The last three hundred-plus times I’ve flown in airplanes, I didn’t land in them. I used to skydive, and I always looked forward to getting out of aircrafts in mid-flight. I never liked landing in airplanes.
That’s when they crash.
BUT … last winter my wife Diane and I had our first vacation together, and because getting to our destination meant either a three-hour flight or a three-day drive akin to roller-skating on ice, I agreed to fly with her. In a plane. Without a parachute.
I confessed my concerns to her, not just of being airborne in an airplane without a means of air-escaping, but of how I might navigate airport etiquette and the protocols for commercial flight, which I hadn’t done in a couple of decades. Diane was savvy with the recent ways & means of air travel, and she assured me that she would guide me through. I knew that a few things had changed since I’d last flown the friendly skies.
First, they’d become less friendly. If Diane hadn’t been there to give me some advance cues on what was coming and how to act, I no doubt would’ve been spread-eagled, body cavity-searched and shipped off to Guantanamo. This is because bumbling activity, in the eyes of the Transportation Security Administration overseers, is automatically considered and treated as suspicious activity, and there I was, bumbling around, even under Diane’s tutelage. I was hesitative, awkward, sweating and I’m sure my eyes were darting.
In the crowd (I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “throng” in a humor column, but I will now), Diane and I were thronged into separation, so I lost my pre-flight coach.
Panic was setting in when I bumbled forward, thronging along alone, to a semi-uniformed TSA man who soundlessly held his hand out in front of me. I did the reflexive thing and reached out to shake it. WRONG. He’d wanted my boarding pass and proof of identification. He snapped his hand away and didn’t smile as much as I’ve ever seen anyone not smile.
“Boarding pass and ID,” he said, smiling even less than he wasn’t before.
I held out my driver’s license and boarding pass. He looked at them, pointed to his right and said: “Wall!”
Now, I ask you: if someone in authority, just as you found yourself in a position of abject fear and surrender and without a clue what to do next, pointed to a wall and barked “Wall!”, would you summon up your best Leslie Nielsen impression and say “Yes, I know,” or would you say nothing, do as you were told and go stand by the wall?
Drawing from flashbacks of long-gone boyhood time-outs in the corner (of the wall), I thought the latter was the better part of discretion, so that’s what I did. I stood there, facing the wall, and waited. I waited some more. I waited for Armageddon. I waited for Godot. I waited for the Marines (see: Guantanamo, shipped off to).
Several people thronged past me. What? How was it possible that they’d passed the “Wall!” test where I had failed? Was there a secret word? Specialized coded carry-ons? Had Diane forgotten to tell me about the treacherous wall trap?
Finally, after who knows how long (time warps when you’re about to lose your mind), a voice that I hardly recognized as human shouted “Sir! Come this way!”
Ahhh. It seems that when I’d been ordered to the “Wall!”, it meant that I was supposed to walk in the aisle next to the said wall and make my way to another checkpoint, which was apparently there to prepare me for the next pre-flight part of the shakedown/check-in.
I know that the more I then tried to look casual and innocent, the bumblier and guiltier I presented. I didn’t place my shoes in the tray properly. I wrongly put my knapsack on the rollers and not on the conveyer belt. I missed my mark on the yellow footprints. Then came the body frisking scanner, which made me feel like I was committing a fully-clothed full monty. Before I went through, another TSA agent asked if I had any other metal objects on my person, and I unthinkingly said “Uh … well … just the metal in my legs.”
This immediately pricked up his ears (and the ears and eyebrows of two other nearby agents, who began to throng in closer to me) and I tried to explain, as unterroristically as possible, the history of my knee surgeries and the utterly non-explosive nature of the implanted screws therein. I was near breathless with anxiety when they suddenly and inexplicably shrugged me off and waved me through. I didn’t understand how I could so quickly go from mad bomber suspect to harmless land mammal rookie, but I didn’t look back long enough to grab the wrong backpack and walk off with their plastic shoe caddy.
Diane had already expertly zipped through her inspection and detection lines, and was waiting for me in the post-gauntlet, fly-safe neutral zone. She’d been watching helplessly from the other side as I was over there mysteriously self-imposing my wall exile.
Much to her credit, when I explained what had happened, she did not laugh until we’d left and returned to the ground.
Safely. Without a parachute.
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Senior Wire News Service syndicated humor columnist B. Elwin Sherman writes from Bethlehem, NH. He is an author, humorist and infrequent flyer. His new book, “Walk Tall And Carry A BigWatering Can,” is now available. You may contact him via his blog at witbones.com. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.