Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Toothpaste Terrorist

You know how when you fly, you’re supposed to put all your toiletries in a little baggie? And how you’re not supposed to have more than four ounces of liquid or gel with you? And how you always think, “They can’t be serious?”

They are.

On the way to New Hampshire, I smuggled my five-ounce tube of toothpaste through security in a carry-on bag. But on the way home, going through Logan, I managed to get myself searched. I had missed my flight (yes, there’s a story there), so I was probably a little more nervous and shifty than usual at security. I also inadvertently put my computer on top of other belongings going through the X-ray machine, which apparently shows you to be not just a laptop newbie, but also a latent Al-Qaeda sympathizer.

They took my carry-ons and went behind a glass partition, where I could see a TSA lady pawing through my dirty clothes and turning my computer on and off. But it was my toiletry bag that attracted the most attention. I had obeyed the letter of the law by putting my gels and liquids in a baggie, but I hadn’t taken the baggie out and shown it to the security people. All this upset them enough, but what really sent them to DEFCON-3 was my over-sized toothpaste. I was given the choice of mailing the toothpaste home, throwing it away, or checking it. (For a second I thought the TSA lady was suggesting putting a little luggage tag on it and putting it on the plane like that.) Because I was in a hurry and flying standby, I surrendered the tube.

I wanted to stick around to see the bomb squad detonate my Colgate, but I had to hustle to my gate so I don’t know what happened to it.

A few days later, I saw the infamous sippy-cup video, and realized that I’d missed a chance to make a satisfying (and messy) scene. I’d probably still be in Boston if I’d done that, though, so I guess meek submission was the right action. Still, it’s hard to see how forbidding large quantities of toothpaste helps the struggle against those who hate our freedom and sparkling white teeth. Will we one day look back on the days when you could board an aircraft carrying a bottle of shampoo the way I marvel that there was once a time when you could fly without passing through a metal detector? Do the new rules make sense or is this just another example of the frightening power of the four-ounce plastic tube industry? Only time will tell. I do know one thing for sure, though:

I’m very happy I’ve been hoarding tiny hotel soaps and shampoos all these years.

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