, a janitor pushed his mop into my foot:
“You can’t sleep here.”
“My car rental place doesn’t open until six.”
“You can wait here, but you can’t sleep here.”
After he walked away, I went back to sleep. Bump – “you can’t sleep here!”
This happened two more times. Finally, about 5:00 am, I got the bump, and I lost it.
“You can’t sleep here.”
“I could if you didn’t keep hitting me with that f—ing mop!”
While such an outburst might land me in jail these days, he burst into laughter. He told me where there was an open coffee shop and he offered to watch my stuff. I bought him a coffee, and we yacked until the car rental company opened.
If you happen to have any power, real or imagined, please use it wisely.
R.I.P. John candy