Monday, June 16, 2008


I’ve been traveling the last few days, and I was rewarded with a bit of entertainment at the security checkpoints, both outbound and homebound. I find security procedures as frustrating, ill-conceived, bureaucratic, and annoying as anyone. But I figure the people who work for TSA are doing the best they can in the jobs they have and deserve as much courtesy and respect as anyone.

On the outbound trip, I overheard one TSA employee telling the party behind me about his recent experience patrolling the passenger pickup area. He saw a woman park her car and get out of it to walk into the terminal (not allowed). He approached her to tell her she had to move the car, and she laid into him. “No rent-a-cop is going to tell me what to do.”

“Ma’am, whatever your experiences may have been in the past with contractors working airport security, I’m a federal agent and I’m ordering you to move your car.”

“Well, I pay your salary, and you can’t make me move my car.”

“No, ma’am, I can’t.”

At that point he wrote her a citation and had the car towed and impounded while she fumed. She continued her tantrum to the effect that she makes two hundred thousand dollars a year and won’t be treated like this.

“Oh,” the agent replied (in his retelling), “I didn’t know the street corner was that lucrative.”

The woman stormed off, and the crowd that had gathered by that point applauded spontaneously.

Okay, he’s probably told the story a few times and buffed it a bit. On the return trip, though, I was a first-hand witness.

The players: A pleasantly pretty TSA agent with a low-maintenance hairstyle and a friendly mien, the sort of person you might run into at a neighbor’s barbecue, with kids in tow, and with whom you’d easily strike up a conversation; and a nineteen-year-old (or thereabouts) looker with straight, shoulder-length, perfectly trimmed platinum hair.

The scene: The passenger had passed through the metal detector and her bag had gone through the X-ray scanner. The TSA agent was holding a bottle—of perhaps five- or six-ounce capacity—of some sort of spray.

The line overheard as I walked by: “No, miss, a hair product is never a medical necessity.”

Novelists, dramatists, and short story writers fill notebooks and journals with snippets of conversation they hear when they are out and about in the world. Careful observation of real interactions seen in the wild informs and enriches fictional dialogue and description. Writing naturally is built on such artifice.

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