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  • April 18th, 2012

Woman of Steel

By Joel M. Vance

              I know how Lois Lane would have felt had she managed to get Clark Kent to the altar.  It would have been trying to be married to the Man of Steel and it is, for me, trying being married to the Woman of Steel.

             Oh, I don’t mean that she can leap tall buildings in a single bound, not even small ranchers.  But let her come within hailing distance of a metal detector and she sets off alarms as if she were Grandma bin Laden.  She has had two hip replacements and most airport security people refuse to believe that anyone could walk around with a few ounces of metal in their hip region that isn’t a miniaturized AK 47.  Marty is the darling of the wand wavers.  She has spent more time with her arms extended than Pat Robertson at a prayer meeting.

                 This is not Mama Osama; it’s Marty Vance, nee Leist, born and raised in Macon, Missouri, where the closest thing to a terrorist was the bruising fullback on the Macon Tiger football team.  Tell that to the folks at Lambert-St. Louis airport where she is regarded as the Mother of All Security Nightmares.

                Marty once was your average Midwestern housewife, sailing through security screening like Grandma Moses with a wooden cane.  Now?  You’d think she was wearing a jilbab inscribed “Up With The Jihad!” and brandishing a cylindrical object topped with a sputtering fuse.  The security guards flock to her like small birds to an owl.

            Maybe it has to do with becoming a grandmother.  After all, we know that grandmothers are among the most dangerous Islamist radicals, especially those posing as white Protestant Midwestern women. 

            If I sound sour it’s because I pass through those metal detectors with impunity and anyone looking at me will see that I’m a grumpy old, anti-political government-hater.  I’m obvious trouble on the hoof, but they don’t even make me take off my Reeboks which, for all they know, could contain handwritten instructions from the late Osama bin Laden on how to sabotage American fast food emporiums, thus bringing the nation to its knees by the afternoon of the first day without a McFix.            

                 Marty is the most complete innocent flying today.  Once she left a pair of scissors in her purse which set off many bells and whistles.  While they were wanding her, looking as if they would rather be beating her with the electronic staffs, an Arnold Swarzenegger look-alike got me to one side and grilled me about “the scissors in your purse.” 

            “I may look odd,” I said.  “But I don’t carry a purse.”

            “Your wife’s,” he growled, looking at me the way I look at fresh vomit on the sidewalk.  He was not, I would have to say, user-friendly.

            “I don’t know anything about scissors,” I said, sensing the cell door swinging shut.  He held them in front of my nose and said, “You can go back past security and start over or we’ll confiscate them.”  Unspoken was the implicit statement: “Or we can just haul you off now and you’ll never be seen again.”

            Well, they were simple small scissors, probably $1.98 at Dollar General, so I said, “Keep ‘em.”

            Marty rejoined me, having grudgingly been passed through the check point.  “You did what!” she exclaimed when I told her I’d given away her scissors.  “I’ve had those things for 20 years.”            

            Later, in full view of any security folk who cared to draw a Glock and practice swift justice, she held out a pair of folding scissors.  “Well, they didn’t find these!” she exclaimed with satisfaction.   I looked for a nearby rock to crawl under.  She got away with it but, in moments of domestic stress, I still hear about the heirloom scissors I gave away.

            I know airport security is essential to keep planes from becoming manned ICBMs, but I suspect your average terrorist, no matter how brain-damaged, will look for an easier target than an airplane: trains, busses and sports venues come to mind, not to mention container ships and a host of stationary targets.  Lest you think I’m inviting terrorism on targets other than the plane I’m riding in, I’m merely repeating what others have said.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where folks congregate in less-than-secure surroundings.

            Airport security has become a trial for the traveler.  At an outdoor writers’ conference I picked up a wilderness survival kit, a rudimentary collection of items designed to keep the backcountry emergency at bay, including a bite-sized Snickers bar (Snickers is the answer to the vicissitudes of the outdoors, like a charging grizzly bear or an avalanche). 

                There was a stub of candle and a couple of matches to light it.  The whole was sealed in a plastic bag.  Airport security, convinced those two matches were the entrée to airborne conflagration, slit the little plastic pouch open and removed the matches, thus rendering the candle useless if I happened to be trapped in a blizzard 150 miles from Nome.  At least they didn’t eat the Snickers.

                 I read a complaint about onerous security at London’s Heathrow Airport.  Perhaps it has changed since last I was there, but I found the security folks British-nice.  The Brits made me feel comfortable about being grilled and searched.

            “Well, I hope you’re having a good day and we’ll get you on your way right off, you know.  Just a spot of checking, if you don’t mind….”  And they prattled on and on apologetically, meanwhile checking out everything from dental fillings to potentially lethal body orifices. 

            I felt like saying, “Gee, I sure enjoyed chatting with you fellows.  Maybe we could get together for a pint after work.”  But then that was before a clown tried to set his Buster Browns on fire. Perhaps they have taken a short course in Lambert Airport hostility since then. 

              The only time in recent years that Marty has been able to board an airplane without intensive security scrutiny was when she dislocated one of her bionic hips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota and had to be airlifted out.

            Forest Service pilots slid her stretcher into their floatplane and off they went, no metal detector ot aggressive questions. 

            But I don’t think I’ll recommend to Marty that she dislocate a hip so we can get to our plane quicker.  She’s still upset about me giving away her scissors.


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  1. Mark Dameron

    April 23rd, 2012 at 7:15 am


    Interesting points about the Airport Security…. I don’t fly often but I’d venture in the last 20 years I’ve flown a couple of times each year. I remember back in the late 80’s the wife and I had moved up to the Chicago area… I’d flown in from Spfd, MO via St Louis no problems. After we’d moved I had several business flights out of O’hare and we (US) hsd some scare can’t remember exactly what it was and security was tightened to where if you didn’t have a boarding pass you couldn’t go to the gate… it was sooo pleasant… O’hare b4 was a mad house… afterwards I could walk to the gate w/o getting run over. I thought “this was great…” then complacency set in and it went back to the “wave at grandma from the gate.” Then the “shoe or underwear bomber” came along and we went back to no gate visits… I remember one incident where I thought the security guy wanted me to take my shoes off… “Oh you can’t take your shoes off!” Ok… now we have to take our damn shoes off… I don’t get it? Can’t take my finger nail clippers, I always take a pocket knife… in my “checked baggage”… and I always get a “hang nail” I can’t quite get to w/my teeth while I’m waiting for my next flight. Oh well thats Progress.

    • joelvance

      April 23rd, 2012 at 8:29 am


      Ah, the good old days. They even used to serve edible food in economy class.

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