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Shoeless in Albuquerque

Shoeless in Albuquerque

The airport's new security regulations have become impossible. Especially if you're Jewish.

by

We are standing shoeless in the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as our personal belongings await judgment from the white-shirted guys and gals working for the Transportation Security Agency. They are peering into our private possessions via their X-ray machine, and I just bet they are laughing inwardly at my paltry make-up inventory. My suspicions are confirmed when I see one of the agents steal a glance at me and then whisper something to her partner. I can almost hear her saying, "Well, that explains it." Hey, do they expect miracles with only three ounces of foundation and cucumber extract gelees allowed?

Remember when flying used to be an experience? When they served food? When they handed out pillows? When they didn't raise airfares every eight minutes? Now flying is an experience in humiliation. First, you hand over your shoes. Then your watch, your keys, your phone. You even relinquish your spare change! I half expect them to hand me an orange jumpsuit and lock me up after I pass through the metal detector. And while these TSA agents stand there in their crisp uniforms and shoes, we stand with naked feet, absorbing trillions of germs (at least) from the feet of millions of other passengers. We dare not even imagine where some of those feet have been. And what if some of these folks had athlete's foot fungus, or Foot-Ebola? These are infectious diseases just waiting to happen.

What if some of these folks had athlete's foot fungus, or Foot-Ebola? These are infectious diseases just waiting to happen!

In the last few years, we have had all kinds of innocent things spirited out of our bags at airports, including a brand-new angle-tipped tweezer that cost me nearly ten bucks. We are not the weirdos or boneheads who have brought meat cleavers and saws to the airport, things that are more suited to the sets of movies such as "Chainsaw Massacre XI" than to 747s, but believe it or not – this has happened! How do they explain themselves, I wonder? "Oh, I totally forgot I had this meat cleaver still on me! You know how hectic it is, rushing from the meat packing plant to the airport!" I read that the government has warehouses filled with swords, sabers, hacksaws, and economy-sized shampoo bottles that they have taken away from these bizarre and frightening passengers. Naturally, they sell most of it on eBay. (Maybe I ought to look there for my tweezers?)

Most often, our family gets busted for our food. As kosher travelers, we bring our nosh with us. With hearty appetites deeply etched into the family DNA, we need equally hearty biceps almost the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger's to heft our own food bags. Despite this physical challenge, we still pack even more food than we need, not just because we are Jewish and can't help ourselves, but because we are guaranteed to have some of our food rudely and unapologetically taken from us.

In London, security agents confiscated our peanut butter and our jelly. In Cincinnati my yogurt was seized, no doubt because of the "active cultures" lurking inside. In Los Angeles, an eager beagle employed by the United States Customs Service and wearing an authentic U.S. Customs uniform vest sniffed out our sandwiches with a wagging tail. The beagle's human companion unwrapped and inspected the sandwiches, arching her eyebrows in disapproval of their smashed condition. But after an 11-hour flight, we didn't look much fresher than the sandwiches, which she confiscated. How dangerous was an aging tuna sandwich? Only our U.S. Customs agent knew for sure!

On our recent jaunt to Albuquerque, we breathed a sigh of relief as the first few bags sailed through inspection. But just as we were about to reach for our shoes and reclaim some semblance of our dignity, the conveyer belt was sent in reverse. Predictably, one agent had second thoughts about our food bag. I began to wonder what it was with these TSA agents and food. They seemed obsessed with it. Didn't these people get lunch breaks? I watched as two agents stared intently into the X-ray machine screen. They furrowed their brows, pointed fingers, and shook their heads. I pleaded silently, as if to a robber, "You can have the cheese and cucumber wrap, but please leave that chocolate Danish alone!"

A major domo from the TSA poked and prodded our kosher eats, and I don't think he was looking for the kosher hechshers, either. Other than saturated fat in the Danish, I felt our foodstuffs were both patriotic and safe. After riffling through our sandwiches, a container of humus, two apples, a wilting cheese stick, and the divine chocolate Danish, he finally unearthed a large plastic frozen ice pack, inspecting it from a distance, as if he thought it might contain explosives. It's an ice pack, not an ice pick, I wanted to argue, but knowing how often they mistake short Caucasian women for Islamic terrorists, I kept my mouth shut.

After huddling in a conference with two other agents and debating the danger of our ice pack, they took it, no doubt sending it to the giant TSA warehouse, where a meat cleaver probably stabbed it to death.

For my next trip, I will try even harder not to call attention to myself and my food, though I can't really blame these wily TSA agents for hankering after my humus, longing for my lentils, and coveting my chocolate. They must have a sense that yummy kosher food is the best. Maybe if the airports opened some glatt kosher restaurants, these agents would finally leave me and innocent kosher food alone.

Published: June 14, 2008


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Visitor Comments: 36

(36) meme, March 19, 2014 3:47 PM

everyone has this problem-you are not unique

Whether you are a jew or not, everyone has this problem when going through TSA. I have many food allergies, and I need to travel with food. I have the same issues. There are easy ways to get around the travel restrictions, and I never have complained like I'm special

(35) Melanie Vliet, June 21, 2011 4:26 PM

We're Not Caucasian!

Your article was adorable, but we Jews are not Caucasian--we're Semitic. I refuse to identify myself as White in filling out the demographic sections of surveys. There's scientific proof of our being a separate race: we are subject to Tay Sachs disease, while Whites and members of other ethnic groups are not. Vive la difference!

(34) Anonymous, August 6, 2008 2:26 AM

In enjoyed the article about traveling written by Judy Gruen. One way to avoid losing your food (to the TSA) is to make sure the containers are less than 3 oz, the limit for liquid/viscous items. Try to bring such items as peanut butter, yogurt, puddings, apple sauce, cottage cheese and cream cheese in small containers. Even then, good luck.

(33) Ken Salkover, June 26, 2008 2:51 PM

Kosher at the airports

Annie is absolutely right: There should be kiosks near the gates with hot to-go kosher meals (and non-kosher for everyone else). The airlines won't feed us, and TSA even confiscates yogurt. Can we live on apples alone?

(32) sandy, June 22, 2008 11:49 AM

what a joke TSA is

after flying three times within the last month, i couldn"t stop laughing.i flew from europe and twice in the states with my pepper spray in my cosmetic bag...also got on a cruise ship with it...

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