May 24, 2017

Going Through Security at LAX

Griffith Observatory and a view of Los Angeles

          Once, in a different world, when Barak Obama was our president – about a year ago – I was going through security at LAX. Debbie had been waved through seemingly right away and raced off, while I had been put in the slow line.  More and more time was passing and I was getting nervous about missing the flight.  There were about five or six people in this much slower line, and all of our attention was on the x-ray machine as our bags were being slowly fed in and out. And I mean slowly. The security guy kept on reversing the conveyer belt to x-ray certain bags over and over again, while we were all waiting, barefoot, to walk through that body scanner thing.
By the time I made it to the other side and was waiting for my stuff to come out of the x-ray machine, Debbie was long gone. I could only assume she had gone ahead to the plane. It was about this time, when I was wondering if she realized how far behind her I was and if she could somehow delay the plane from leaving, when I got a good look at the other people I was standing in line with. On either side of me stood two young men who were probably brothers and obviously Persian. Then there was another guy who looked very Middle Eastern, maybe Arabic, then a black guy, and then a man in a turban. I looked at the other, much faster line and saw something very different. A crowd of Anglo-Saxons and their strollers being waved through, and I thought this is not a coincidence.
I watched the x-ray machine with renewed fervor, occasionally glancing out of the corner of my eye at the other people on line with me, which I saw them doing to me as well. It was like we were all simultaneously judging each other but also on the same side. There was one security guard at the x-ray machine for the other line, but our line had three.
Suddenly there was some commotion as the three security guys came to a decision and pulled out a big black backpack. One held it up and called out, “Whose backpack is this?”
I looked at the Persian guy to the left of me, and our eyes met. He shook his head, and I looked at the one on the other side of me, who also shook his head. As one, we all turned to the security guard and shook our heads, silently. By this time the Indian guy had also joined us and when the security guy demanded if the bag belonged to him or the Middle Eastern guy they also said no without actually speaking. “So whose is it, then?” The security man demanded, and we all looked at him blankly.  He looked at me critically for a moment before affirming yet again that the bag didn’t belong to any of the men on line with me. “Are you sure this backpack doesn’t belong to any of you?”  Yes, we were sure!
We all looked at him as he looked at us. It was like one of those moments where the phrase, “or forever hold your peace,” echoed silently through the minds of everyone present. We all understood that, we embraced it. We knew there was no going back after not claiming that backpack.
My backpack was a violent shade of pink, and it was visible through the slotted rubber pieces at the exit of the x-ray machine. It would come out a little and then get sucked back in when the conveyer belt reversed and they decided to examine everything all over again. It kept on popping out partway and then going back in, again and again.  The fourth time it happened, I had to restrain myself from dodging forward on my bare feet and plucking it from the machine, which was good since a second later it was sucked back in again and I am not sure I would have been able to clamber over the inclined rolling pins to get to the conveyer belt in time. I remember those rolling pin-slides from playgrounds. I also probably would have been noticed by the numerous security guards, particularly the one that saw me twitch slightly as my stuff disappeared back into the x-ray machine and continued to watch me for long minutes afterward.
I vaguely remember that some bald guy in fatigues popped up out of nowhere to claim the unclaimed backpack and that he was led off to give a security guard a tour through his personal belongings. I remembered that because I began both darkly and sincerely praying that wouldn’t happen to me this time. My phone was in the x-ray machine, there was no way to tell Debbie what was going on.  
I was still thinking about how to communicate with her when suddenly my pink backpack rolled down the rolling pins, and in a thunderbolt of realization it occurred to me that I had zoned out and lost track of time and that my plane was leaving without me. I had this vision of Debbie sitting next to an empty seat, looking around anxiously, as the plane started taxiing away from the gate. I quickly picked up my backpack and threw it on my back before going for my duffel bag. As I made to dodge away, one of the guys I had been on line with put his arm out to stop me, saying, “Wait! Your laptop!” And the guy in the turban behind me said,  “And your shoes!” And I looked back to see my laptop, shoes, and toiletries sitting nicely, nearly abandoned on the rolling pins.
When I tried to toss my laptop in my backpack, I was taken aback by the sight of two pounds of dates I had been lugging around since Death Valley and had completely forgotten about. I had forgotten about them so completely that even in the moment when I saw them again, my response was, “What is that? How did it get there? Why is it taking up so much room?” I may have said one or two of those questions out loud. Then I promptly ignored this strange obstacle as I stuffed my laptop and toiletries back into my bag.  Putting on shoes was odd, because I had gotten so used to the feel of the airport linoleum and small jagged rocks under my feet.  After ascertaining that all my possessions were in my possession again, I promptly started running around the airport madly while gravity tried to rip my arms from my body and force me to leave them behind. I didn’t even know what gate my plane was at, so I had to find one of those changing screens of lists first.

I finally made it to a deserted gate where a lone flight attendant leaned against a desk, staring off into space in a way that alarmed me. I raced up to her, and was like, “Is the plane - gone?” She sort of sighed, and scanned my boarding pass while saying, “No, it’s still here,” then waved me forward. In my jog down the extended tunnel thing to the plane, I kept expecting to run into a line of people shuffling forward as I turned the corners of the dimly lit, slightly bouncy walkway but I saw no one until I stepped onto the plane. I turned down the aisle and immediately spotted Debbie, sitting next to an empty seat and watching the entrance anxiously, almost exactly as I had imagined, except with less space between seat rows. She looked really relieved to see me. I also felt pretty relieved, and absurdly magnanimous as I took my seat. I asked her if she would have delayed the plane for me. She snorted and said no. Then we giggled for a while.