LAGUARDIA AIRPORT—I am in a line a mile long. Actually, it’s not a mile. I’m exaggerating for literary value. In truth, the line is three hundred thousand kilometers long.
There are two women having a conversation behind me:
The woman says, “So I just says to him, ‘Lou, I’m not gonna take it anymore.’”
“Good for you,” says the other.
“That’s what I told him.”
“You really said it?”
“I just opened my mouth and said ‘Lou, I’m not doing it, I’m not gonna take it.’”
“You go, girl.”
We’re all waiting to get through the TSA checkpoint, which is a lot like checking in to federal prison. You have to remove your clothes, take off your shoes, get frisked, and say your ABC’s backward.
The man herding people through security looks like he starred in the movie “My Cousin Vinny.”
And he only knows two words: “Quickly, please.”
Vinny is working hard, scanning people with an electronic wand, barking at children, and demanding that elderly people remove their insulin pumps and dental fillings before going through the scanner.
I remove my boots and place my backpack onto a conveyor belt.
The talking women behind me never quit.
“That’s exactly how I told it to him, ‘I’m done, Lou.’”
“You really said it like that?”
“I told him.”
On my first attempt walking through the X-ray machine, I set off the alarm. I try a second time, it beeps again.
“Sir,” says Vinny. “Please remove your belt.”
This belt buckle always gets me into trouble with metal detectors. But it is a special buckle I bought when I visited my father’s grave. I wear it every day because it reminds me of him.
It also holds my pants up.
We try the scanner again. The alarm dings.
Vinny sighs. “Come back this way, sir.”
“What’s wrong now?” I say.
He inspects me. “Sir, is there anything metal in your pockets?”
“Just a bunch of loose change.”
“Put it in the plastic bin.”
“It’s only a few pennies.”
I place my change into the bin. Then I pat my pockets to be sure I didn’t forget anything. My pants are falling off. A child wearing a New York Mets hat points at me and giggles at the full moon over New York.
Vinny folds his hands across his lap. “Take all the time you need, sir. Please, we’re in no rush.”
I walk through the scanner once more.
“So how’d you tell Lou again?”
“Well, I said flat-out, ‘Lou, I’ve been taking it, and taking it, and I’m not anymore.’”
“Bet that was hard.”
“You have no idea.”
“Sounds really hard.”
“Oh, it was.”
“Had to be.”
I set the alarm off yet again. Vinny is rubbing his face. We are becoming awfully familiar with each other. I am holding my waistband around my sternum.
“If we keep this up,” I tell Vinny, “you’ll have to invite me to your kids’ wedding.”
“Sir,” he says. “Listen to me. Is there any more change in your pockets?”
“No, I just emptied them, you saw me.”
“How about your shirt pockets?”
I pat my chest. “Well, how about that?”
In my pocket is a lapel pin that was given to me by my good friend Bill. There’s actually a funny story behind this pin—which Cousin Vinny doesn’t have time for. Because Vinny wears no emotion. Vinny is Rambo.
He scans me, and this time because of TSA regulation, he is obligated to pat me down. He asks verbal permission before inspecting my inner thighs.
“My inner what?” I say. “Aren’t you at least gonna buy me dinner first?”
“Are you seriously about to—”
I overhear the woman say, “So then Lou was all like, ‘Whaddya mean you’re done? You can’t be done, we’re not done. No way…”
“So what’d you say to Lou?”
“What’d I say?”
“To Lou, what’d you say?”
“What’d I say?”
“I said, ‘Lou, I am NOT, and I mean NOT gonna take it anymore…’”
Once Vinny has patted me down, he gives me the all-clear. I gather my things and waddle through LaGuardia like a penguin. I am trying to forget about how Vinny tried to get to second base with me.
“You deserve better than Lou.”
“I know, Lou’s crazy. I’m not taking it anymore.”
“Good for you.”
“Just not gonna do it.”
“You go, girl.”
I am several yards away, walking to my gate. I am ready to be home, and I am hungry. I hear someone hollering behind me. It’s Vinny.
“Excuse me sir!” he says, calling after me. “Sir! You forgot your belt buckle!”
And I am touched by this. This man works hard at his job, screening hundreds, maybe thousands of passengers, and he gets little thanks. Furthermore, he has no idea how special this belt buckle is to me.
I would shake his hand, but he is wearing surgical gloves.
Before he gives it back, he inspects it and admires it. “Hey this is a nice belt, you know, once I had a—”
“Sir,” I interrupt, holding out my hand. “Quickly, please.”
He does not find this funny.
Sorry, Lou. But she is not going to take it anymore.
Bobbie - May 31, 2019 10:43 am
Thanks again Sean. You brought smiles, even laughs, when I most needed them! God bless you.
Meredith Smith - May 31, 2019 10:48 am
Spot on, Sean! I recently flew and due to a medical implant I was unable to go through the scanner. Actually come to think of it ~ it was the first time since getting the implant and now will be my experience every time I fly going forward. Anyway I’m going to steal your line about buying me dinner because WOW! Talk about a personal experience! And in front of everyones’ eyes to see! At the end of this intimate (but understandable) examination, I was asked to hold my hands out while a scanner was passed over them. I thought this was an odd end to our relationship, and later learned through a friend that this is a scan for residue of illicit materials.
I can’t drive due to the same medical condition – and flying, well is a new experience in social congress. Hello Amtrak!
