Previous columns have detailed my family’s experiences during our travels since our retirement from teaching. We opted not to buy fancy cars or houses and instead put some funds into travel.
Of course, the fact that our oldest son, Stanley Adam, moved to Denmark with Microsoft several years ago, took himself a Copenhagen bride and sired two daughters has something to do with where and how often we travel.
We’ve been fortunate that our son’s vacation days often coincide with ours, and either we spend days visiting at their home or we find another destination. That’s enabled us to visit much of western and central Europe, and we’ve even gone as far as Austria, Sweden, Nuremberg and the Czech Republic.
We’ve noticed how the level of trust seems to tighten the farther east we go into Europe; the farther we travel from home, the more urgency there is in having the right papers in place.
In earlier columns I’ve mentioned the many times my boarding pass has been initialed and handed to personnel at the gates for “a closer look,” as they call it. I’ve been made to go back through x-ray machines that check for knives, guns, liquids, explosives, or anything else that might imperil the flight.
It doesn’t get better. To half of the security world, I must look like a terrorist.
Here are some of the not-so-hilarious instances in which I seriously believed our flight home would be delayed. We were on a Highlands study tour to Trujillo (really!), Spain, when a fellow student, who should have known better, hollered out, “Hey, Art, where’d you hide the gun?”
Now that’s something we never want to even whisper in the presence of TSA personnel. But he did, and naturally, I was singled out and escorted to a room where four people looked me over. One of the inspectors, whom I’d met on a previous trip, remembered that I’d complimented her on how she initialed my passport. I believe that personal touch helped speed things up.
Yet another inspector noticed that the airport dog, with a dismaying similarity to Snoopy of the “Peanuts” comic strip, sniffed my camera bag — into which I’d earlier slipped an orange. I’d forgotten that food brought from departing shores is forbidden. Fortunately, my new acquaintance with the neat penmanship, vouched for my non-terrorist demeanor.
And a small pocketknife I carried ended in the “prohibited” box. What happens to the stuff we all surrender? A yard sale?
And worse, when Adam acquired a fine set of tools to perform computer repairs, some inspector, obviously in need of extra attention, practically performed a cha-cha, bellowed, and once he had everyone’s attention, did a LeBron James imitation by slam-dunking the tools into a trash bin. That gesture made my family wonder why airports don’t have small lockers to store such items.
It bugs me that so much of travel is predicated on mistrust of others. It was just a tiny victory when I turned 75 and discovered people my age don’t need to remove their shoes when passing through the scanning equipment.
Qualifying for that privilege was no big whoopee, as I don’t stow bombs inside my shoes all that often.
• • •
The expectation that I’d failed to carry necessary documents hit me more recently. My column on the perils of renewing a driver’s license drew reaction from readers. I mentioned a driver who’d been sent home for lack of a crucial document.
Regulations demand a combination of marriage license, birth certificate, Social Security number and receipts that verify place of residence. Although I applaud the courtesy and competence of personnel at the local MVD office, I still shudder when I go to renew my license.
Part of the trepidation comes from previous experience of being turned away because of missing papers. That happened to the friend I wrote about earlier, who was sent away because the names on her birth certificate didn’t match her current license.
“We’re sorry, but you still need to provide this form and that form,” is the way the woman described her ordeal. You see, she’s been widowed twice and divorced once, and that resulted in several name changes.
“So what do I do before I can get the proper documentation?” she asked. The clerk answered, “Just drive carefully!”
One reason I fear I’m close to being shoved into the slammer is my lack of a REAL driver’s license that won’t come unless I’ve lined up all my other ducks. My Social Security card, printed on what seems like onionskin paper, gave up its pigment back in the Dark Ages.
And it must have gone through several laundry cycles before giving up the ghost. Don’t officials realize flimsy papers intended to be whipped out of our billfolds often, undergo abuse?
In this high-tech world, can’t we find a better way, such as a database, that stores our information without the need to make trips back home for that tax bill, or to the courthouse for a name change?
Meanwhile, please notice how I’ve spelled my name in this column: Arturo. That’s how my midwife wrote it.
That’s my name (for a while), and I’m sticking to it.