I related previously how my dad was caught red handed by security at Radio City Music Hall with a prized pocket knife, and how he was able to hide it in a flower planter for pickup later. Happy ending.
Emboldened by that memory, I tried the same thing recently. It happened at BWI airport for Grey’s and my trip to Cincinnati.
I knew – just knew – that I had left the jackknife at home. I remember feeling it in my pocket the morning of my flight and was so smug about how I had the foresight to remove it before it was too late.
As I was standing in the security line at BWI, I plunged my hands into both pants pockets to transfer all money and accompanying detritus to my carry-on, and, incredibly, there was my knife. I never swear, but sometimes I get really, really close…
What to do? Plan A was to slip it in my carry-on and see what happens.
Best case, the screener is cross-eyed from looking at so many fidget spinners and selfie sticks, and it would fly on through. I knew it was low probability, but I’m an overconfident male, and I was already fantasizing about how I could flash the knife to scare the seat-kicking teen behind me into submission.
Worst case, they find it and give me a lecture. I knew the consequences weren’t the same as finding a gun, which has happened 20 times so far this year at BWI.
So I swiveled my head around like a guilty man, opened the main pocket of my bag, and jammed the knife into the deepest recess of the bag. Yes, I know x-ray machines don’t care about deep recesses.
Then, it was all Hollywood from there. Go about my business, act like I’m a normal father, husband, regular guy, etc. If they did discover the knife, the only thing that would make it worse is if they thought I was trying to sneak it through. Then I would instantly be an ISIS terrorist.
All according to plan until my bag is diverted off the main conveyor. A random hand check happens sometimes, I tell myself, my confidence slowly losing its grip.
But then my bag is placed in the manual inspection station, and on the screen even I can see the pocket knife hanging out in there, like it doesn’t have a friend in the world.
Still, I stick to my character – Mr. Oblivious.
The TSA agent is friendly, but he has a role to play also. He digs out my knife and presents it. “You know this was in here?”
“My gosh!” I reply. I’m staying just this side of the truth.
He presents the options:
- Put it in my carry-on, which will require an exit and bag check
- Put it in my car
- ‘Donate’ it
We are parked in satellite parking, so the #2 car stash is out. I’m not thrilled about option #1 checking my carry-on, because we are going carry-on-only, not wanting to wait around for the interminable delivery of the checked bags to baggage claim.
And #3 is a def no-go. Not because it’s valuable or sentimental – no & no – but because I can’t bear the thought that it will be dropped in a big bin of scissors and switchblades and ice picks, all doomed for the landfill (or some other unknown destination).
My mind keeps returning to the image of my dad triumphantly retrieving his knife from the bed of flowers at Rockefeller Center:
I needed to find the airport equivalent and fast. I hadn’t budgeted time for two security lines…and sizing up planters for their camouflage capabilities.
I tell Grey to cool his heels. The TSA guy escorts me to the exit, and I make a mad dash for the arrivals area, where I know we will be passing through in a couple days.
I find a low-trafficked area, but nothing there is quite as elegant as a bed of flowers. Instead, I zero in on a vending machine. I pretend to examine my snack options, while evaluating its hiding spots.
Nothing obvious, so I do a casual head swivel and a nonchalant placement of the pocket knife on top of the machine, where it is out of sight. Then the race to re-enter the security queue.
I made the flight with time to spare and our trip to Cincinnati was lovely.
Once we got back to BWI, I was patting myself all over the back for remembering to retrieve the knife. It would be just like me to go through all the rigmarole of hiding the thing, then breeze right past it in my eagerness to catch the first-available satellite parking shuttle.
I find the machine, sweep my hand over it…and come away with a handful of greasy dust. A second sweep, more greasy dust.
Oh well. At first, I’m comforted by the thought that someone happened upon it, and was getting good use out of it – whittling sticks into clothespins for children in Africa or something.
But then a horrible realization settles in – nothing that happens in an airport goes unseen anymore, except perhaps in the toilet stalls. Surely, deep in the bowels of the security control center at BWI, someone had seen my not-so-subtle drop, and had dispatched two agents, a dog, and a robot to investigate. On the spectrum between the omniscience of God and the eye of Sauron, I felt closer to Middle-earth than heaven.
So, my not-so-prized pocket knife probably ended up trashed after all.
I was feeling a little blue, but then I smile when I remember the time my dad tried mightily to get a dead goose – with shot in it! – through airport security. A goose he had just hunted that morning, and was attempting to return home with to Baltimore. Despite trying two different security lines, he had to give it up.
“I can’t believe a good goose went to waste like that,” he says when I remind him of it today.
My feeling exactly. Minus the goose part. Even I couldn’t forget to leave a goose at home.
I was going salmon fishing in Canada from the US one and had several outdoor knives and multi-tools in my checked luggage bag. Except they wouldn’t unlock the airport doors to let me in for my early flight from Arkansas in time to check the bag so I had to carry it on. I put them in a plastic bag that TSA said they’d mail to my home address. Thieves! I never saw them again, about a $200 loss.
Sounds like you did everything right, and still lost. You can’t win when you are dealing with bureaucratic incompetence.
Queen Mum says
Friendly (though unsought) advice for your future forgetfulness would be to never try secreting anything inside of an airport; too many eyes, official and otherwise. Outside is safer and lends itself to more creativity anyhow. Even just outside the door there are usually little ledges or other high hiding spots. Once we even made a quick shallow depression with a shoe heel in the ground next to a flagpole and temporarily buried a jackknife there while we winged off for a weekend visit.
Good thought. I’m hoping there is no next time, but there probably will be.
Adam @ Minafi says
That’s a rough break that it wasn’t there. Hopefully, someone is getting some use out of it somewhere!
As a kid (pre- 9/11) I bought some throwing stars while on vacation and put them in my carry on. I was in fourth grade and didn’t know any better. They stopped me at the scanner and asked me to give them to someone else that was dropping me off. I pretended to do it, but just put them in my pocket and brought them on. Man, those were different times.
Jimmy Lama says
Great story Barnaby, we use to live down the road from you there in Burtonsville, MD. I have a similar story with an alternative ending than yours. In 2001, my wife and I were stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany serving as Active Duty Staff Sergeants. We were there during the 9/11 attacks. Shortly after, we flew back to the U.S. for some R and R and while we were at the Frankfort airport, I realized I had a Bench made pocket knife gifted to me by a military buddy. Like you, I frantically looked for something to stash my knife and low and behold, there were multiple planters in the lobby area leading up to the security line. My wife goes to the restroom and I nonchalantly tie my shoe next to the planter. As I stand up, I already had my knife in my hand and acted like I’m admiring the plant, will inserting the knife 6 inches into the soil. I noted the exact location of the potted plant and went about our trip. Upon our return, we make our way back to the secret hiding place and I recover my pocket knife, plus some added rust. You’re well written and photograph story took me back 17 years. I’m sorry you lost your knife and happy you weren’t interrogated by TSA upon you return.