Contradictory security measures

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The stranger moved the metal bar up and down my inner thigh, with every swipe coming closer and closer to my crotch.

Sound like a report from a violent rape scene? Close, but no cigar. It was just another day at the Random Search Area of airport security, another day in the life of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), the bureaucratic mess you’ve all come in contact with during one airline travel experience or another, the hub of important-looking people meant to intimidate you through the removal of your shoes and belts and metal bars dangerously close to crotches.

While they’re at it, the TSA would like to remind you to please have your laptop out of its case and put it in one of those disgusting gray bins in all its naked technological vulnerability. Please have all liquids in flimsy Ziploc bags and, last but not least, please have your boarding pass in hand.

In addition to the Random Search, a rite of passage into an elite club no one willingly joins, the TSA has had some problems of consistency. If the TSA were a gymnast on a balance beam, it would have stuck the mount onto the beam and slipped right off the next second. If the TSA were on-campus Andrew printing, it’d be in a paper jam just often and unexpectedly enough to piss you off.

Consider this: A couple years ago, the TSA went through its anti-liquids phase. Granted, they’re still going through their what-stupid-rules-can-we-make-about-liquids-to-complicate-your-life phase, but like puberty, you were intimately more aware of it at the onset.

All liquids (gels, etc.) less than three ounces had to be in a clear Ziploc bag, and all liquids (gels, etc.) that were more than three ounces were unacceptable. Back in those days, the TSA made it clear that it was not your mother, and conveniently did not provide clear plastic baggies for those who forgot to baggify their liquids (gels, etc) beforehand. Thus, even if you had a liquid of less than three ounces but did not have it in a bag, you were forced to part with it forevermore.

I was once this unprepared traveler and had to hand over my three ounce “travel-size” sweet pea scented lotion. It joined a giant bin of other half-used lotions, lip glosses, and the like. It was practically a Bath and Body Works inventory in that overfilled trash can.

Some time later, my suitcase was undoubtedly going through endless layers of security and customs on its way to Europe. In the suitcase, I brought along two months’ worth of powder detergent with which to hand wash my clothes in the sink. I double bagged the rather large amount of powdery white substance in two gallon-sized Ziploc bags.

The bags of powder detergent went through security without a glitch.

Let’s recap: Innocuous cotton candy pink Bath and Body Works sweet pea lotion: Not okay.

Massive amount of powdery white stuff: Perfectly okay.

In any case, the seasoned traveler comes to know airport security like they know the Electoral College: We accept it and abide by it, but generally question its efficiency. We’ve got the procedures down after so many trips — shoes off, shoes in the same bin as purse (for shoe-purse matching purposes), laptop out, mascara safely tucked in its Ziploc confinement.

There are actually two lines in the Pittsburgh International Airport: a general line for those still gingerly untying their shoes and reluctantly removing their electronics, and an “expert traveler” line for those who can do all of the above in 15 seconds flat. Every once in a while, an airport security agent will “randomly” select a lucky winner to encounter the cold metal bar.

Recently, I migrated instantly to the “expert traveler” line. It was going to be someone else’s turn this time.