“You can’t take this with you!”
One of the oddities that occurs on trips to Brasil is when you leave, especially if you leave out through Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon jungle. You go through customs, immigration, American immigration and bag check for entry into the U.S. in Fortaleza. Then, five hours later you get off the airplane, circle the airport like Joshua circling Jericho, repeat the entire process, then reboard the plane you just got off.
It doesn’t to me, either.
Wednesday was an exceptionally more fun day doing this.
After waiting for quite some time to go through the x-ray machines in Manaus, appropriately taking out laptop, baggie with liquids in it and going through the scanner, a lady tells me, “You can’t take this with you!” It was a command. She held, dangling between her index finger and thumb, as though it were something dirty or disgusting, my baggie with a small bottle of saline solution I use for my eyes. “Do you want to leave it or check it?”
Now I will readily admit that I laughed. I was visualizing a tiny suitcase with a small bottle in it going around the baggage claim carousal in Miami. The guardian of the bastion of security wasn’t laughing. She simply said, “Which?”
Something snapped in me. It had become a test of wills and I wasn’t going to yield. “Check it!”
She pulled me from the line and demanded: “Stay here while we pull your luggage from the plane!” I momentarily thought, “Oh, crap! Throw the stupid thing away. I don’t want to miss my plane!” But I remained resolute.
By this time everyone has been cleared from the security area but me. Paul is on the other side of the glass looking at me mouthing “What is going on?”
The wicked witch calls an attendant and orders her to take me out to the “holding area” out of public view. Paul sees me leaving and has no idea what is going on.
Back in the “holding area” I’m told to “stay!” and I almost made a barking sound, but thought better of it.
Employee after employee comes by and asks what I’ve done wrong. The answer: “He wants to check ‘this!'” and my little baggie is held up by the index finger and thumb like it holds fecal matter. A call is made to the luggage people who’ve now closed up the airplane’s luggage door. They are not happy, not one little bit. They are told they have no option but to open up and find my luggage. “It’s an American,” my new found security friend sneers. I think, “Great! Now they’re going to drive the baggage tractor over
it, open it up and urinate in it.”
It arrives intact, not crushed or “wet.” The security agent hands me the little baggie and commands, “Stow it!” Not to be intimidated, I slowly open the bag, move some clothes around, then put the baggie into a safe area, zip the pocket closed, look at her, smile and state in the kindest voice I can muster: “Thank you so much for your assistance.”
She snaps open her walkie-talkie and simply states: “Bag coming down. Take good care of it.”
As I’m escorted back to the security area I’m convinced I’ll never see that bag again.
The agent takes me through the x-ray machine without telling me to stop. Alarms, bells and sirens commence to wail. I look to the right and two military police agents in swat-style clothing and really big guns have appeared; to the left tree federal police agents, badges prominently draped around their necks and jackets pulled back to show their side arms, have materialized; worse yet, my “keeper” has turned and is glaring at me: “What do you think you’re doing? You have to go through the security check and x-ray
machine just like everyone else!”
I think that in her agitated state she’d forgotten that I’d already gone through it and had been attached to her the entire time. Maybe she thought I picked up a sidearm, bazooka or nuclear explosive device from under the counter when she had momentarily stopped glaring at me in the holding area. With the additional “employees” present I make a hasty retreat back through the scanner, setting it off again, throw my backpack on the conveyor belt and begin frantically unzipping to remove laptop to send it through
The normal employees start protesting that I’ve already done this and don’t need to repeat it; my keeper doesn’t agree. She wants me fully checked out so they can confiscate my portable rocket launcher.
Finally escorted out, my keeper smiles and says in the nicest voice: “Thanks for coming to Brasil. Have a wonderful flight home!” Chilling.
Paul was waiting for me and seemed relieved to see me. He’d been trying to get information on what was going on but no one spoke English. He’d begun to think I’d gone another way to the plane, was already onboard, that the plane would leave with me onboard and him still in the lounge.
But I wasn’t through yet.
My bag was again thoroughly searched before being allowed into the ramp tunnel; I was security wanded (setting it off, of course), security wanded again, stopped once more and told to remove my shoes for a security check (remember the Titan missile I was hiding that they hadn’t found yet…) and finally dispensed.
Footnote #1: my bag actually arrived in Miami in one piece and, more importantly, it wasn’t wet nor smelling of urine.
Footnote #2: for those of you going with me in July, I promise to allow them to confiscate anything they want to.