An unhinged overreaction to security theater and the TSA


CC/Ben Popken

World News Editor Patrick Kane feels like air travel, thanks to security theater and arbitrary regulations, has become more of a hassle than ever.

Patrick Kane, World News Editor

Allow me to spin a yarn for you all.

This past weekend, I left town for a job interview. I was scheduled to fly in Saturday afternoon and arrive back in town early Sunday evening. Despite it being for just a single night, there was still quite a lot I required to look my best for my potential future employer. This included several personal hygiene products, namely a brand-new tube of toothpaste and a small can of shaving cream.

Saturday morning I arrived at Cleveland-Hopkins. With Cleveland being a (relatively) smaller market, there were not many people there. This meant I could easily move through the security line.

I went through the motions: removed my shoes, my jacket, took my laptop out of my bag, etc. I went through their weird x-ray machine and they patted me down. I walked over to a bench to retrieve my loose items and made my way toward my gate. But then, I looked up and saw that my bag had been pulled aside by a TSA agent.

I pondered what national security concern I accidentally loaded into my duffel bag that morning. An agent unzipped the bag, riffled through it briefly and pulled out my can of shaving cream.

“This can’t come with you. Do you want to voluntarily abandon it?” he asked.

I didn’t want any trouble, and as my mind was predominantly focused on the possible life-altering interview I had the next day, I sucked in my pride.

“Sure, I’ll leave it,” I replied. It’s just a can of shaving cream I told myself. It wasn’t the end of the world. I could probably grab some more at the hotel or the airport when I land. This wasn’t a hill I was willing to die on.

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. I am in the airport ready to return home having completed the interview. I was feeling good about myself. I knew I had killed it and was a little high on my own supply. One thing I noticed through my euphoria was the fact that this airport (being in a much larger city) was much, much, much busier. By the time I rolled into the security line, I crashed back down to Earth. I was going to be here for a minute.

After half an hour of testing my mental fortitude, I finally got to the conveyor belt. Seeing as I was still wearing my suit from the interview, things would be a little tougher this time. But I managed the same as before: take off the shoes, the jacket, the watch, the belt. I moved through the process and began to retrieve my property from the bins. However, there was one thing missing: my bright neon green duffel bag. I looked to my right and saw my bag once again set to the side.

The thoughts rolling through my mind were more colorful than a Martin Scorcese movie.

I was mentally preparing to lose yet another piece of my property. However, unlike my first rodeo back at Cleveland, this was a much busier time to be at the TSA line. I waited ten minutes before the dead-eyed 30-something in a TSA uniform brought my bag over to their special little counter.

Naturally, a combination of this repeated hassle along with the proximity of my flight and the elongated wait time, my blood began to boil (not a rolling boil though, more of an “I idiotically decided to fill a soup pot with cold water and it’s been 25 minutes” type of boil). As he rifled through my bag, looking for whatever posed a threat to the well-being of my fellow passengers, I stood with my arms crossed and face growing lightly red, trying my best to contain my inner Karen. Then. the TSA dude spoke.

“This is too big. You can’t take this with you.”

He was holding my tube of toothpaste. The tube of toothpaste that that past Friday I paid a whole $6.99 for at a certain overpriced retail pharmacy located on Fairmount Circle. The tube of toothpaste that I had gotten a full two days’ worth of use out of.

“Fine,” I said. He zipped my bag up and gave it back to me. I walked to my gate, grabbed some Five Guys and, two-and-a-half hours later, I was back in my dorm room.

Now that I’m finished relaying my tragic tale, allow me to spare a moment to honor those two individuals in these two airports hundreds of miles away from each other unknowingly collaborating to defend this country in which we live. Dozens of airplane passengers (and, if we’re being serious, the nation as a whole) can sleep soundly at night knowing that the brave heroes in the TSA line kept them safe from the threat posed by toothpaste and shaving cream. I mean, the selfless heroism on display here is breathtaking. Come on down to PJ McIntyre’s in West Park, boys. Drinks are on me.

In all seriousness, this relatively mild case of security theater just emphasizes how convoluted we’ve made flying in this post-9/11 world we live in. We are so focused on preventing another airline-related act of terror in our country (a noble goal, no doubt) we have put rules and regulations around the most inane things we can think of.

Now, I understand the reasoning behind these asinine rules. The fear is that I can replace the shaving cream or toothpaste in these containers with some kind of foreign agent then bring it on the plane and use it to do harm. Again, it’s a fear I do understand. However, what is an alternative path of action to ensure that is not what I intend to do?

Squeeze the tube, you freaking moron.

Boom. Mystery solved. The toothpaste is filled with toothpaste and the shaving cream is filled with shaving cream, who would’ve thought? 

Let’s even consider the logistics of the fear at hand. How exactly does the TSA think I’m going to switch out the toothpaste for a deadly substance without making a mess with an aforementioned generic deadly substance? The term “the toothpaste is out of the tube” didn’t manifest on its own. Same with the shaving cream. It’s a sealed metal can. Did the federal government watch Jurassic Park and think everyone was smuggling dinosaur embryos?

I do consider myself somewhat of a civil libertarian, but I don’t go out of my way to be a contrarian. I can see the logic in actions taken by our government at times. Yet the TSA represents some of the worst of the post-9/11 red tape bureaucracy and security theater. 

It gets even worse (or funnier, depending on your point of view) when one considers that the TSA isn’t even good at their jobs. In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security ran an experiment where agents pretended to be “terrorists” and attempted to smuggle fake bombs, weapons and other illegal items through a TSA security line. Out of the 70 times they attempted this, they were able to smuggle banned items through the checkpoints 67 times. Obviously, these guys are so focused on combating the threat of toothpaste and shaving cream to actually do their intended purpose, all while the federal government dumps millions of dollars into an ineffective and widely hated service.

Now is the time when I would give a patented “Patrick Kane call-to-action over whatever societal issue he’s decided to complain about this week” to end the piece. Just one little hang-up: I don’t really have one. This was more of a therapeutic exercise that I decided to involve the entire Carroll News reader base in. My only real solution I guess is to cut the bureaucratic crap and just use common sense.

Is the TSA truly helpful in protecting airline passengers? Who knows.

Has flying become a hassle thanks to paranoia and security theater? Absolutely.

Did I really devote nearly 1,400 words to complaining and overreacting to what is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively minor inconvenience? Sue me.

Now excuse me, while I go and buy some more utterly harmless yet overpriced toothpaste and shaving cream.