Shannon Sligar - May 31, 2019 11:36 am
I am keeping your columns with our souvenirs from our trip to New York. Thank you! Our LaGuardia TSA experience: we see a sign that says TSA and a line of people, we ask Vinny if it’s TSA and he says “yea.” My son and I stand in that line for about an hour, get to the entrance, and the agent says “you are not cleared. How did you get in this line?” At first, I thought he might be joking …my son and I turned around and made the “walk of shame” past the 200 people waiting behind us. At the end of the line was Vinny who had directed us to that line. He said “oh yea? You need this other line? Look how much shorter it is.” We made it through and found our gate. The gate agents at D9 are a whole new story … Despite all the NYC craziness, I would do it all again to have my teenaged son rest his head on my shoulder again on the flight home to Atlanta. Perfect!
Jean - May 31, 2019 11:36 am
That’s a good one! I can relate as I travel a good bit. Of course, being 76, I get away with not taking my shoes of, etc. Yes, there are some perks with getting old.
Naomi - May 31, 2019 11:38 am
My husband and I have traveled all over the world; we even flew a lot for business when we worked for the federal government, when there was no security and planes were being hijacked to Cuba, but I just tell two stories of what happened to us going through TSA. One: We were coming back from Hawaii, when the TSA agent was scanning my husband. He kept going up and down the zipper in my husband’s pants. My husband kept telling him it was a zipper, but that didn’t matter. Finally, my husband literally dropped his pants; I was horrified. Another time, we were coming home from Frankfurt, Germany. The lady in front of me had on a full burka and went through security without any problem, but not me. When I went through, the TSA agent made me take off my shoes and send them back through the scanner, but that wasn’t enough. I had on a nice blouse that had metal buttons that were covered in the same fabric as the blouse. The TSA agent actually scanned each button, even after I told her they were buttons. Then she scanned the little hooks on my bra. My husband had already gone to the gate. When I got there, he asked me what happened to me. I said, “What do you think?” We have quit traveling and I don’t care if I never see an airport again. We flew to NY right after 9-11 and nobody checked anything; they didn’t even ask us if we packed our own bags.
Jones - May 31, 2019 11:42 am
Thanks for the day’s giggles!??
Vickie Cashatt Mayo - May 31, 2019 11:46 am
I love starting my day with a laugh. Thanks and have a good one.
Phillip Saunders. - May 31, 2019 12:05 pm
Been there, done that – not at LaGuardia, but at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta. Not quite as bad an experience, but close. I don’t get out much, and we rednecks do carry a lot of stuff in our pockets.
Connie Havard Ryland - May 31, 2019 12:25 pm
Thanks for the giggle this morning. Safe travels home. Love and hugs.
Joe Patterson - May 31, 2019 12:36 pm
Thanks every day at the courthouse I am a pro
Viola - May 31, 2019 12:53 pm
Good on ya mate! And I don’t mean Lou the dirty rat or Vinnbo. Turning the tables heck that felt gooood.
Shelton A. - May 31, 2019 1:20 pm
Most TSA employees are relatives (however distant-never too far to call in a favor) of elected officials who can’t get or hold any other job. Seriously, though, they have a tough job-I wouldn’t want it. Thanks for the good chuckle and tell Lou she had it for me!
Ellin North - June 30, 2019 6:27 pm
Actually, they are hard working people who have to put up with people who think these employees have made up the rules. For dealing with thousands of strangers, often hurried, harried and rude, they’re paid paid about $12.00 an hour.
Carol - May 31, 2019 1:23 pm
I needed that this morning!!
I hope she got away from Lou!!
Mary - May 31, 2019 1:42 pm
Too funny! Still smiling..
Ala Red Clay Girl - May 31, 2019 3:00 pm
How funny! I’ll never be able to go through an airport again without thinking of this column. Thanks for the smiles, Sean.
George - May 31, 2019 3:19 pm
I know it’s a story exaggerated to make it humorous but as someone who travels a lot I can say in an exaggerated way you likely weren’t very popular with the people behind you waiting for you to comply with the very clear instructions about removing all metal including belts, coins, and pens before you hit the conveyor belt in order to move quickly please. Vinny, likely being a native New Yorker probably ha a few choice descriptive adjectives about you he shared with his shift mates.
Again as a frequent traveler, I am constantly amazed about the conversations people have, loudly, in airports and especially on planes. They seem to think they are in a cone of silence. Please just be quiet or at least speak quietly. Thank goodness for noise canceling head phones.
Anyway, fun story and all too accurate. I think maybe I was in line behind you and those ladies. Quickly and quietly please.
Linda Moon - May 31, 2019 4:10 pm
Dinner first is always the best idea if it involves the familiarity of inner thighs afterward. Maybe Lou didn’t take her to dinner often enough. I’m glad you got your special belt buckle back, quickly.
Janet Mary Lee - May 31, 2019 9:35 pm
Just rolling!! Thanks for the laughter!!
Jack Darnell - June 1, 2019 3:54 pm
Flying, not my favorite mode of travel anymore. But at least you found something to smile about. At least that is good.
Russell McLaney - June 30, 2019 7:21 pm
Sean, this is GREAT, I was gonna write more, but my wife hollered “Quickly Please “
Sally Pearsall - July 2, 2019 3:18 am
First time coming home from Europe through Atlanta after my knee replacement the year before, I went through the scanner three times before Vinnie’s southern cousin said, “Ma’am, do you have an artificial joint?” I had completely forgotten, in my jet-lagged brain fog!