Barry Smith: Into the heart of ‘Sniperville’
It’s 6 a.m. and my wife, Christina, and I are in the Aspen airport. This is the second day on the job for the new federal security staff, so they have that fresh, second-day-on-the-new-job attitude. My magnetic personality sets off the metal detector, so I’m given the once-over, many times over.
The security guy is nice enough, and I am too. It’s easy to be compliant when you’ve only slept for about two restless hours.
We’re flying to Washington, D.C., where I will spend the next week as an AV Guy, then the following two weeks as a tourist in New York. I’ll be writing about my adventures from the road for these few weeks, so you’ll want to check back here often.
As always, I’ve waited until the last day to do the several day’s worth of things I need to do to prepare for this extended trip, so I get to bed around 3 a.m. the night before, only to wake up at 5 in order to get to the airport by 6, so I can be searched for 10 solid minutes.
Off come the shoes. Mine, that is. He wands me all over, twice, with my arms outstretched. The wand beeps at my watch, concealed beneath my sleeve.
“Are you wearing a watch, sir?” he asks.
“Yes,” I reply, as it’s too early for sarcasm.
I pull up my sleeve and he checks my watch thoroughly, as if he’s never seen such a device before. He peeks under the band. He looks at the buckle with a level of scrutiny I’d expect from a jeweler.
He compares the time on his watch with the time on mine. Then it’s on to the belt buckle. He instructs me to unbuckle it, then pats professionally around my waistline. And good morning to you, sir.
He’s searching for weapons, or potential weapons, or bombs, or potential bombs. I have none, he concludes, and I put my shoes on and take a seat.
I wonder what the new upgraded security measures would be like if the men who brought down the 9-11 planes would have used karate instead of weapons? Would they take you aside and throw a punch at you, checking to see if you instinctively deflected it and followed up with a round-house kick?
Or hold a board in front of you and instruct you to break it with your fist? Or place you in front of a stack of bricks and make you attempt to break them with your head?
A trained martial artist could take out an entire flight crew using the banana from the in-flight snack pack. Do the feds have fruit detectors? Is anyone safe?
I really hope I can get some sleep on this flight.
The TV in the airport is tuned to CNN, which is reporting live from the scene of the latest sniper shooting. Everyone is watching, as there’s nothing else to look at.
I see about 10 people I know in the airport. We exchange a few sleepy hellos and then they ask me where I’m going.
“I’m going there,” I say, pointing to the TV screen.
(NOTE: I realize that this seems like old news by now, but at that moment there was no sniper suspect in custody, so I was essentially heading into the heart of sniperville. It may require a bit of imagination to put yourself in my [bomb/banana-free] shoes. For once the fact that I am a head taller than your average citizen was not something to be proud of.)
As a tall person, leg room on an airplane is not an issue. There just isn’t any. As a result I can’t sleep. I order tomato juice from the beverage cart.
“Here’s an interesting thing about me,” I say to Christina, who IS sleeping. “I only drink tomato juice when I’m on an airplane.”
Sleep depravation makes everything seem interesting.
We land in Dulles and catch a cab to the hotel. “How long are you in D.C.?” the cab driver asks. “One week.” At that he turns on the radio and, as if on cue, the news comes on: “The sheriff says that no age, sex, race or occupation is safe from this sniper, who has just claimed his 10th victim today.” I duck down in the back of the taxi and quickly fall asleep.
Next time: Barry puts on the Ritz.
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From behind the scenes, the sights and sounds of horse and cattle, and the raucous lifestyle of rodeo culture hasn’t changed all that much since the Snowmass Rodeo arena opened here in the summer of 1973.