It’s never happened to me before. I’ve always been so careful, always been prepared. While others fumbled and ‘foostered’ and ignored all prior instructions, I was the perfect traveller; the airport expert or ‘airpert’. Like a poor man’s George Clooney in Up In The Air, I prided myself on my smooth navigation of the pitfalls in airports, of my impeccable queuing.
Check in online? No problem. Passport in hand and open at the picture page? You betcha. You wouldn’t see me scrabbling around for my travel documents panicking before eventually retrieving them from my socks. 100ml limit on liquids and toiletries? Fine, I don’t need to wash that often anyway. I’m on my holidays.
The metal detectors held no fear for me. I had a thirteen year clean record. There is a system, you just have to follow it: belt, shoes, watch off, phone in tray, laptop out of bag, put coins in coat pocket, put coat in tray. Badda-bing, Badda-boom. I would smile wryly as the numpty in front of me set off all the alarms, because despite all the warning signs and reminders from the staff, they’d forgotten they were wearing an entire Norman-era vest of chainmail underneath their jumper.
Then I would sashay through, lucky that the security system didn’t have a detector for smugness, wearing a look on my face that said: “I won’t hold up the queue Mr Official. I’m not one of THOSE people.”
Not this time though. Last Monday, for the first time in my flying life, I was THAT person in the queue. The traveller with THE PROBLEM who used up as much queueing time as the 25 people before them because something about their booking was not quite right. You know the type, those who attempt to check in a snow-leopard as hand luggage or realise at the last minute that their passport is made of cheese.
My downfall was my destination: the Fringe. This year, my show Dislike! is off to the Edinburgh Festival. It’s partially about Facebook so I thought it would be a wheeze to get three hundred Facebook-style hands printed, turn them into large paper gloves and use them to attract attention to my show. I think it was Isaac Newton who said “three hundrede of anythinge muste weighe somethinge”. Must weigh about 15 kilos over the baggage allowance, to be precise. I had an inkling this would happen, but in the great Irish tradition of expecting an exception to be made for me, I chanced my arm with the overweight bag. And then chanced my laser card with the €200 fee. As the Aer Lingus chip and pin reader chatted amiably with AIB’s computer, I could hear the queue behind me grow restive. There were loud exhalations. A man tut-tutted and looked at his watch in an extravagant gesture. I wanted to hit him but it would have been like hitting me.
Bruised, I made my way to the metal detectors where initially things looked to be on the up. A woman was having an argument with an airport official about a 120ml bottle of saline solution. This cheered me a little and I went through my security routine. I also had a small projector in my hand luggage so I took that out of the bag and placed it on the tray, efficiently and without fuss. Then I walked through the gate without any beeps or lights. Back in the GAME!
“Is this your bag?” said the X-ray woman opening it and pulling out a length of cable. “There are undeclared electricals in it – you’ll have to put it through again”
Oh no! Not my unblemished security record. Please don’t take that away from me.
I traipsed back through the gate. Once again the same people who queued behind me earlier had their suspicions confirmed. I was THAT GUY. The pain in the hoop.
There was one last sting in the tail. The X-Ray woman who had opened my bag handed it back to the makes-sure-everyone-takes-their-metal-off guy. He picked up my bag in the manner of one who does not know the bag is open. The resulting cascade of Colm’s electrical bits and pieces gave the queue something new to focus on.
“Well that was one way to get them out?” said the man, smiling unconcernedly.
“But it’s not the right way, is it you tool?” I said. Albeit, In my mind. It doesn’t pay to get excessively cranky at airports any more. Otherwise you will now become a PROBLEM for the staff as well as the other travellers. And airport staff don’t like PROBLEMS.
Security in Ireland is now more humourless, more American, than it used to be. Gone are the good old days where urban legend has it that one metal detector operator, wondering why no one had set off the alarms all day realised towards the end of his shift that he had forgotten to plug in the machine.
No, this was not the time for me to argue the toss. Especially as the upending of my hand luggage had revealed a “well-what-have-we-here” of objects. In any other context they would have been completely innocuous but something about their presence on an airport conveyor belt made them look sinister.
There was a very good reason why I had fifteen feet of cable, three phones, a mysteriously glowing remote control, two external hard-drives and a roll of twine in my hand luggage. Likewise I needed the Mills and Boon book: The Desert King’s Housekeeper Bride as a prop for my show. And while in Edinburgh I was planning to read James Joyce’s Ulysses and The Corner (the story of Baltimore Maryland’s drug trade) as research for writing my long-term project: A mash-up of Ulysses and The Wire. Luckily the take-off-your-coats-and-put-them-in-the-tray man was not interested in too much explanation. So I was not forced to give some sample dialogue from my, as yet unnamed, genre-bending meisterwerk.
Stringer Bell: Yo Buck, wat’up. Lookin good man. Look at you homes! Got that Stately and Plump thang goin on man. S’nice.
Buck Mulligan: Ah Stringer my boy. Pass me that snot-rag will you. What ails you today my boy?
Stringer Bell: We got a situation man.
Buck Mulligan: Ah situations – beloved of Greek and Spartan alike, playthings of the gods. Well what is your situation Mr. Bell. Speak up you fearful Jesuit!
Stringer Bell: It’s Bloom man. Leopold. That project hopper be slinging some new package in the Martello Towers man. On our ground yo. Homeboy need to get got!
Buck Mulligan: Ah the revenge cycle, beloved of the Homeric epic. Shall we risk the thunderbolts of Zeus to change that what fate hath in store for us?
Stringer Bell: Yo man we ain’t got time for this stream-of-consciousness thang man. Sh*t just got real, yo.
And so on, but that is for another day. Back at the airport I walk slowly towards the gate, humbled meek. As we board a man in front has trouble finding his boarding pass. I don’t tut or harrumph. I’m a little bit older and wiser now. And queuter.