I’m in the Chicago airport, walking toward the security area.
I can see up ahead that something different is happening. Something new. The sight of anything new and different while boarding a plane generally is an indicator that the clever folks at TSA have come up with some fresh and exciting additions to their security theater arena. And you just know that it’ll be the airline-travel equivalent of a Facebook upgrade: It’s gonna suck, but you have no choice except just to go with it.
I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the days of the constant recorded reminders that the security-threat level is currently at “orange.”
It’s early morning and not very crowded, so I can see this new thing from a distance. It’s getting closer as I walk, but not directly proportionally. The switchback cordons are set up to corral 700 people, but there are actually only about five of us walking through them. Ducking under is an option, but it would mean ducking under a dozen times, and I’m pretty tall, and wearing a backpack and it’s still kind of early to be doing any sort of limbo routine. So I walk 15 paces one way, then do an about-face and make another 15 paces the other way, then again, and again and again. I think that just this alone should be enough to deter any flyers with bad intentions.
After a few 180s I can see that this new item appears to be an iPad on a stand. An iPad mini, to be exact. The stand perches it up at about ATM- eight, so it can be easily poked at by approaching passengers. Which is exactly what is happening. And this activity is being overseen by a TSA agent. But why would a stop off at an iPad station be required before going through security? Still too far away to tell, and still plenty of back and forth time to ponder it, three possibilities pop into my increasingly dizzy mind.
If you get a high enough Minecraft score you can take a full water bottle through with you.
Watch a quick TED talk on how to properly tie your shoes once you’ve put them back on.
It’s the new mini with Retina display, and it’s pretty cool, so it’s a pleasant thing for people to look at. You know, to take the sting out of what’s about to happen next.
“Step over here please, sir,” the TSA agent stationed at the iPad finally says to me.
“What’s this thing?”
“It’s a Randomizer,” he says.
Now I already knew that it was a Randomizer, because it said “Randomizer” really big on the small screen. But what’s important is the way he said it. He said it using his best imitation of The Richmeister, the copy machine guy from the old SNL sketch. No kidding. “It’s a Randomizer!”
“Touch the screen here, please,” the TSAmeister says.
I did. I touched right on the words “Please Touch Screen Here.” A new screen appeared with a left-pointing arrow. It read, “Proceed to left line.”
“Proceed to the left line, please,” Agent TSA-a-rino told me.
He clearly is the right guy for this job.
But, … what are the other choices The Randomizer could have given me? Is “Drop trou and hobble directly to the windowless room” one of them? And if so, do I have to do that because The Randomizer said so? Is The Randomizer an upgrade from the original concept of this obvious attempt at non-profiling? You know, the one they called The Turbanizer? If I asked the TSAmeister to touch the screen for me, would the results still count? What if I didn’t like my result? How many more times do I get to hit the screen? Can I opt out of The Randomizer and roll some actual dice instead? Or use a Magic 8 Ball?
So many questions. All of which are most likely felonies. So I shut up and move along. Just like always. Just like everyone.
Because I know that unless I’d prefer to drive or walk, I’m at the whim of whatever new genius security scheme the TSA cooks up.
Still, there’s one part of this scenario that really, really upsets me.
What a waste of a perfectly good iPad!
Barry Smith’s column appears Monday. More at http://www.barrsmith.com
I watched from that other valley for nearly two decades as the ATW flagged, then was reborn, re-energized, surely for good this time, at last, things looking up. Only to slip and the cycle begin again.