TSA’s Security Circus Snags Wrenches

If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. But your wrench can’t dodge the TSA if it’s too big. (Image from carolramsey.net)

My brother J.D. probably didn’t expect things to turn out this way. It was just a quick visit to Arizona and a meet-up with Sarah and me for gelato. So how in the world does the Transportation Security Administration come into play?

Well, it started with a shrieky sound and a burning rubber smell from my Subaru Forester about an hour before we were supposed to meet. I made it home, popped the hood and saw the soon-to-be-shredded final remnants of my fan belts. They were past due for a change (thanks so much to the guys who changed my oil last week and didn’t mention this as part of their 40-point "inspection").

I mentioned this to my Subaru-driving brother around a mouthful of gelato. Soon after, we had flashlights aimed on the offending belts and developed a plan of attack. A few problems emerged: All the auto shops were closed, we had some inadequate tools and a bolt had fallen into an awkward place.

J.D. picked the parts the next day at Camelback Subaru. And he grabbed some wrenches designed for hard-to-reach places. The repairs went off easily after that. J.D. figured he’d keep the tools since A), he paid for ‘em and B) he’s more likely to get repeat use out of them (I concur). And off to the airport he went to head home to Missouri.

Some Tools Are Too Big to Fly

The TSA agents snared J.D.’s shiny new wrenches in their security gauntlet at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. All but one, apparently, was at least three-eighths of an inch too long to get through security.

These are not sharp objects – what? No, I mean the wrenches!

"Three-eighths of an inch is what makes us safe?" JD mused as he told me the story.

According to the TSA website’s Prohibited Items page:
Wrenches and Pliers (seven inches or less in length) OK OK

JD sought some flexibility from the agents, including having me drop by to collect the tools. They were having none of it – they offered no ideas other than tossing these objects that are too dangerous to fly into a trash bin (is that any place for something too dangerous to fly?). And I can’t help thinking that these are now stored somewhere in a TSA employee’s garage.

The policy and "unsafe" length seem arbitrary. And it confirms a big knock against TSA: that it wrings its hands over objects rather than assessing who’s carrying the objects. They’re looking for stuff, not people with intent to cause mayhem.

TSA Keeps Authority and Sense Separated

This makes me think of Tokyo Narita International Airport: After we checked out baggage, a polite security agent pulled Sarah aside: "Excuse me, please – you have two cans of shaving cream in your backpack. Can you tell me why?" Sarah told her that she thought she’d left one behind earlier in the trip and picked up a second one. The agent thanked her and sent us on our way. She exhibited tact and good sense.

The point isn’t the $20 cost of the tools. The lack of good sense, unwillingness to solve problems and security theatrics, though, are the crux of the matter.

TSA made no one safer today by preventing a bunch of wrenches from flying. And that’s the organization’s mission, isn’t it?


5 Things I Miss While Traveling

If this was your cat, he’d make your top 5 list, too.

There’s a fool I pity – and that’s the unlucky sucker who is in front of me while boarding my Asiana Airlines flight to Korea. Any slow movers in front of me might wind up with my hoofprints on their backs. And I’ll probably volunteer to herd every other passenger aboard and personally buckle them into their seats so we can take off. Yes, I’m that fired up.

But as excited as I am about my first Asian adventure, I know that there are things I’ll miss. I’ll be fine without them for a few days. But then -- they’ll pop into my mind. And here they are:

The Cat – For the past 10 years, Noir has been my furry little buddy. He is a very vocal, energetic, people-loving character. Not bad for an ill-bred, uncouth, back-alley tomcat! Unlike most cats, he also holds no grudges about my occasional long absence. And props as always to my bandmate and friend Todd, who looks after Noir during my adventures.

It’s hard to fit all these guys in the same frame.

My Band – I’ve been playing music in Hung Dynasty for seven years. The aforementioned cat-sitter Todd was one of the two co-best men at my wedding. The other two guys are just as awesome, as are the former members (Phung, Stacy, Laura, Matt). I love playing my instrument. I like the tunes we play. I thrive on the banter. Playing live music loud and nasty – it’s addictive. I miss it when I’m on the road adventuring.

The Bike – I can ride just about any quality bike and be happy. Bike shorts, shoes, pedals and helmets are another story. I’ve gotta have my own. And they take up a lot of room in a pack. So I forgo the mountain biking when I travel. Unfortunately, I often see people riding and I wind up with a series jones for some saddle time.

Both my AdventureMobiles …

The Mexican Food – Sometimes, I can’t even go straight home from the airport. I have to stop at Le Condesssa and get a quesadilla. And one of its many types of savory salsas – like chipotle, cilantro and even pecan (yes, you read that right). If I’m somewhere like Iceland or the Midwest, the craving gets even more powerful.

The Car – There’s something about my Subaru Forester, my personal Battlestar Galactica. Sitting in the seat, stickshift in-hand -- I just feel at home. I know every noise it makes, every quirk. And I can MacGyver just about anything from the contents of its backseat. It also out-drives just about any car I’ve ever rented -- except the Subaru Impreza I rented in Portland.