Keeping Our Airports Protected:
It's Your Duty Not to Slow Down!

©2002, Tim Lightfoot

Notes on piece: It seems that Americans are extremely good at over-reaction. While I'm as worried as anyone else about security, sometimes the extreme precautions taken seem to treat trustworthy citizens as terrorists. The following piece is a fictionalized account of a recent event....
It was supposed to be a simple thing: just go pick up my wife at the airport. Now, I understand that things are different today. Gone are the days of waiting at the terminal gate for your loved one to emerge from that gateway, seeing the look of delight and happiness on their face as they found you in the crowd. No, a bunch of idiots took that pleasure away from us last year. Gone are the days when we were all treated as trustworthy Americans and didn't have to undergo more invasive examinations that I get at my physician's office just to approach the airport. Yep, many things have changed at airports.

Since my wife travels quite a bit, she and I had worked out a "system" for picking her up at the airport - I know about when she should be landing and then add 20 minutes to that time to allow for her to get off the plane, get her luggage, and meet me at the curb. We had recently added the mandatory cell phone call from her as soon as she got off the plane so I could fine-tune my arrival times at the curb. Now you are probably thinking "hey, just park and meet her in the terminal". I had tried parking and meeting her at the security checkpoint, but by the time the car went through the mandatory proctology exam, I showed three forms of identification, and the security guards had telephoned my next three living relatives, I found that parking anywhere within 14 miles of the airport was virtually useless. Actually, I had found that it was quicker for me to park at my home 30 miles away, jog to the airport, rent a cab driven by some guy named Shareef, who could then park in front of baggage claim for an hour and a half waiting for my wife. I probably should have followed this plan. But noooooo!, I wanted to be an independent American and do things in a rational manner.

My wife was coming in on a 1:40 pm flight, so I aimed to get to the airport at 2 pm. Promptly at 2 pm, I pulled into the baggage claim area noticing all of the signs that say in large block letters "Abandoned Cars WILL Be Towed Immediately". Hmm…well, I didn't plan to abandon my car since I going to wait at the curb in the car for my wife. However, I didn't count on Leroy* the Security Guard (*name changed to protect the moronic) who as soon as I came to a complete stop, informed me with a small sneer on his face that I actually couldn't stop - I had to keep moving or I would be considered a threat to, as he said in his gentle tone of voice, "NATIONAL SECURITY". He then pointed to a small sign 75 feet away that supposedly said "No stopping or slowing in this area" (the lettering was so small I had to take Leroy's word for it). Since I didn't recognize that airport security is now run by people that don't grasp the concept of having to stop to actually let people in the car, I tried to point out the irrationality of the whole system to Leroy. He responded by immediately calling the tow truck that was, interestingly enough, parked by the curb behind two motionless cabs (wait, I think I see Shareef the cabbie who will vouch for me). Leroy informs me that I can either pull out and circle the airport or stop and be towed - it's my choice. So, I pull out and circle the terminal, waiting for my wife to call on the cell phone.

Three minutes later, after driving the minimum speed limit around the airport periphery, I'm back in "Leroy's House". Leroy starts hollering again the instant I slowed my car. "But it's a crosswalk!" I explain to Leroy.

"No slowing in my area, idiot" Leroy shouts. Sweat was beading on his forehead under his close-cropped haircut and he had a little bit of spittle coming from the left corner of his mouth as he explained the finer points of anti-terrorism procedures to me.

"Okay, okay" I shout out the window as I accelerate over the crosswalk. (Did you know that if you hit an airport crosswalk at 40 mph, it will actually lift your car off the ground?)

