Thursday, March 10, 2011

Transporting carefully measured packets of white powder can get you in trouble.

I travel quite a bit. Before 9/11 I travelled almost every week, leaving for the airport at the beginning of the week and returning at the end of the week. I'm a well seasoned traveler.

Seasoned travellers have learned to make travel easier. We know how to get through airports, check in to hotels, make restaurant reservations, and do it quickly. It becomes second nature. We learn from experience and we adapt quickly. I found that dressing comfortably while traveling and changing into more appropriate attire when I reach my destination works well for me. I carry no more than three changes of clothing in my carry-on bag; no lost luggage and I can skip the baggage claim. In the middle of the week I do laundry. I have everything down to a routine. On laundry day I go to the front desk and get change for the washer and dryer. In some hotels detergent and fabric softener are also purchased at the front desk. After I start a load of laundry I go to my room until it's time to put it in the dryer. Same routine week after week. It occurred to me to pack a roll of quarters on my next trip. I thought this would save me time and trouble - I could avoid another trip to the front desk. I shared this idea with some of my fellow travelers and they too thought it was a good idea.

One Sunday, as I packed my bag and prepared to leave for the airport, I deposited a load of dirty laundry in the laundry room. I noticed a box of laundry detergent sitting on a shelf. I had a revelation! I yelled for my son to quickly bring some plastic sandwich bags. Moments later we were carefully measuring laundry detergent into the bags. This was perfect! Each bag contained exactly the amount of detergent for one load of laundry! No more trips to the front desk! I quickly placed the bags in my luggage, said my goodbyes and left. I had triumphed!

I arrived at the airport with time to spare. I made my way to security for the obligatory baggage checks. It was all routine - until they opened my bag and discovered a number of plastic bags filled with white powder. They looked at me. I immediately realized that they thought I was smuggling drugs! I was politely asked to stand against a wall where I was detained as they continued to go throw my bag with much greater scrutiny. My explanation didn't seem to do anything other than amuse them - I wasn't going anywhere. More security arrived, two guards were keeping me company, several others were examining my plastic bags, while others processed the remaining passengers. I had gone from being a normal, well seasoned traveller to a major drug trafficker. They opened the plastic bags, sniffed, took samples and did some tests. All the while I tried (in vain) to explain that drugs didn't have little blue crystals in them. It took a while, but eventually they were convinced that indeed I was simply trafficking in laundry detergent. We all had a good laugh.

After regaining my composure, I collected my bags, waved goodbye to my new friends and walked to the gate. My plane was gone. The airline booked me on the next flight. I then sat in the waiting area waiting for my flight, reflecting on what had happened. Sometimes a great idea turns out be be anything but a great idea.

I've travelled though that airport many times since that incident. I'm well known there and we always exchange greetings. I commend the security staff at the airport for the professional behavior. Things could easily have gotten out of hand. In the end we all had a good laugh. And now we have a great story to share. But, if you ever find yourself confronted by excited and armed security personnel - remain calm, don't make any sudden moves, do what you're told, don't argue, and don't make jokes. You'll probably get a seat on the next flight, I did.

Today I look back at that incident and chuckle. I feel lucky - I could have come up with that idea after 9/11.

1 comment:

  1. I remember getting the baggies and also thinking this was a wonderful idea at the time!


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