The last friendly face in Las Vegas belonged to the guy at the car rental return. The Southwest terminal at McCarran is always a stampede, of course. One girds for it on the sidewalk outside, and then, summoning patience and courage, one steps inside.
The herd bottlenecked at the ID checkpoint, and a TSA agent pulled one of the stanchions aside, opening up a broad expanse of carpet.
“Over there.” he barked to the passengers, without actually indicating where the bodies should move. It wasn’t obvious, and a few passengers looked around, confused, but nobody moved, because nobody wanted to lose their place in line.
“Choose another podium,” shouted the female ID checker at the front of the line, “I’m not the only one.”
“We don’t know where to go,” said a woman with an eastern European accent. “He didn’t tell us.”
“Well, I have a badge, too, and I’m telling you I’m not the only one,” the ID checker shot back. “So choose another podium.” And then, with chilling mock-courtesy, she added, “Have a nice day.”
Next stop — plastic bin hell, where shoes and belts come off, toiletries are yanked from the dark privacy of backpacks, naked for the world to see, and laptops are parted from nervous owners. We are resigned to this, and frequent travelers have it down to a science. But today, there were no bins. The line ground to a halt, and the shoeless herd awaited bin delivery.
At last, a new stack of bins arrived, and our hand-carried cargo moved down the conveyor belt. But the delay had altered the traffic flow. We were forced to join a long line for the metal detector, enduring an extended and anxiety-provoking separation from personal belongings.
The Reasonable Reporter watched unhappily as purse and laptop disappeared from view. Finally, stepping across what should have been the finish line, a few forgotten coins in the pants pocket set off a signal that further surveillance was called for. An agent pointed toward the dreaded virtual strip search machine.
Nope. Not this kid. There’s a principle at stake here. They’ve stolen our time, our anonymity, and our bottled liquids. They shall not steal our clothing. Our final shred of privacy shall not be surrendered over a nickel and a few stray pennies.
“I’m not doing that,” the Reasonable Reporter stood firm, confident in the knowledge that passengers may refuse the body scan, and opt for a pat-down instead. “And that’s my purse, waaay over there. I’d like my purse, please.”
“You aren’t finished,” he said.
“Fine, I’m not finished, but I want my purse.”
“DON’T YOU MOVE,” he commanded, as if an armed confrontation were imminent.
“I haven’t moved. I’m still standing on the same spot. But I want my purse.”
The Reasonable Reporter was turned over to a female TSA agent for hands-on groping, which, all things considered, was conducted with courtesy and professionalism. The woman also retrieved the purse, laptop and other belongings from their remote location.
Now a man’s voice rose above the general turmoil. “I know where I left it, and it’s not there,” he insisted.
“YOU CALM DOWN RIGHT NOW,” a TSA agent ordered, in a tone used mostly by mothers seeking an immediate halt to a toddler’s tantrum in the supermarket. It must have been a call for back-up, because several other agents moved in closer.
The passenger’s phone was missing, and TSA had apparently suggested it might be misplaced in one of the pockets of his backpack. A search of the pack turned up no phone. The passenger squared his shoulders and issued a triumphant sniff, and the exasperated agent huffed away, to consult his colleague at the x-ray monitor.
The passenger looked over at the still barefoot Reasonable Reporter, who nodded in silent solidarity.
“My phone is gone. How am I supposed to feel?” he asked.
A few moments later, the missing device was located, having fallen between the metal bars of the conveyor belt.
A lot of people who used to like air travel don’t like it anymore. “I hate flying,” is an increasingly common phrase.
Word to southern Nevada officials at all levels. You’d better do something, before a longer, angrier phrase finds popularity. Like, “I can gamble anywhere, why would I subject myself to the indignities that surely await me at the Las Vegas airport?”
The Reasonable Reporter will return, even after suffering a metaphorical jackboot to the butt on her way out of town. But tourists to the Silver State can choose whether to come back. And they might not, if this kind of hostility is dished out consistently. Before one more dime is spent on visitor promotions, the TSA in Las Vegas needs some hospitality training.