Phoenix, Arizona, USA. 2011.
In a bulky badass stride, a muscular police officer with a military precision haircut approaches the security scene at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He wears a flak jacket while pepper spray, handcuffs and extra clips adorn his gun belt. Clearly, this guy is packing heat.
Moments earlier, a group of TSA agents had clustered around a confiscated item. Redirecting everybody but us, one agent shut down an entire row of security and called in the cop.
Travelers shoot withering looks our way while my husband Kurt and I, along with our kids Eddie and Kasey, stand at the end of the conveyor belt. Returning from Mexico, we need to make our connecting flight to Denver.
Although no one actually informs us, Kurt and I know exactly what is wrong. I look over at Kurt, who rolls his eyes. Then our six-year-old son Eddie asks the all-important question:
“Am I going to get my marshmallow gun back?”
Months earlier, Kurt had made Eddie a marshmallow gun out of PVC piping after he had seen one at a carnival. You can actually fire marshmallow “bullets” from the toy by blowing them through any of the pipes’ openings. Like a veteran SWAT team member, Eddie assembles the entire thing, which sort of resembles a white sniper gun, in about 29 seconds.
So now we wait at the Phoenix Airport for the marshmallow gun to either be cleared or confiscated for good. Apparently, due to the Transportation Security Administration’s protocol, a professional must inspect the contraband — especially when it’s material that people use to make bombs.
“I don’t know, Bud.” Kurt answers.
We now watch the police officer disassemble the PVC pipes, roll the parts over in his hands, look through them and then put it all down. The process takes less than one minute. With a more loosened demeanor, he comes over to Eddie, looks down at him and says while looking our way, “Check this next time. Okay, Buddy?” After the encounter, I can’t tell if Eddie is more excited to get his gun back or to talk to a police officer with a real gun.
Security…While traveling, I never relax until after we get through security. It’s especially stressful when traveling involves a tight connection after an international journey. Before clearing a new airport’s security checkpoint, a stop through Customs is understandably required.
Not to mention security is also stressful if you’re a forgetful or careless packer. The marshmallow gun incident was just one of a few that contributed to the security shit show we created on our trip to and back from Mexico.
Before leaving the US, Kurt, the kids and I had met up with my sister, Suzanne, and her family at the Phoenix airport. Suz had a toy Jedi light saber to give to Eddie for his birthday. On the flight down to Cabo San Lucas, we stashed the light saber in the overhead compartment and forgot about it.
It’s not necessarily impressive to tell airport officials you’ve left a sword on a plane — especially if there is a language barrier. However, we had not yet entered the Los Cabos Airport, so my brother-in-law Jason ran over to ask an airport employee on the tarmac if he could re-board the plane to get the birthday present.
He had to emphasize that it was a Star Wars toy — a sword para niños.
Somehow, with an escort Jason re-boarded the plane and got the light saber back.
One week later, we were back at the Los Cabos airport.
Despite arriving early with plenty of time, not surprisingly, our stress levels rose at security. Kurt’s bag was stopped (it initially had made it through Denver International Airport with no problems).
A female agent explained in Spanish that they were seeing something suspicious on the X-Ray. At least that’s what I gathered with my limited Spanish. She mentioned “tenedor” and made the motion of eating. The scene in “Romancing the Stone” when Michael Douglas tells Kathleen Turner that hidden treasure is near “El Tenedor del Diablo” The Devil’s Fork played in my head.
“Oh, she’s talking about a fork!” I turned to Kurt. “You must have a fork in your suitcase.” The security agent found the crusty fork and looked at us like, “Really?” She clued in that the piece of silverware was a forgotten item. However, the agent told us she had to keep it.
“No problema. Gracias,” I said smiling, trying to convince her we weren’t totally dumb Americans.
While this security breach went down, Eddie and Kasey begged for Burger King. “Steph, why don’t you get some food for the kids,” Kurt barked while he gathered the rest of the luggage. A few moments later, he re-joined us, and we boarded the plane.
“Do you have my bag?” Kurt asked as we trudged through the main aisle looking for our seats.
“No, I don’t have it. Don’t you have it?”
“You must have left it at security!” At this point, stress levels reached fire engine red — at least mine did. “You better go tell the flight attendants and see if you can get it back!” I hissed. It seemed highly unlikely that they would let Kurt go back in to get his bag. Also, talk about a red flag: an abandoned, unattended bag at the airport. Good luck.
I got the kids settled in our seats and looked toward the front to see Kurt explaining the recent development to a flight attendant. Then came the inexplicable — an attendant escorted Kurt off the aircraft.
So the plane sat. Oh man, we were those people who made the whole plane wait. I always complained in the past about those “flaky” passengers.
“When is Dad coming back?” the kids asked
“Soon, guys, soon,” I said, hoping someone with lots of authority wasn’t interrogating him.
We sat on the runway — everybody with their seatbelts securely fastened except Kurt.
I gauged passenger patience levels. Some people craned their necks to look toward the front, and I saw one woman look at her watch. Tension. I sensed tension. Definitely I experienced tension.
Then I heard genuine cheering and clapping. Kurt had arrived, holding his bag up over his head like he had won the World Cup. I couldn’t figure it out. Certainly, this was a laid back group of people. I couldn’t imagine this kind of welcoming reception in the US.
Then I heard someone sitting ahead of me say, “Oh good, that Australian man got his bag back.”
That was the reason. I hadn’t really noticed earlier that Kurt was wearing his green and yellow shirt emblazoned with Australia.
When it comes to a delay on the way to the runway, clearly passengers (both Mexican and American) easily forgive Australians or people they think are Australians. So Kurt, the beloved fake Aussie, settled into his seat. I made sure the kids’ backpacks were underneath the seat ahead.
Little did I know while shoving Eddie’s backpack forward that the marshmallow gun inside, which had made it originally through both Denver security and Los Cabos, would completely shut down a row of security in Phoenix and prompt a call to the police.