What Part of “TSA Pre” Do You Not Understand?

Maybe it was the full moon last night.

The coming potential “historic winter storm” of January 2016 was en route to blanket the East coast with up to two feet of snow. I was just finishing up my first solo assignment with my new company, setting up an imaging and document system for a university just outside of Philadelphia. Yep, time to get out of Dodge. Or Philly, in this case. I had already consumed my requisite cheesesteak.

My flight on Southwest was at 7:35 Friday morning. As I enjoyed my final meal at Tokyo Bay at the King of Prussia food court Thursday evening, I grabbed my first opportunity to review my email messages on my phone.

Hello, this is Southwest Airlines. Your flight has been canceled.

Man, and this General Tso’s chicken was tasting so good. Well, time to hit the road and get to my hotel at the Philly airport so I can sort this out. My phone battery was fading fast, and I needed to get to a plug in. I couldn’t wait to use Southwest’s call-me-back feature, because my phone would be out of juice at that point.

Once I reached the hotel and called to get into the queue (35 minute wait) I called my wife and let her know what was going on. Cathy is wonderful at scheduling these travel arrangements, as she travelled extensively in her job for a while. She suggested looking at another airline, perhaps American, as they occupy four of the six terminals at Philadephia International Airport.

American’s queue was 37-51 minutes (amazing how they can predict these things with such pinpoint accuracy) so I was fairly certain I would be armed with Southwest’s response by the time American called back.

Hi, this is Southwest. We’re ceasing operations at Philadelphia airport at six PM Friday, all flights before that are full or cancelled, but we can get you out sometime on Sunday.

Well, that’s one option.

American had an attractive flight, reasonably priced, set to go out at 8:30 and get me back to Kansas City about 11. Running low on options, I booked it online.

Cathy called almost immediately. “Did you look at what you selected? That flight is at 8:30 PM!” Oops. See, I told you she was better at this than I was.

National had no car rentals available, denying me even the faint hope that I could drive north out of the coming blizzard to another city or even drive all the way back home.

When American called back, I was feeling pretty low. However, the agent explained that because of the weather crisis, they were waiving all of their change fees. She found a flight for me from Philly to Chicago to KC that left at 5 AM Friday morning. No extra charge. I jumped on it.

My hotel is literally at Terminal B at the Philly airport, so I could just cross the walkway and be at security. I found that the airport didn’t even open until 4 AM, so I had plenty of time to take the escalator down one level and print out my boarding passes.

TSA Pre was printed on the boarding passes.

My wife introduced me to TSA Pre when we started flying together more frequently. TSA Pre Screening allows you to walk through a simple metal detector rather than the I-see-everything X-ray cylinder, you can leave your laptop in its case, your CPAP in its bag, your shoes on, your belt in and your pants up. The belt really helps with that last bit.

As I confidently approached security, the agent said “I see you are TSA Pre. We don’t have enough staff to run two lines yet this early in the day, so you’ll have to go through the regular line. I’ll stamp you for expedited, though.”

With expedited I only had to liberate my laptop and CPAP, keeping my shoes and pants safe. That’s what I thought, until my goods were slow to come out of the X-ray belt, and a TSA worker emerged holding my CPAP machine gingerly, with a worried look on her face. Maybe people are healthier in Philly, and they’ve never seen a CPAP machine?

Then a business-like young TSA agent approached me and said, “Sir, I’m going to have to pat you down.” I know as a general practice that you make more flights if you fully cooperate with the TSA, even if they are behaving under the influence of a full moon.

I was subjected to the most intrusive pat down I have ever experienced. The shoes came off (inexplicably, the light jacket stayed on, even though I offered to remove it) and I was patted down and pressed over just about every part of my body. He examined the top edge/band of my pants inch by inch, all the way around. I guess they’ve not seen the trousers with the expandable waist before, either. After the search, he swabbed his gloves with a ticket (pre-tested to ensure it was not contaminated prior) and checked the ticket in his machine. It turns out I was not carrying anything explosive beyond the blog that was forming in my head.

I was actually bemused by the entire affair, as I knew I had plenty of time to make the flight. It was interesting watching an already short staff make the choice at four in the morning take this amount of time to make sure a polite 60-year old man with a CPAP machine and TSA Pre clearance was not a terrorist threat.

