Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 9, No. 47
November 22-28, 2001 
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The Fringe of Fear
After September 11, It’s Long Enough to Touch Us All

For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness, so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true.
– Titus Lucretius Carus, 99-55 bc

These days, is fear really everywhere? Certainly not, though there is enough of it around to prompt some citizens to fear there is no safety anywhere — whether in the home, in the air, in public buildings or anywhere else.

Even for those who don’t harbor fear somewhere in their being, since Sept. 11, it is a word heard daily. We live in a world pretty much ruled by fear, though often there is a twist of words (shall we say ‘spin’) and we sugar-coat it with such terms as “precautionary,” “safety,” “security” and the like, all designed to lessen fears.

Many — and you and I are acquainted with some of them — are like kids in the dark: frightened; reluctant or even unwilling to do some things, go some places that we would have without second thought prior to 9-11.

Not infrequently, the lives of those who want to get back to living as near to normal as possible under today’s circumstances are ruled by the efforts of government and others to allay the concerns of the frightened. And, also not infrequently, at the cost of time, inconvenience and millions upon millions of dollars spent for increased security.

Difficult as it is to admit it, terrorism has taken its toll, even for those of us who don’t live in the big cities considered prime targets for terrorists bearing grudges against America. There’s no escaping it.

Me and the ‘Golden Arm’
Which brings up a question. What do you think legendary John Unitas of Baltimore Colts fame and this writer have in common? You’d never guess. In recent days, both of us were subjected at airports to all but strip search.

Not that I’m complaining, and I’m sure, the Golden Arm isn’t either, but on separate occasions the buzzers went off on both of us at the boarding security arches. We both got the full security wand treatment — and more — from those who guard the passageways to the big jets.

In a way it was reassuring: The security forces are doing their jobs. In another way, though, I found it somewhat inconvenient. But what’s a little inconvenience in these times? However, my experience did raise some concerns about security procedures at different airports. That’s a subject that has been prominent in the news of late.

Packed to Fly
On Nov. 7, I was scheduled to board at BWI a Southwest jet for Hartford, Conn., where I was to join sisters Lorna and Ruth, then drive in Lorna’s car for a stay of a week at the old homestead in southern Vermont. Aware of tightened security measures at airports, I packed with exceptional precautions.

The tiny Swiss Army knife attached to my key ring was placed in the luggage to be checked in at curbside; the same with the inscribed ultra-thin silver penknife that I carry in my billfold. Just about everything else of metal also went into the large suitcase with wheels that would go directly to the plane.

In that big bag also went the belt I usually wear, for it has a big cast-iron buckle that bears the insignia of the SeaBees, something that surely would trigger the alarm at security. About the only things of metal that didn’t go into the pre-checked luggage were the screws and pins imbedded in my neck from surgery a decade ago. Not infrequently they’re the cause of beeps at the archway of detection we all must pass through. But that false alarm has always been quickly solved via a sweep of a hand wand by an attendant made aware of the situation.

With all precautions taken, I was dropped off at BWI by wife Lois at 7:00am for a 9:30 flight. Southwest had suggested at least a couple of hours’ buffer to compensate for any problems and delays that plague airports these days.

Luggage was checked in curbside, I passed armed military personnel at various locations, then through the security arch without so much as a single beep. So there I was with more than two hours to wait at the dock. No big deal, just an inconvenience.

I Ring the Bell
Coming back, it was different. On November 14, I was dropped off at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, this time more than three hours before the scheduled 5:30pm flight, seeing that airlines, airports and passengers had a new case of jitters following the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 outside New York City two days earlier.

With the luggage checked in, it was too early to head for the Southwest gate, so I sat in the terminal and waited. While waiting, I heard an alarm go off and saw lights blinking everywhere. But quickly it became obvious it couldn’t mean much of a problem because armed military guards in black berets continued to make their rounds without apparent concern.

About an hour before departure, I headed for the Southwest gate with only a copy of the New York Times and my small carry-on bag, confident there would be no problem. Nothing different was in my bag than when it easily passed security at BWI.

How wrong I was. The same bag and contents that cleared BWI without a whimper set off the alarm as it passed through the “tunnel” at the Bradley security arch, which incidentally allowed me personally through without a beep.

Two guards appeared suddenly, asked if the bag was mine, then escorted me to the side. A hand wand covered me thoroughly, I was hand-frisked closely by a grim-faced attendant, then told the contents of the bag would have to be scrutinized. Piece by piece.

In the hands of an attendant, out came sunglasses, cell phone (which had to be turned on to confirm it was for real), prescriptions and medications, camera (which was double-checked closely), film, keys, checkbooks, credit cards, pens and other assorted items. Then the syringes for insulin, which of course raised eyebrows, even after I explained I was an insulin-dependent diabetic.

As I watched scores of passengers for my flight pass (I came to the gate early to avoid the rush), the attendants came upon a small orange oblong box into which the needles of syringes are inserted after use, and I began to fear (that word again) I wouldn’t make my flight.

Once a needle is snapped off it is secured inside the orange box for disposal. It is a closed container, cannot be opened, and the attendants couldn’t pry it open. But they didn’t easily accept my explanation.

Finally, I was cleared and ended up the very last at check-in for a full flight. Anyone who has flown of late knows what that means in finding a seat.

I can’t complain about the security procedure; we have to accept inconveniences these days. And it’s reassuring to know the screeners are taking their jobs seriously. But one wonders why the same bag, with the exact same contents, breezed through the security checkpoint at one airport then triggered an alarm and subsequent thorough probe at another.

Is there a variance of conformity in the effectiveness of scanning devices as there surely is in human screeners and other security personnel at airports? If so, how secure are we really these days?

See, already I’m succumbing to, shall we say, the ‘fringe’ of fear.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly