Dana Martin Writing

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A [mostly amusing] blog about travel, life, and TSA pat-downs
Dana Martin Writing

“U” is for Un-believable!

Grateful April in the A-Z Blogging Challenge

No, this blog entry will not be about gratitude.

As we make our way to the end of April and the culmination of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I see that I somewhat failed in my attempt to write one blog post per day due to my traveling schedule. Not one to let trivial things like sleepless nights and day-long bus tours smite me, I am going to finish this challenge, beginning with where I left off… “U.”
It will not come as a surprise to my regular readers that I suffer from travel follies, but what may boggle the mind is that I haven’t learned from them. Blame it on my lack of sleep, tendency to procrastinate, or my hairstyle, but I did it again. I didn’t sleep much Sunday night, so I wasn’t thinking too clearly. I also forgot to wash my hands on the the way to the airport. Regular readers of this blog should be able to appreciate the implications of not washing my hands. For new readers, I give you Exhibit A. (Read that link when you get the chance.)

When I travel, things happen–many times involving planes, check-in, passengers or luggage. Or body scanners. Or pat-downs. Today, it began in my room. As I surveyed my luggage, I noted that I purchased a few items on my trip that individually would not weigh much, but when added to my already 49.5 pound fully packed suitcase would put me over the 50 pound limit. I already chafe at paying the $25 luggage fee imposed by the airline industry, so I will do anything (including throwing away my blow dryer at the airport) in order to avoid paying another commie surcharge cent to United Airlines for an overly heavy bag. With the “scale game” in mind, I made the decision to leave my brand new full-sized shampoo and conditioner behind in order to pack six days of free mini toiletries instead. It is only without much sleep and a slight hangover that this made sense.

I explain this only to present my state of mind with regard to choosing my outfit for the flight home. I’d need to wear my heaviest jeans and boots, carry my thickest sweatshirt, and pack as many bulky items as would fit in my backpack and purse. The only clean shirt left was a cute little, dare I say “blingy” red, white and blue skull shirt my daughter gave me for Christmas. No warning bells went off when I ripped the tags off and pulled it over my head. Not even a warning whisper. And when I styled my hair, I made sure to spray it with enough hairspray to last two flights and the inevitable nap that was awaiting me in seat 11B.

See, I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by the removal of Bakersfield’s full body scanner. After forcing the little two-terminal airport to purchase a $10 million dollar scanner, the FAA later decided that bigger, busier airports needed the newer technology more than Bakersfield, thereby making Bakersfield a perfect entry point for bomb carrying terrorists by sending our scanner to–oh, say–Dallas-Fort Worth.

Dallas airport is a breeze. Shuttle drops you off near the gate, no one in line at check-in, and off you go to security. Shoot, why did I leave so early? At that rate, I’d be waiting at Gate 4E with two whole hours to spare. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I saw no line at the x-ray machines, either. Wow… this was going to be a snap.
And then I saw it. The fully body scanner. I looked down at my jewel bedecked skull shirt and the rivets on my jeans and knew I would be the most popular person in the airport in about 60 seconds.

Stepping inside the plastic tube, I raised my arms like I knew the drill and waited for the signal that a terrorist wearing flashy clothing was loose in Dallas. This time, at least, I knew it was coming so I was prepared.
“Wait right here ma’am,” said a man studying the monitor. When I heard it beep, I looked at the screen sheepishly. “See this right here?” the man said. “Your shirt made the sensors go off.”

Not to say there’s anything wrong with his machine, but the girl depicted in that X-ray was lit up like a Christmas tree from her ears to her stomach. I was not wearing earrings. Was that really me? I was beginning to wonder about an airport security scan conspiracy.

I smiled, nodded my head, and did everything but produce my wrists for the handcuffs. I think he must have been waiting for an outcry. “These blasted machines!” I’d say. “I have rights!” But there was no outrage, not even when the female security officer told me she’d need to touch my breasts. Would I like a private room, she wondered. “No,” I told her. “Let’s just get this over with. I’ll never see these people again.” Just as she was finishing, my mind was already halfway on the airplane when another TSA agent approached me with those familiar little white cloths to test my hands for bombs.

