• Blog
  • October 17th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


In 1861 Mark  Twain traveled across the Great Plains to Nevada territory and wrote about it in his first book “Roughing It” which made him famous. In 1939 John Wayne starred in “Stagecoach” his first major movie and it made him famous. Obviously, there are definite advantages to stagecoach travel not available in today’s marketplace. The choice for long-distance trips for most folks is to climb in an airplane and trust that the mystery of flight once again will prevail.


On the other hand, a stagecoach is not suspended 30,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, held there by aeronautical magic. And in order to take advantage of this enchantment, one has to traverse the myriad pitfalls that strew the path of the weary traveler between home and boarding the airplane. Just negotiating the minefield of security check in would make old Sam Clemens and the Duke long for a comparatively easy set to with irritable Lakota Sioux warriors.


Scratch any air traveler today and you’ll uncover a festering wound of previous mishaps and the repeated mantra of he who has flown: “Never again! Never again!” But we do, of course, we entrust our lives to invisible flight crews whom we don’t know and whom we can only hope know what they are doing, semi-secure in the knowledge that “Hey, they’re up here too and are just as eager as I am to get from here to there without becoming a headline.”


Wikipedia says that firewalking, the act of hiking across a bed of smoldering coals, is “a test of an individual strength and courage, or in religion as a test of one’s faith.” For me, the equivalent of tiptoeing across sizzling briquettes is traversing the security checkpoint ordeal at the airport. Once, I heard a Catholic woman explained that when she was about five years old, she went to her first confession, so scared that she confessed to sins she didn’t even know the meaning of. “Forgive me, father, I have committed adultery!” she babbled to the astonished priest. That’s pretty much the way I approach a security check looking as guilty as someone bulging with 50 pounds of gelignite. “Honest,” I want to blabber, “it’s just old guy flab! I gotta start exercising more!”


Actually, after divesting myself of shoes, watch, metal belt buckle, (praying that my britches don’t fall down and moon my fellow passengers), five dollars worth of loose change, half a dozen Tums tablets and a handful of pocket lint, I stumble through the security portal, every muscle tense, certain that sirens will sound, uniformed security personnel, guns drawn, will descend on me wielding truncheons and handcuffs— only to arrive on the other side unscathed and able to breathe once again. Where I wait while my wife, Marty, undergoes the inevitable.


Marty, has a habit of bringing confusion to the professional lives of the TSA screeners. Some years back, she, in her early 60s, a grandmotherly Midwestern white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, former cheerleader, former Yearbook Queen, not exactly the prototypical terrorist, was flagged down when the x-ray machine detected a tiny pair of cosmetic scissors in her luggage. She underwent a body patdown, and the confiscation of the offending weapon of mass destruction before they let her go.


Barely past the screening station, she rummaged in her purse and held aloft another pair of scissors. “Well at least,” she said, “they didn’t get these!” I grabbed her arm and hustled her down the hall, exclaiming “Haysoos!”, practicing pronunciation in the language prevalence in the confines of Guantánamo Bay, figuring TSA already had a suite reserved there in our name.


A couple of flights ago, Marty, confronted with her first body screening booth, and doubtless recalling her days of terpsichore at Louie’s Sweet Shop as the boogie-woogie queen of Macon High School, stood on the footprints in the booth and, possibly imagining she was auditioning for a spot on “Dancing with the Stars” executed a nifty fast dance step. “Stand still!” Growled a TSA attendant, who doubtless had grown up deprived of boogying to vintage rock ‘n roll at Louie’s.


So, I approach every security check in, sweating and no doubt looking as guilty as someone who just graduated from Bomb Making University, but I always manage to negotiate through the various indignities without being patted down in places where I’d rather not be patted down, questioned by interrogators or pinned against the wall by your basic law enforcement chokehold aficionados.


Only once have I undergone a rigorous grilling by the security guys and that was upon entering Canada on a fishing trip. The copper was nice, polite, and the kind of guy you’d like to share a cold one with. But he was thorough enough to ascertain that my intentions within the borders of our northern neighbor were not to threaten the indigenous ice hockey culture (I concealed the fact that I am a St. Louis Blues fan), and he finally let me go.


More common than intimidating experiences with the security system are my sometimes frightening experiences once in the sky where, if something dramatic happens, the results are even more serious than a pat down or having your cuticle clippers confiscated.


Since I saw an episode of “The Twilight Zone” where an airline passenger looked out the porthole window and saw a gremlin clinging to the wing of the plane and looking back at him I have been hyper alert for the high-altitude equivalent of things that go bump in the night.. Anytime I have a window seat, I keep a wary eye out for creatures strolling on the wing at 30,000 feet and several hundred miles per hour. So far, the wings have been bare of hideous monsters, but you never know.


