Friends, two days ago I was a victim of sexual victimization. Sorry, I can think of no other term. To call it abuse or harassment demeans the very real horror that others have suffered. Trust me, this is actually a funny tale. Let me explain.
After saying goodbye to my good friend Dan at the curb on the east side of the main terminal at Denver International Airport (DIA) I walked in the building, printed my boarding pass from a kiosk, and walked right back out for a smoke. You see, I wasn’t checking any baggage (except emotional) and my flight wasn’t scheduled to depart for another three hours. I knew I had this thing well timed and well thought out. So, three cigs later I wandered back into the terminal. I think I made a phone call and gabbed with one of my sisters back East. Then I went back out for another smoke. Then I came back in. I glanced down from the top level where I was standing to see very light security lines. DIA has one of those obnoxious set-ups. You know the kind? There is one main terminal that handles all ticketing, check-in’s, and baggage claim. Then there are mid-field concourses only accessible via an underground train system. At DIA there are three such concourses. The difference between this airpot and others of a similar ilk like, say, ATL (Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International House of Pancakes) is that the first concourse is also accessible via an overhead walkway. It’s really neat because passengers can look down and see large jets taxiing to their gates right underneath them. As far as our friends at TSA are concerned this also means there must be an additional layer of security. Passengers can choose either to descend to the lowest level of the main terminal and wander through an endless maze of security lines only to then descend even further to the train or they can walk the skybridge and take their chances at the security lines at the other end. If you choose the latter it is likely because your flight departs from the first concourse. That was the case with me.
I’ve flown in and out of this airport before. I have always found the bridge security line much lighter. Lucky for me I was always flying from Concourse A. Today was no different. So after a few more puffs I finally decided it was time to make my way back. Wouldn’t want to be too early and be stuck with no smoking lounges. Have I mentioned before how stupid I think some of these airports are? Look, people smoke. Get over it. Especially in a state like Colorado where they just legalized weed, for heaven’s sake, you’d think they’d be more tolerant of the non-mind-altering stuff. Airports like Dulles in Northern Virginia and the aforementioned ATL have well-ventilated smoking lounges in the concourses. This way, passengers who choose to light up do not have to be re-screened and thus waste everyone’s time. The reason I headed back when I did is that I had discovered, through an app on my phone, that there was indeed one solitary smoking location past security. It was all the way in the third and final concourse. No problem, I thought… I’ll just walk the bridge, get myself nudey x-rayed, and hop a train from there out to C for a smoke and an overpriced gin and tonic.
And then I got to the checkpoint. I watched as little old ladies argued with the agents because they did not know they could leave their shoes on. “You mean I removed my shoes for nothing?!” I know the whole thing is a sham. Come on. You want to tell me that minimum-wage workers are really getting trained in how to read x-rays? I had an MRI on my lumbar spine and the radiologist could barely read it. And he went to med school! This is all to say nothing of the fact that we all know those ridiculous backscatter machines (the nudey ones) are probably unsafe at any speed. I know I should be bothered by the fact that naked images of me are being recorded and viewed by idiots in a booth but I really don’t care. Is that wrong? Of course it is.
I reached the front of the line and a pleasant, older gentleman scanned my boarding pass. It started beeping (the machine with which he scanned it, that is). “What in the world was this fresh hell?” I thought to myself. Well, it didn’t seem to be anything because he looked at my license and then started underlining everything in sight including the name of the airline. “Oh well,” I thought, “Keep moving.” I pulled my shoes off, whipped my belt out, unfastened my back brace, put my backpack and the box containing my other back brace all in the plastic bin with all my other worldly belongings on the conveyor belt. And then it happened.
I was motioned to step into the machine. I dutifully stood with my feet on the yellow foot marks. I always do it slightly askew to piss them off. I raised my hands above my head like the common criminal my government thinks I am. I wanted to raise one of my digits above my head as well. But just as quickly I was summoned forth, out of the machine. The female agent on the other side put her hand up to me in a stopping motion. I stopped. She pointed to a monitor and then with her other hand motioned for a male agent. He materialized out of nowhere, simultaneously snapping a pair of latex gloves on his delicate hands. Dork. He then spoke the following to me.
“Sir, I have to pat down the upper regions of the backs of your legs.”
“You mean… my ass?” I responded, literally not knowing how to field that statement.
“It’s all routine, sir,” he shot back with a blank stare. “I also have to investigate your lower back and some other things.” As he said this his voice trailed off. This was a bit creepy. At no time was I given the option to step into a private screening area. Nope. The old bag with the ortho shoes was sitting two feet away in her wheelchair. Before he hit the last word of that last sentence his hands were tightly wrapped around my upper thighs. “Hey now!” I said with a bit of a laugh. Last time that happened I had just slipped a platinum band on someone’s finger earlier in the day. “Routine, sir.” Really? You routinely grab other guys’ thighs? What was on your resume to get this job? Bouncer at Studio 54? Understudy for the dance troupe of J-Lo… “Oh my God!” I shouted. He had gone there. He had grabbed my buttocks. It all happened so quickly. Apparently this is routine. And then, on his return trip, he came within a millimeter of what God and my Daddy gave me. Although I normally don’t mind representing the family name well, I was so stunned by what was taking place that I flinched. He jumped back. “You know I have titanium rods in my spine, right? I mean, you can see that on the machine pretty clearly, right? Right, sir?” I said. “Irrelevant. Routine, sir.” I didn’t know what to say. I think my explanation must have made him realize how stupid he looked doing his whole prison pat-down routine. I calmly walked over and put my shoes, belt, and brace back on. I gathered my other belongings and wandered off over the bridge into the distance.
And then I rode the train to happy town — which at DIA is a bar called Great Smokey Teton Smoking Bar or something like that. “Sir, there’s a minimum drink order to smoke in here,” I heard as I walked through the door, lit Marlboro already dangling from my lips. “Oh don’t worry, my friend, I think I’ll hit that and then some.”
I came home and hugged my wife. And cried.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).