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Tammy Swift, Published February 01 2014

Swift: Latest trip no exception to special treatment at airport

I must look guilty.

It never fails. Whenever I fly, I am always the one who is singled out for a little extra TSA TLC. My friends have several theories as to why this happens. “Ursula” says it’s because my hair is so large that the TSA thinks I may be smuggling something onto the plane.

Another friend ventured that maybe I was being targeted in a bizarre form of Northern European profiling, in which agents zero in on anyone who seems unusually pale or apologetic. (Talk about being blonde-sided.)

My own theory is that I am such an anxious traveler that I ooze nervousness. Not because I’m worried that the plane will fall out of the sky, but because I am concerned that I am not doing it right.

While standing in line for the security check, I am already fretting. Is ChapStick a liquid? Should I have put it in the baggie? Is my boarding pass in hand so as not to back up other travelers?

If I fumble while placing my keys and purse in the bin, will I be pegged as a terrorist? Will they understand that I wear clogs – not because I am smuggling knives in the chunky heels, but because I am 48 and require industrial-strength arch support?

My latest trip to visit sisters in Florida was no exception. I stood in line, debating whether I should remove my coat now or if that might be construed as an alarmingly sudden move.

As directed, I removed my liquids (including ChapStick) from my purse and my laptop from my bag. I slid off my giant shoes and placed everything neatly in a series of gray, plastic bins. I made eye contact with the agents and was as pleasant as could be.

Naturally, my agreeable manner guaranteed that I was identified as a dangerous government agitator. I was sent off to the Scanner of Shame, right behind an elderly Hutterite woman who was probably harboring an array of high-powered weapons beneath her white, starched, cotton bonnet.

We stood in line for the carnival ride that no one wants to take: the millimeter wave machine, which looks like the accidental love child of a “Land of the Lost” Pylon and a Mystic Tan spray-tan booth.

An authoritative-looking young woman gazed at me through the other side of the space-shuttle x-ray phone-booth thingie. She’s wearing gloves, so I know she means business. I smile. She does not smile back.

Finally, she’s ready for me. “Stand with your feet on the yellow footprints,” Young Glove says, indicating a set of Sasquatch-sized, adhesive footprints, which are located impossibly far apart.

As directed, I stand there like a delinquent starfish that has been apprehended and is now being frisked. All the time, my mind is churning. How much can they see with this Big Brother Phone Booth? Can they tell I didn’t shave? Will they know I had mac and cheese for lunch? I wonder if they offer free mole checks.

After all this excitement, she instructs me to step outside for a “pat-down.” Fortunately, it turns out to be rather anti-climactic, not at all like the overly vigorous, full-body rub-downs they showed on “Starsky and Hutch.”

Basically, she touches the back of one leg, as if to check if my thigh was indeed connected to my calf. Satisfied that it was, Young Glove shooed me through the Safety Pipeline.

I smile and say, “Thank you.”

Because, you know, I’m here to play by the rules. I don’t want to make anyone mad, and I hope I didn’t inconvenience you too much.

Just call me The Codependent Tourist.


Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com