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I didn't get kicked off the plane, so I'm calling it a win, but pretty much everything else was a disaster. 

We were headed home from London and my boarding pass had a code on the bottom, which, it was explained to me, was a randomly assigned notice that I would have to go through an additional security screening. I was told this had nothing to do with any profiling, just a random, extra security check a few people need to put up with. 

I always try to be friendly and patient with the security people at airports, because I think it's a horrible job. When the lady at the boarding gate told me what had happened, I said, “So, it's like I won the lottery!” 

She laughed and showed me where to stand to wait my turn.  

Here's the thing. I've spent my life on a farm in western Minnesota and, for better or worse, I look like it. Kind of a bulky body and an expression that could be described as placid. Do you know what happens when I walk into a crowded bar? 

Nothing. Nothing happens. Nobody even notices I'm there. Add in the fact that I blush uncontrollably if I try to lie or be sneaky and it makes me the world's most unlikely threat. I was thinking about that as I stood waiting to get my luggage searched - again. I was behind a nicely dressed young woman, someone who appeared just as harmless as I. So, I said, “I guess we both look like terrorists.” 

When I told Number One this story she said, “Papa, you can't say that!” 

Solid point, but saying out loud what other people are thinking is my job, so it's a tough habit to break. 

The woman whirled around and said, “You can't say that. You're not allowed to say that. I want to register a complaint. I WANT TO REGISTER A FORMAL COMPLAINT!” 

I had no idea what she was talking about, but she clearly did, which leads me to believe she had filed a formal complaint or two in the past. 


When she first began speaking, I thought she was joking, so the lady searching her suitcase and I both smiled. 

In hindsight, that was a mistake. 

The staff clustered around her, trying to figure out the problem. At one point I heard her say, “He said that about me because I'm Asian!” 

What? For one thing, when I made my comment, I was standing behind her. I had no idea she was Asian. I can't tell someone's ethnicity by their shirt collar. For another thing, we were standing in the same line. Anything I said applied to both of us. 

I'd felt bad before, but now I was horrified. Nothing like being accused of being racist with a room full of strangers staring at you. 

The airport people were taking her seriously, but they talked to me and to the other people who'd been standing close and after a while one of the staff came over to me and said, “It's okay, but you really shouldn't make jokes.” 

At this point I was willing to commit to never exchanging pleasantries with another stranger for the rest of my life. 

She was still so angry, and she badly wanted to damage me. Get me kicked off the plane, put in airport jail, something. I've been thinking about the expression on her face all week. It's a puzzle to me. You know, about forty years ago the manager of a large farm cooperative cheated my father in a “we're a big business so there's nothing you can do about it” sort of way. For lack of a better way to put it, I flipped out. I worked my way through him, his boss, his boss's boss, and the entire board of directors and things got straightened out. A couple months after it was settled, I heard that the manager had been fired. All these decades later, I still feel a little guilty. I'd wanted him to not cheat my father, but I hadn't wanted him damaged. And I’ve worked to get people removed from political office not because I want to punish them, but because I think the voters deserve better representation. I find public meanness and vindictiveness so unsettling, so puzzling. 

I don't know this young woman and I have to admit I'd prefer we not cross paths again. I don't know if there is some past trauma, some personal demons that informs the way she moves through the world. I don't know if I was just a symbol of the patriarchy that's been a pain in her butt her entire life, or if she's an entitled brat eager to take offense and indifferent to the chaos she spreads. But I do know my world feels a little meaner, a little darker than it did a week ago. 

And that makes me sad. 

Copyright 2024 Brent Olson 



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