Oh no. Oh no no no no. My foggy head snapped out of its post-convention funk. I FORGOT TO WASH MY HANDS!! If the hairspray I’d used earlier was still on my hands, and why wouldn’t it be??, I’d be in for another frisking. I hesitantly watched as he swabbed my palms with the cloths, and I held my breath as he placed them into the machine. Praying was not going to get me out of this one; I squeezed my hands together and could feel the sticky hairspray. Five seconds later, the alarm and red lights went off and “EXPLOSIVE RESIDUE DETECTED” flashed on his screen.


The female TSA agent looked at me sympathetically and asked, “Did you use lotion on your hands this morning?” Do they train these people to ask that? I’ve set off the residue sensors twice, and twice I got the same question. “No, actually I made a bomb in my hotel this morning. Can we move this process along, please? I’m hungry.”

I don’t mean to imply that TSA agents are usually bored at work, but boy, when this girl passes through a checkpoint, airport security sure gets to implement all of their emergency situation techniques. In seconds, they collected my tubs and escorted me to the side, where—and I kid you not—they took their white swabs and went through everything. When the first girl began removing my gum and lip gloss, my anxiety told me it was a good idea to strong-arm her verbally: “You better remember where everything goes. It took me a long time to pack that purse right.” I didn’t really expect compliance. And why should they humor a terrorist? They emptied my purse, swabbed the bottom. Swabbed my cell phone. Swabbed my camera, my laptop, my new David Sedaris book, my iPad, my wallet. They swabbed my shoes, the zipper on my jacket, the emptied bottom of my backpack, which hadn’t been used since the girls were in high school. If bomb residue was on my hands, wouldn’t it be on everything I’d touched? What if Jordyn had spilled something in that backpack?

Dallas wasn’t playing. Each swab was used on one item and placed in the bomb sniffing machine. These machines seemed a little too sensitive. I was nervous, not amused like I was when it happened in Bakersfield. I started picturing myself in a police car having to explain that I wasn’t a terrorist, just an idiot who wears stupid clothes and fails to wash her hands.

Then it was time for a private room, and I do mean private. If I thought the pat-down in Bakersfield was intimate, then by comparison, I think this TSA agent and I are exclusive now. Nothing… n-o-t-h-i-n-g went untouched. Let me say, ladies, that if there’s bomb residue down there, it isn’t a problem even the GYN can handle, much less the TSA.

The whole time, and it was a while, they used surgical gloves to “go over” me (and by “go over” what I really mean is in, out, under, around, between and atop). When finished, the gloves, front and back, were tested for bomb residue. I know I wasn’t breathing. Smiling, but not breathing. “Look, I’m pleasant and smiling–I’m no terrorist!” but by that point, even I was beginning to wonder if I was. Did I make a bomb this morning? My head was still fuzzy. Anything is possible after HauntCon.

Luckily, I was released. But a couple of things became clear. One, “Big Sexy Hairspray” is the bomb (bad joke), and two, the sweet TSA agent did manage to put my purse back in its original organizational order. The fact that nothing else became clear (proper air travel attire maybe) is a little troubling.

I’m going to Portland in a few weeks. I think I’ll dress in a robe and slippers.


  • Robin

    Oh, Dana. You must have been exhausted. I didn't know whether to laugh or groan. So, I did both.

  • Maria Dunn

    Oh my goodness, that you can laugh, Dana, after that experience, well, you are one amazing lady. You better be careful about even writing the "B" word in your blog. Who knows what they will have waiting for you the next time.

    I got behind these last few letter. Then I realized I was actually posting on time in another time zone. Hope you have fun catching up. God bless, Maria at Delight Directed Living

  • Jer


  • Joan Raymond

    Oh my, and I thought the other blog was funny. I laughed through this whole post.

    Next flight – don't shampoo, or style, or do anything but wash your hands (and the rest of your body just in case). Maybe a plain great jogging suit and tennis shoes – no sparklies.

