Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Airport insecurity in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

So here I am, sitting at the Grand Rapids Airport waiting for my hopelessly delayed flight. They have decent Herman Miller furniture and Wi-Fi so it's not all bad. When I go to sit down at an empty table, however, I notice a fairly substantial digital camera on it.

There is nobody else sitting at the table. The people at the next table don't know anything about the camera. As I ask about it, the airport announcement begins, "Do not leave any belongings an aiport representative or airport police officer immediately."

Now I tend to think we're all wired too tight since 9/11. But this is a large, seemingly valuable digital camera. And if it had two weeks of vacation photos stored on it, would someone not be rushing back for it?

I sit down at another table and look for one of those airport police officers. I spot one deep in the food court and, yes, he's working on a coffee. Donut as well, I'm sure, but I can't confirm from my vantage point.

The officer is stretching. Smiling. Talking. Quite an animated conversationalist, actually, for a law enforcement sort. I consider wading into the food court to tell him about the solitary camera, but I'm set up with my laptop out and a carry-on bag. Since I'm alone, I'm not crazy about packing it all up. Surely, I think, he'll be out and about in a minute.

Several minutes pass. All kinds of scenarios start to flood my brain, none of them featuring happy endings full of smiling, contented airline passengers. Finally, I flag a passing TSA employee and point out the camera. Eyebrow arched, he seems genuinely surprised. He asks other passengers about it and then moves toward the airport police officer in the food court.

The TSA guy tells the cop about the camera. I see the cop mouth, "Really? Where?"

I watch, expecting to see him spring into action with great alacrity. He looks down at his watch. Then, barely audible from my fair distance away, I hear him say, "I'll pick it up in a minute."

What the...?

I know this is Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's not New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. And I don't think we should all turn into paranoid freaks, even if the government seems intent on using those RED and ORANGE alerts to make that happen. (Funny how those disappeared so quickly after the last elections, isn't it?) But if we're going to blow through billions of tax dollars on Homeland Security, surely we can find a way to light a fire under the butt of an airport cop. Wasn't the bomb on the Pan Am flight hidden in an '80s boom box?

The TSA guy tells me the chatty food court cop is now aware of the camera, then sees another passing airport officer. When he tells her, she picks up the camera and takes it somewhere. Probably to a Lost-and-Found shelf outside the men's room.

Eventually, the food court cop departs from his location under the TCBY Treats sign. The camera has been gone for at least ten minutes. He scans the tables, wondering what happened to that camera.

I work mightily to resist my urge to head butt him, World Cup-style.

I do. Barely.


Anonymous Lisa said...

Where is Barney Fife when we need him?
We just returned from Paris where we went through at least 3 X-ray checkpoints upon departure from CDG. Not to mention the tall French soldiers and their automatic weapons strolling about the airport.
(And as you mentioned the World Cup, I remain a Zidane fan. He's amazing. I also admit to being fairly obsessed with media coverage of the whole affair, but I want to point out that I watched nearly the entire World Cup series and didn't just happen to the issue after Sunday's game. I have this little Zidane action figure on my desk. It even has grass stains on Zizou's behind. A cute souvenir of my vacation in Paris, but a poignant reminder that we mortals are merely split-seconds away from life-altering actions.)

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