After driving as slowly as possible around the terminal again and only wasting 5 minutes in the process, I'm back watching Leroy shout and gesture. At this point, I am relieved because it appears that Leroy is an equal opportunity offender. I can barely hear Leroy's words as he calls some little lady in a large Buick who looks to be about 70 years old, "a god-forsaken terrorist". In the process of gesturing at the little lady, Leroy evidently noticed a red mini-van stop at the curb. "Keep moving!" Leroy bellowed at the red mini-van. The startled driver of the red mini-van hit the gas, with the result being that the man who was greeting the three, 8 year old girls in the back seats, was thrown to the ground. As the red mini-van stopped again, Leroy began to run at the mini-van and started his personal creed - "Keep moving!, keep moving!" The man who was thrown to the ground, in an understandable reaction to having a security guard running at him, started jogging beside the mini-van (which had thankfully started moving again), throwing his suitcase inside and then jumping into the van himself. However, Leroy was not to be deterred from stopping this family's potential threat to NATIONAL SECURITY. Hollering and waving his arms as he stopped the mini-van, Leroy started motioning the tow truck to come and tow the red mini-van. As he pointed at the mini-van, Leroy was screaming "They fit the profile! They fit the profile! They stopped - they may have a bomb! Don't let them get away!". At this point, I'm scared because I realize that Leroy has a gun on his belt. What? Did his superiors give Leroy the gun and order him to shoot the tires out of cars that actually stop? But then, that wouldn't work, because the car would then have to stop. Maybe the gun is just to shoot people with….

Not wanting to deal anymore with Leroy, I accelerate over a crosswalk - I get two feet of air underneath the car and clear a small poodle - and I'm off on my next lap of the airport.

Five minutes later, after adding a few more hydrocarbons to the air and further contributing to global warming (I'm really starting to feel guilty about picking my wife up), I'm back and Leroy's still here. Ah, but now there is another officer with Leroy. "Thank god. Maybe now they'll take Leroy off duty and help him with his stress level" I think. Almost simultaneous with my relief at seeing someone with Leroy - I think his name badge said "Smith" - a woman waving at the curb catches my attention and I slow thinking it may be my wife.

"Hey, you jerk! No slowing down here! Keep moving!" Oh great. Smith is a bigger irrational jerk than Leroy with apparently even fewer interpersonal skills.

What happened after this initial interaction with Smith is still a bit confusing. I think that about the time the Smith/Leroy choir started repeating the 'keep moving or be towed' chorus, I felt a sharp bump followed by a loud thud and screaming. Partially because a large crowd was pointing at the front of my car, I realized that I'd hit someone or something in the crosswalk. I immediately stopped, which was a huge mistake, I think. About that time, my memory and everything else is a little fuzzy. My wife, who had been waving from the curb, said that as soon as I stopped and opened the door, Leroy hit me with his nightstick, hollered something about 'persistent resistance', and dragged me into the median. Smith promptly called the tow truck and my car was immediately towed away - after all, my car had stopped moving and could have been a threat to NATIONAL SECURITY. It turns out that happily, I hadn't hit anyone, but because Leroy and Smith insisted that I not slow down even for the crosswalks, my car had run-over a large blue suitcase and had dragged the luggage for many yards before I stopped the car.

My story really ends there. Right now, I'm sitting in the airport jail - heck, I didn't even know that they had jails in airports - having been charged with creating an automotive menace to the safety of the airport and NATIONAL SECURITY (it is even capitalized on the warrant!). I guess the good thing that has come out of this is that I've met new friends. The 70-year old lady, Martha, and the red mini-van family - Patty, Kevin and the triplets - are also in adjacent cells and we've swapped attorney names as well as finding out more about each other. We've all agreed that it is important to tell our story because it is important that our airports are kept safe from slow-moving traffic and people stopping at the curbs to pick up their loved ones. We also think that it is important not to single anyone out and to treat everyone like terrorists - you never know when a middle-aged college professor or a little old lady or a family of five might be packing a bomb instead of picking up a loved one at the airport. Yep, the Patty and Kevin believe that this has been an important learning experience for their girls, even though they are not sure how they will raise the triplets in the state penitentiary. Martha even thinks this is funny - she says this is the most excitement she's had in years and an adventure that the ladies back at the Center won't believe. Martha is right - this adventure IS funny - I've lived it and I still don't believe it either.

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