Then there was the time, the cabin as they call it (my idea of the cabin is a cozy enclosure of logs, with a comforting fire in the stove, a hunting dog sprawled on the carpet, and a beaker of Scotland’s signature soothing elixir in my hand) filled with smoke. I didn’t think it was coming from a comforting fire in a wood stove somewhere between where I sat and where the pilot sat and neither did anyone else among the passengers, who began to stir uneasily. Shortly, a disembodied voice, came over the intercom saying “there seems to be a problem folks, but don’t worry, we think it’s something with the electrical system and we will have it fixed shortly.”


Shortly was not near soon enough for me, considering that we were midway between Memphis and St. Louis where landing strips for 737 passenger jets are nonexistent. Gradually, the fog of smoke dissipated but we completed the flight in a collective condition commonly known as “tight ass” and we landed in St. Louis and taxied a considerable distance from the terminal, surrounded by emergency vehicles. My seatmate, a large fellow who looked as if he might have been a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, said, “I know where I will be tonight— I will be in church!” I didn’t get to slide down the canvas emergency chute, the only disappointment in the entire experience. And we had to deplane and walk all the way to the terminal.


Another problem confronting the frequent flyer is that of his or her luggage being sent, for example, to Montréal, when the passenger is headed for San Francisco. Perhaps that is why airlines charge exorbitant fees now to check your luggage—to pay the extra cost of reuniting you with your clothing. I once spent three days in the same pair of shorts and T-shirt waiting for the arrival of fresh clothing. Did I get an apology from the airline? Recompense for smelling like a high school locker room? A nice check to replace the grungy shorts and T-shirt? No, I got my luggage at long last on the morning of our flight home, no apologies issued.


Once I had to frantically search terminal wide for my missing fishing rod case which apparently to the TSA folks looked like a rocket launcher and I can only imagine them summoning the bomb squad to defuse what turned out to be an assortment of fishing rods. My shotgun, locked in a hard case and labeled, also once went temporarily missing on a hunting trip but fortunately was found before I went more ballistic than my treasured double-barreled 12 gauge.


I caught a 28 pound Chinook salmon in Oregon and had it flash frozen. I packed it in the middle of my suitcase wrapped in many layers of insulating clothing. It would, I pray, remain frozen for the couple of hours in the air to Kansas City’s International airport, and another couple of hours on the road home where it would join other wild game in our freezer and later be served as a baked entrée for an appreciative audience—not only in tribute to my angling expertise, but also as a tribute to my generosity in sharing it with my adoring family and friends.


Never let it be said that common sense is a major attribute in my short range planning. At the Portland airport, a harried airline functionary announced that our flight was overbooked and he would offer a free ticket to anyone who would take a later flight. Free anything is a magic phrase to a cheapskate like me and I snapped up the offer and it wasn’t until our original plane was in the air that it occurred to me my trophy salmon was heading home without me.


Visions of a once frozen salmon liquefying in the middle of my luggage!


We arrived at KCI to find the terminal absolutely deserted—apparently nobody was coming or going at 1 AM. Marty and I stood in the middle of the cavernous baggage claim area and I sniffed like a pointer to see if I could detect the scent of rotting salmon. Then, a door popped open in a distant wall, and a munchkin like figure appeared and said, “you must be the Vances.” He produced our luggage as well as a driver for a search vehicle to take us on a tour of the long term parking where our car was.


The long drive home was fraught with my incessant sniffing, praying that dead fish stink was not seeping out of my suitcase. Was this noble fish whose only wish was to swim upstream and find a girlfriend destined instead for a shameful final resting place in a dumpster?  I opened my suitcase like a member of a bomb squad dealing with a suspicious package, and…. The fish still was frozen as solid as a mammoth on the Siberian tundra.


Tomorrow, we fly from Missouri to the Far West, (coach class) following the path of the historic stagecoaches, only 30,000 feet up. “Okay, Rowdy, Head ‘em up and move ‘em out!”



Read More

1 Comment

  1. CJ

    October 17th, 2019 at 6:33 am


    We’ll be waiting in the dark for you! Be sure to put your shoes back on, because it’s cold in the mountains.

Leave a Reply


By Joel M. Vance   The Missouri legislature is considering HJR 100 which would if installed in the state constitution give the authority to oversee any agency regulation to what amounts to a super regulatory panel called the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR for short). In essence, it would mean that all fish, wildlife […]

Read More
View the Blog »


By Joel M. Vance   It has been 58 years since my late and dear friend, Mitch Jayne, brought to life one ...


By Joel M. Vance   I was maybe 6 years old, it was a pitch black night, cold in winter time, no ...