Terror in Albuquerque
Just call me Ali Kasmani.
I am now a terrorist.
Or, at least that's how I felt for a brief time on Monday.
Did you ever have one of those moments where your life flashes before your eyes? A moment where life as you know it could be snatched away in a heartbeat?
I had such a moment on Monday morning in the Albuquerque, New Mexico airport.
After a pleasant few days attending board meetings, sightseeing, shopping, Mom and I were ready to come home.
We got up at 5 a.m. in order to give ourselves time to drop off our rental car and enough time for checking in. Mom believes in always arriving early for everything. And that includes being at the airport two hours before the flight. Me? As long as they're not closing the doors at the gate, I'm on time.
Getting our luggage checked and boarding passes in hand, we headed for the security lines.
I hoisted my carry-on bag, purse and shoes on the conveyor belt, went through the body search detector and retrieved my shoes and purse. As I looked around to see what the hold up was for my pretty blue carry-on suitcase, I felt a tingle of fear as I spied it still back by the x-ray guy.
The tingle turned into out and out sweat when they asked who owned the blue bag a security person was holding.
I timidly raised my hand.
The security lady held my bag as if it contained high explosives and asked me to follow her.
By now, I'm imagining being taken to a back room and having toothpicks inserted under my fingernails followed by the old Chinese water torture routine.
I frantically try to think why my little blue bag would be the subject of their interest.
A scene flashes through my brain.
I'm sitting in one of those cute adobe buildings with bars over the windows. I hear the chink of spurs as Harry, dressed like Clint Eastwood, wearing a serape thrown carelessly over his one shoulder, hat pulled low over his one eye and a six-shooter slung low on his hip, smoking a thin cheroot, coming to break me out. I hear the refrain of the music from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" in the background.
The interrogation began. I was ready to confess to anything, even my correct weight.
My poor mother is beside herself.
"What should I do? Should I wait? Or should I go to the gate and wait for you?" she asks.
I'm thinking, "Sure Mom. Don't be late. Your daughter is about to be arrested for terrorism and you're worried about missing your flight!!!!"
Appearing more nonchalant than I was feeling, I tell her not to worry. We still had lots of time.
Then the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security officer, wearing rubber gloves, asked me to step back as she opened my suitcase. Taking a wand with a little spongy looking cloth, she swiped all the sides of my suitcase and took the cloth and inserted it in some kind of machine that probably looked for explosive dust or traces of anthrax.
The officer finally looked at me and asked, "Do you know why your case has been pulled?"
I shook my head and tried to look as innocent as anyone can who is about to be deported.
"There is an item in this case that cannot be taken on the airplane. Without touching anything in the case, can you direct me to it?"
What could I possibly have in there that would have created this kind of havoc?
'Let's see,' my mind raced, 'there's my dirty underwear, which in some countries might be considered a lethal weapon, the book I finished, which was soooo good, "Sweetwater Creek" by Anne River Siddons, if you haven't read it, please do, oh and let's see there are my pills for my thyroid and blood pressure, which is beginning to sky rocket, and then there's my valuables like my Liz Tech pins, oh wait, pins, they have those long pointy thingees, could those really be considered a weapon? Oh, and my new souvenirs like the beautiful turquoise necklace that I bought for my daughter, I so hope she likes because I paid a pretty little dollar for that, thank you very much, and the really cool southwestern colored socks with Native American symbols that I just had to have and the neat pocket knife with a beautiful polished wood handle inlaid with turquoise that I was assured was made by a Native American ... oops.'
"It's the pocketknife, right?" I asked the security officer. "Dang! I forgot about that. You see, my husband collects knives and I thought it would be a really neat gift from me to him to represent New Mexico and I never gave it a thought about it being a weapon or anything like that. It's just a souvenir ..." I babbled on.
She looked at me and said, "Just direct me to it."
I reached over to pull out the bag it was in and she grabbed my hand and said, "Please. Don't touch anything. Just tell me where you think it is."
By now, I'm sure I'm going to jail.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
She opened the bag, took out a box and there laid my terroristic weapon.
She took it and walked back over to the x-ray guy. They conversed. They both looked over at me.
I KNOW I'm going to Guantanamo Bay.
Finally she came back to me.
"You have two choices," she said grimly.
Oh no. Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, here I come.
"We can dispose of it, or you can put it back in your carry-on case and check it."
"Alleleui, Alleleui," the chorus in my head started singing. I started breathing again.
Hmmm. Well, since I'm not going to prison, what should I do? Spend $35 to check my bag to save a $36 knife or let them chuck it and just lose $36?
Well, this last of the Big Time Spenders opted to keep the little sucker and forked over another $35 for it. Which meant I had to go all the way back to where the bags are checked and go through that whole routine again.
As I walked to the gate where my mom greeted me ecstatically, I even had a few minutes to spare.
Two thoughts occurred to me as we were winging our way back to Pennsylvania ...
1. It's a comfort to know we have such good people on the job to stop terrorism in the skies.
2. Harry's going to kill me when he finds out I had to use the credit card to ship home his New Mexico souvenir.
There's terrorism and then there's terror.
And as my old friend Dorothy would say, "There's no place like home."