To be fair, I was flying on a one-way ticket. To be fairer, I imagine there were a LOT of people flying on one-way tickets this morning.

I wished the young man a good day and proceeded to the gate, and eventually made it back to Kansas City safely.

As I share this now, I can’t help but offer that TSA Pre might be a new oxymoron. It certainly felt that way under the full moon.

A Christmas Story

“But how are you going to start it?” asked the apprentice.

“I don’t know yet.”

The author began to jot down whatever came to mind, striving not to over edit as the words appeared. He felt his breathing strengthen and slow as he did so, feeling more comfortable with each
passing moment.

“But you haven’t finished anything in three years.”

“Not true, my apprentice. I’ve finished a couple of short stories, and edited the werewolf story at least three times. It’s all work, good work, some of my finest. In fact, I added another chapter to the novel last year. As you well know.”

“A year and a half ago, as I recall. Your creative juices have not been percolating as they should. Have you given up?”

The author paused at the keyboard, sighing softly. “Not yet. I pray not ever. It’s been hard. It’s been hard listening to your constant whining and complaining, my ever-present companion. You forget the multiple job losses, the work challenges, the time constraints, the new grandson. There are so many – distractions.”

“Oh, my, yes, especially the distractions you record on the DVR. You may claim it saves time because you can fast-forward through the commercials, but when I look at the hours you spend staring into that screen – don’t tell me that your problems are all external. And it doesn’t help that you’ve got a new, larger screen that makes the watch so much more enticing.”

“All right! All right! I get it!” The author returned to his writing. “I’m trying to change that. The least you could do is give me some encouragement.”

“But why should I believe that this time will be any different? Why is this not a paraphrase of Mark Twain?”

“I know where you’re going with this. Twain famously said ‘Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.’ You have a point, it’s simple to say I’m going to start writing, put it off for a day, then until next week, or crank out a short story to assuage my guilt before slipping back into my bad habits. I see it as well as you.” The author paused for a moment, closing his eyes. “But I think I’ve reached a turning point.”

“Well, do tell!”

“Buddha said that ‘An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.’ I’ve always had interesting ideas – from drunken leprechauns to werewolves for hire, but they have limited impact, if any, until I write the book and share the magic. I’m proud of being a published author, but just the other day I had an energizing experience.
“My web site has had broken links for years now. I wasn’t getting any hits on my storefront that I was paying big bucks for, so I dropped the service. No problem since all of my books are on Amazon and kindle, right? But I never updated the links to point to where folks could buy them now.”

“That was dumb.”

“That was the same problem as the writing. I put things off because I didn’t see them having an immediate impact in my life. But I enjoy sharing the stories. I love being an author. So many people out there can’t believe it’s possible to become a published author. I can, because I love stories. So I decided to do something about it. Not just think about it like I have been, but fix the broken links. It took me a while to rediscover where I put everything, but I did it. Now people can see the reviews, order from anywhere in the world, and it looks more professional.”

“How does that fix your writing problem, though?”

“It felt good to see everything working like a well-oiled machine. Satisfaction? In spades. And it made me feel that if I could fix the links to my books, I could start writing on a regular basis again. I could finish my novel, update the blog, maybe enter a short story contest. I guess you could say this is my first stab at it. Writing again, I mean.”

“Well, you are writing, and that’s a start. What keeps you from stopping right now, though, filing the story away and going to bed? Lord knows you could use the rest, you’ve had a busy day.”

“That’s what I’m talking about. It’s Christmas. And Christmas is still a special day. Do you know why?”

“Of course I know why. It’s because of all the presents and the food and the joy in your grandchildren’s eyes.”

“Don’t be stupid, apprentice. It’s because of the story.”

“Which story?”

“The story of Christmas. The real Christmas that we celebrate at heart, the coming of the Son of God to earth, Jesus born in the manger while angels sang his glory to simple shepherds. The hope of all mankind, as God gave his creation the greatest present ever on the first Christmas. The story that inspires all of us.”

“Point taken. But why does that help you to write?”

