The Great Hair Gel and Toothpaste Scare

Air travel just isn’t what it used to be. On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I checked my bag, something that wouldn’t have been necessary in the days before The Great Toothpaste and Hair Gel Scare, the latest episode in the ongoing Bush Administration Fright Fest. These days it is bad form to suggest starting a conga line to the other sheeple in the security cattle pen unless you have a burning desire to visit Cuba.

I smile at the TSA employee who checks my ID and boarding pass. She reminds me of my Grandma, white hair, frail, a little stooped which makes me feel very safe. After all, surely if this airport were a real security concern, they would be manning the post with someone a little more buff. Or maybe they figure no one would mess with someone who looks like their Granny.

Clearing security is a breeze, taking maybe all of 10 minutes, despite the ominous notice on the airline’s website warning that you should allow 3 hours of time at the airport due to the new regulations. I put my shoes back on and listen to an announcement on the loudspeaker that the airport is on high alert and that we are now in a sterile area. Perhaps the televisions in the lounge areas have been switched to the Sci Fi station? But no, they are still tuned to CNN. One wonders about the definition of sterile. Surely they should have stopped the teenager with the body odor or the toddler who is running around smearing his snot on everything. Those two have Guantanamo written all over them.

Questionable security aside, I arrive in DC right on schedule, buy a brand new water bottle and make my way to the DC Metro where no one seems unduly frightened by hair gel or toothpaste. For that matter, I could have easily boarded the subway carrying a nuclear weapon and no one would have been the wiser.

All goes well and I have a wonderful trip. When it is time to return to the airport, I make my way to Union Station where along with my water bottle, toothpaste, hair gel and shoes, I board the Amtrak train back to the Baltimore airport. The nice conductor looks at my ID, but doesn’t make me take a sip out of my water bottle.

Arriving back at the airport, I patriotically pitch my water bottle in the trash and check my toothpaste-laden bag. By now I am biting my tongue not to burst into song,

“Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away”

But once again I zip through security and arrive back home on time. My checked bag, however, is not so lucky. I make my way to the lost luggage office where the lady behind the counter sighs. Seems that earlier in the day there had been a suspicious package in a suitcase that had closed down a concourse in Baltimore for a time. No mention of what was in the bag, according to the one short news item I could find. But of course that had messed up luggage handling for the rest of the day and bags from Baltimore were not going with the flow.

She assures me my bag will come in on the next flight. And it does, with a nice little note from TSA at the bottom letting me know that they are aware that my underwear has holes in it and that they won’t hesitate to use that knowledge. The airline kindly offers to deliver the bag to me, assuring me that it will be on my doorstep within 2 hours. And it is, 5 hours later. Of course the cash-strapped airline picks up the cost of giving my bag a lift home, it is not TSA’s problem.

There seems to have been a great increase in airplane scares lately, although none seem to have been actual terrorist incidences. The most notable of those that have actually crashed seems to have been caused by an understaffed control tower and a bad runway map.

Those who see the glass half full and have a never-ending supply of rose colored glasses will tell you that even though the new regulations seem silly, it’s worth it if it makes us more secure. The rest of us, including the gate attendant at the airport who tells me she can’t even bring her lip gloss to work anymore, are well aware that we are more likely to die from Appendicitis than exploding water bottles and are more inclined to think we have landed in some bizarre satire version of Scary Movie, the Ultimate Episode.

I really should know better than to publish this rant. Almost guarantees a body cavity search or a travel voucher on a rendition flight to an exotic location should I ever have the temerity to fly the friendly skies again. So if I drop out of sight, you’ll likely find me catching the sun on the Cuban beach.

LUCINDA MARSHALL is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network,