I was preparing to fly back to Los Angeles (LAX!) from Providence. I experienced my first FTA shakedown—Thanx James Brown. Arriving in RI, we had rented a car "onsite" from National Car Rental. It was great National was adjacent to the luggage claim, but you have to take a shuttle over the river and through the woods; not easy while juggling a car seat, a baby carriage, 6 bags and carry-ons, and a hungry 2 year-old who would only eat peanuts and pretzels for 5 hours. I miss the days when Kerry and I would pack a duffle bag and hop on a plane to Vegas!
Anywaze, I, being the valiant daddy and hub I am, opted to:
· Park in the unloading zone
· Leave Kerry and the babe in the car
· Run in, check in my bag and get my ticket
· Run like a crazy person and help Kerry and the babe to the skycap
· Scurry to the offsite Car Rental place.
· Return the car. Shuttle back.
· Go through security with my carry-ons and meet my loving, grateful family at the gate
That plan looked really good on paper.
Here is the chain of events how it actually happened:
· Parking in the unloading zone
· Grab the biggest bag and the playpen (crib) and check in
· Get yelled at by rude Rhode Islander bag checkers
· Keep my composure
· Run out to the car unload wife, bags, baby, carriage, car seat; get them to skycap
· Notice my mother shoved this stupid 3-foot James Brown that screams “I feel good” at every motion
· Put the doll near the garbage can (in case anyone might want a screaming James Brown doll)
· Stair at the JB doll a second and think, “Hmmm…maybe I should put that doll in the garbage so no one thinks it’s a bomb"
· Get lost between the airport; drive in circuitous motions on the freeway until I find National
· Patiently wait for the little RI girl with the hangover to check my car in
· Mock her with another patron by calling her “Miss Sunshine” as we watch our shuttle driver take his sweet time going to the bathroom and pouring a cup of coffee
· Realize Avis’ motto, “We Try Harder”. Realize National’s Motto, “We don’t Move Fast for Nobody”
· Drink a pint of Maalox on the shuttle as I realize I have 10 minutes to board
· Run like OJ Simpson trough the airport; leap over luggage like a gazelle
· Realize I’m not OJ; sweat profusely; get to the security check looking like the Uni-bomber
· Lose my license and envision my wife’s dilemma to leave without me or miss the flight
· Find my license; receive dirty looks from held-up businessmen.
· Receive the awesome news that my flight doesn’t leave at 6:55 but 7:55! “I’m home free—I have an hour”!
· Be greeted by a swarm of tough, stern looking, muscley FTA guys.
In front of all of American and International flyers, “no”, no screen of privacy! They shook me down. They went through every card and piece of paper in my wallet. My inquisitor Officer Fortunato quizzed me about everything: my destination, my home address (“what’s that near”), who I was visiting, why I was so nervous, what kind of packages I was carrying, with whom I was traveling, and why I was separated from them. I never had 20 guys surround me like that before. I thought of pulling a move I had seen Neo do on the Matrix movie, but decided to chill—“Why waste all those agents? I had an hour to kill”. I was embarrassed, but after they started to realize I was ok, they started to joke around and make nice-nice with me. I thanked them profusely saying, “Thanx for keeping us safe”.
After some reflection I realize:
1) When traveling from the East Coast to the West, don’t get separated from your party. The 9-11 terrorists wanted that full tank of jet fuel. Those departures get flagged the most.
2) Don’t run like a crazy person through the airport; don’t sweat like a farm animal through Checkpoint Charlie, and for goodness sake, don’t misplace your license!
3) Finally, don’t let your mother stick a $2, 3-foot singing James Brown toy in your rental car. It’s not cute. Do not put it in front of the Airport trash, and for goodness sake, don’t change your mind and put it in the trash because it might “look like a bomb”.
The eye-in-the-sky must have been watching me from the time I started dashing to check-in my first bag.
I have to say it was a good flight back, and thank God--If I was who they thought I might have been, I am thankful they treated me the way they did. If I was who they thought, they might have foiled a terrorist attempt. Thank you rude FTA guys; keep doing your job. Thank you little James Brown for a movie-like experience. National Car Rental, no excuse for you; start doing your job.