  • meldrm

    Dress down for the flight next time. No sparkles or bangles. Set a reminder on your phone to wash your hands. Wear slip on shoes. Put your sparkly clothes in checked baggage or a big fat carry on.

    Interesting how "P" and "U" synergize into a "P.U." experience. Yet another to support high-speed rail- no TSA 🙂

  • Frances Stiles

    Oh, Lord! No wonder I don't like to fly. At least on a cross country road trip, Ralph doesn't care what I have in my pockets!! You must certainly rethink your next travel game plan!

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Dana .. sounds ghastly – you might be right about the robe and slippers and don't wash first ..

    Oh dear – they're just going their job I guess – though sometimes I wonder.

    Glad all's well – and congratulations on doing the part of the A-Z you could cope with .. cheers Hilary

  • bakoheat.com

    I thought we were over the "she was asking for it by the way she dressed (and her dirty hands). Great post, Dana…LMAO

  • Iola Reneau

    Great post, horrible experience. I thought "Big Sexy Hairspray" is the bomb..was a great comeback statement. At least you were able to keep smiling. I know I sure wouldn't have been smiling at all. Gritting my teeth and all the expletives barred behind them would have probably been a better description of how I would been reacting. So good for you, you are a trooper and will be in my prayers for all future traveling 🙂

  • Mark Fisher

    Wow. Being a scruffy guy has advantages for air travel. Though I've learned that they X-ray machine doesn't like my key chain. Which I inconveniently forget each time I fly.

  • Dana Martin

    Thanks, all! I know I have a long ways to go to be a better flyer. I leave for Portland in a few weeks. I will be sure to take a photo of my outfit as I'm getting on the plane. Only people who've read the blogs will be able to laugh at what I wear. 🙂

  • Jenn Flynn-Shon

    I'm so very sorry to read about your second ordeal with TSA. When those machines were installed years ago all I could think was that I was happy I'd gone everywhere overseas I'd wanted to go because flying would quickly become a thing of the past for me. At least as much as possible. Mostly because I don't really believe the TSA does anything other than try to make it appear like we're safer. I would like to see reports of how many people the TSA has caught trying to smuggle bombs onto planes since they were placed in airports. I imagine the number is somewhere down around zero-3. Between the cost to pay them, install those machines, buy packs of white swabs…and we wonder why airlines are going bankrupt now. Ugh, I could go on all day but don't want to hijack (pun intended) your comment section. Suffice to say I'm happy to hear you made it through all this again unscathed (mostly!)!

  • Kathy Wiechman

    It's nice that you can use your trials as fodder to amuuse your readers. Hope you could laugh about it afterward. That's the only revenge.

  • Terry Redman

    I HAVE got to go on a plane just behind you to see all the fun. I lost a pocket knife to TSA in Fresno; I thought it was from my dad, Linda said it was from her dad. Her fault (I think) because she used the backpack for camping and had the knife for use in the forest.
    I have been pulled aside, touched*, hand swabbed but nothing like what you bring to the boarding line. May future flights be dull. TR

  • Mark Murata

    I'm just glad they're going to allow knives on planes. Come to think of it, that might make a good story title.

  • Anna K. Stewart

    Wow. I have never been more glad for my lack of any sense of style, glitz or glam as I am reading this blog. Apparently, this serves the traveler well. As far as gratitude…you can be grateful for the story? No one could make up a story this good! 🙂

  • Dana Martin

    You guys are cracking me up! I'm glad my travel follies can entertain everyone. And yes, Mark.. Knives on Planes will be a great title, but not by THIS gal. 🙂 Hairspray on Hands… maybe.

  • mare ball

    Oh my word, how awful. Who knew hairspray could cause such an issue?! The tube scans make me nervous, but I've never set off the bells and whistles like you did. Hope you have recovered. 🙂 Hope the Portland trip is UNeventful. 🙂
    I haven't popped in for a week…my dad's been sick. Hope to catch up soon.
    from The Dugout

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Dana Martin Writing

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