Dear Dirty America


TSA Dogs Sniff Out Drugs & Ham Sandwiches

TSA Dogs Sniff Out Drugs & Ham Sandwiches
September 21
20:06 2012

North Dakota

I was at a very busy airport and catching my flight to rugged North Dakota. I passed through security without any issues or harassment (after all, I’m innocent and have blonde hair, which seems to help.) Another man, an English gentleman, wasn’t so lucky.

The Englishman sat on a bench replacing his shoes after going through the scanners. He had a tired look on his face. He wore shorts and a yellow polo shirt. He was a tourist, and he was probably flying home.

He lifted one white knee toward his face so he could tie his shoelaces. He tied the other pair. From across the room a tall, dark-haired TSA official walked toward the Englishman. A Beagle jerked against its leash and pulled toward the Englishman. The dog’s floppy ears bounced with each step.

“Sir,” the TSA agent said, “please sit still.” The Beagle sniffed the knee-high black suitcase beside the Englishman. The Beagle licked its lips and ran its nose along each the sides of the luggage. “The pooch seems to have some interest in your luggage.”

The Englishman hung his head, a little too defeated, a little too early, I thought. Give the official hell, I pleaded. When the man raised his head to look the TSA agent in the eyes, the Englishman’s face had a look of concern. Was he being busted? Was that the way it would end? Did this mean he wouldn’t get home?

The Beagle didn’t notice any of the passengers streaming past the TSA checkpoint to get to their gates. Instead it wagged its tail, salivated, and opened and closed its mouth in anticipation.

Was I witnessing a major drug bust? From an unlikely subject? A middle-aged, balding, English tourist with flabby calves, bulky tennis shoes, and wearing an outfit bought out of a middle class men’s magazine?

“No reason to get alarmed,” the agent said. He was a big man. A lumberjack in a former life. His forearms thick. His stomach bulging. “Let’s have a look in your bag.”

The Englishman was slow to grab his luggage. He seemed afraid of the Beagle. The dog lifted on its back legs to reach the man’s hand when he went to unzip his bag. The dog licked him, and the man pulled back his hand.

“He won’t hurt you. If there’s nothing illegal in your bags,” the TSA agent said, “then I’d guess you have nothing to be fidgety about.”

The dog’s little back end couldn’t stay still. It stomped its paws onto the tiled floor. The Englishman opened his mouth to speak, but the TSA agent told him to keep quiet and open up.

The Englishman opened his suitcase and the Beagle strained against the leash. Its paws couldn’t gain traction on the tile, but it tried anyway. “He’s pretty excited,” the agent said, “there must be something of interest.”

The Englishman wiped his forehead with his arm. Sweating. The pressure was on. Bystanders re-tied their shoelaces. They repacked their computers into their backpacks or purses. They slipped their belts back into their pants’ loops. Everybody glanced at the Englishman opening his luggage for the world to see. And the small dog that kept trying to pounce into the pastel-colored items neatly folded inside.

The Englishman carefully peeled back the edges of various folded garments, hoping that would satisfy the agent standing over him. “Pull that stuff out and set it on the bench,” the agent said, “so we can search it.”

Two pairs of shorts. An assortment of peach and pink, light blue and green polo shirts. A couple pairs of white briefs. All pulled sheepishly from the Englishman’s bag. He piled his clothing on the open metal bench beside him. A small group of people lingered to watch. People behind them waited to find room to reassemble and gather their items.

“Move forward,” a woman with tight black braids shouted. She worked the metal detector. “Move on forward.” Nobody listened.

“I know,” the Englishman said, “there’s a….”

The agent held up a hand.

The man removed a black leather bag. Probably holding his toiletries. The agent’s eyebrows lifted. The dog’s eyes stayed focused on the suitcase.

Finally, half unpacked, the Englishman pulled out a medium-sized plastic baggie. A soggy looking sandwich inside. Dots of white sauce smeared on the bottom of the bag. The Beagle’s nose pointed upward. The sandwich, in the baggie held by the pinched thumb and pointer finger of the Englishman, hung over the head of the dog. It dangled in midair between the tourist and the agent. The little dog jumped for the sandwich, but he couldn’t get high enough to snatch it.”Hold now,” the agent said. “Down, down, down!”

The agent backed away. He tugged on the leash to give the Englishman space from the titillated dog. “We’ll be letting you get on your way now, sir.”

The lingering group of bystanders snickered. Some were confused. A couple whispered nasty comments about the TSA and tyranny and heavy-handed search tactics. But they didn’t say them too loud for fear of being scrutinized next.

I too was among that crowd. I had a journalistic interest. A literary interest. I watched as a fearful and concerned member of society. Fascinated yet appalled. Hoping the Englishman would remove his sandwich and smash it into the agent’s face.

It’s a ham sandwich, you Neanderthal. Keep your goddamned dog to yourself. Get a dog who sniffs out drugs, and doesn’t get excited over day-old ham sandwiches.

But nobody said anything. Not the Englishman, either, who quietly repacked his suitcase. The crowd dispersed and life moved on. The man zipped up his luggage, but he left his sandwich out. He walked away and dropped the baggie in the nearest trashcan.

Just imagine, he might have thought, had I dripped a few drops of Mayonnaise or mustard on the crotch of my shorts. Or had the smell of the ham sandwich on an item of clothing, but no longer had the sandwich. How could I have proven my innocence without being strip searched behind closed doors with that lumberjack and his little Beagle?

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