The author shook his head. “You’re not paying attention. It’s stories that capture people’s imaginations, that motivate them to rejoice, or rage, or care. The idea for that story is lost if not put into shoe leather. If I keep a story, a good story, a great story locked up inside my head, it’s wasted. Some kid or adult somewhere will never enjoy the twists and turns of the plot, or admire a character if I don’t bring them to life on the page. So I’m energized, and I want to start and keep going, and… well, it’s Christmas. What better time to turn over a new leaf? What better opportunity to change for the better?”

“So – what are you going to do about it?”

“For starters, I’m going to post this story to my blog. Second, I’m going to link the story to my Facebook friends. Believe it or not, I have a lot of folks rooting for me to write my books. I need to get on that bandwagon, too!”

The apprentice nodded and smiled. “See there, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you forever. But you’re kind of like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you can’t go home even if you have the power to do so, until you believe in yourself. Now you’re taking that first step.”

“I know.” The author smiled as he typed in the final paragraph. “One last edit and I’ll post this on Christmas Day. It does make me happy. But do you know what’s better?”

“Of course I do, I’m your loyal apprentice. It might make someone else happy, and give them hope.”

The Dog Days of Spring

Spring is in the air, and it’s time to renew one of my favorite pastimes: Playing ball with the dog in the back yard.

I know; it may seem boring to throw the ball, the dog returns the ball, then you repeat the routine all over again. But you can make this activity exciting again by injecting some risk and reward into it.

I’ve created a list of results a reasonable pet owner should strive for. Each result awards you a point score, either positive or negative depending on the desirability of the outcome. Feel free to add results that reflect the hazards or challenges of your own back yard.

For example, we have a fenced back yard with limited access to the neighbors, a swimming pool, a narrow strip of grass reachable mainly only by throwing the ball over the pool, and a dog that is faster than Satan. Here is my list tailored for our combination of challenges:

 

Keeping the ball in the yard: 0 points

Getting the ball beyond the dog: +1 point

Getting the ball all the way to the back fence: +2 points

Throwing the ball into the swimming pool: -20 points

Throwing the ball over the fence: -100 points

The dog is ready to quit before you are: +20 points

The game ends without getting any dog slobber on the ball: +1000 points

 

This system may lead to some unintentional side-effects, such as dunking the ball in the pool a few times to eliminate the dog slobber, but overall I think these incentives contribute to a fun and relaxing time with your canine pet.

Get out there and put that Spring back in your step!

Hope for the Future

September 11, 2001, was America’s modern day Pearl Harbor.

Once again, an enemy attacked without an official warning, this time striking at our battleships of finance and government. They succeeded in taking nearly 3000 lives and impacting millions of others.

But despite the sorrow and shock, America found a beacon of hope that very day. United flight 93 was hijacked by terrorists and approaching a probable target in Washington, DC. The passengers and crew mounted a counterattack inside which caused the plane to crash in Pennsylvania, killing all on board. It was a shining candle of courage and will, flickering brightly among the dark clouds billowing from New York and Washington.

9-11 created a period of American unity rarely seen before or since. It reminded us that we are capable of coming together for a just cause, that we don’t always have to argue over less important matters. It showed us that ordinary Americans can make a difference, and that by working together, we can accomplish what seems impossible.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of that awful day. We have not forgotten the pain, but much of the unity has dissipated over time. We see our children reading names of the 9-11 dead on national television while politicians continue to burden those same children with a growing national debt. We can achieve unity in death, but remain bitterly divided over the issues of life.

America must once again reach for unity, this time to heal our way of life and not merely comfort our sorrow. We cannot afford to build another memorial ten years from now to the former United States of America.

Moving On

While making some technical changes to the web site, I had to move it to a new server. Let’s just say that I couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again.

Now I have an opportunity to rebuild and redesign this new site to meet the needs of you, the reader. We still have links to purchase books, and the original blog is still intact. I’m going to focus on providing reviews on new or classic books, a more informative platform on programs for education and other events, and getting a newsletter out on a regular basis.

I’m looking at this as an opportunity to move on to better things. Anything less would be pessimistic. And pessimistic is one thing that I am not, and that I hope neither of us ever becomes. Life is too short!