*This piece is my attempt at a comedic retelling/narrative of the experience that made me hate airports forever(besides the countless other experiences where I was individually searched out of suspicion that I might be concealing a weapon because it’s a crime for a teenage black boy to have a Nintendo in his back pocket)*
Airports don’t often advertise this, but we all know this to be true: airports are shit. To those of you who have had positive experiences in airports, I congratulate your white privilege and generous will from your grandfather. For the rest of us non-white persons and non-trust fund babies, airports are extremely hostile, racist, pee-scattered arenas where only the strong and stoic survive. If you fail to be both, you are thrown into an environment best described as “Could be worse”; that is, of course, till it gets worse.
During the summer going into my Freshman year of high school, I decided that it would be best to spend my vacation in a foreign country studying its culture. I’ve always had an immense appreciation for and infatuation with Spanish cultures, and so I spent 2 weeks traveling the beautiful country of Ecuador. I could drone on and on about Ecuadorian culture: the marketplace in Quito(where I almost got mugged), the rain forest(where I had to sleep with another student because we both were terrified of spiders), the Cotopaxi volcano(which almost erupted during my stay), and Ecuador’s infamous waterfalls(where a group of students almost got ran over by a herd of bulls). Needless to say, Ecuador was a trip I will never forget, but not because of the reasons I just listed. I will never forget Ecuador mainly because of my friend Amaan. Amaan is an Indian American who, if you know him well, is neither strong nor stoic, but rather kind and flamboyant. During our stay in Ecuador, Amaan and I got close and eventually cemented our friendship by way of both being car sick during our departure from Ecuador’s cloud forest. He and I shared many of the same qualities, such as neither of us being strong nor stoic and both of us having a strong condemnation towards airports. To this day, I consider Amaan a good friend and tell this story in the hopes to relay three important messages: one, airports are shit, two, don’t use hair gel, and finally, TSA agents are way too bored.
Rather than having a direct flight from Mariscal Sucre International Airport to JFK, a group consisting of myself, Amaan, 10 or so other classmates, and 3 chauffeurs from our Middle school, had a connecting flight. From Mariscal Sucre International Airport we flew to Miami International Airport, where we found ourselves stranded in one of America’s worst yet best states for two and a half hours. During that time, as teenagers tend to do with time, we did nothing but gossip, complain, and watch YouTube videos while using some poor sap’s Hotspot. Around 45 minutes before our flight, we began making our way to the terminal. Mistakes were made, and we had to, as a group, go through the conveyor belt-thingy again, taking off our shoes and belts and other objects that the TSA considers “threatening”(because, much like everybody else, I can hijack a plane with my size 9 Air Force Ones). As a black kid, going through security is always a risk, for being black is, if you didn’t know, a risk many black people have to take. On this day, however, I made it past security safely and patiently waited for my good friend Amaan to pass through as well. As I viscously attempt to put my shoes back on(it’s always more difficult once you’ve already passed security), a siren begins to sound, emitting from the conveyor belt-thingamajiggy. As I look up from my sorrowful attempt at tying a shoe, I see my good friend Amaan being surrounded by TSA, as they position themselves in the frightening and formidable “we don’t have guns but we are still a challenge for a 14-year old” formation. I audibly gasp (as any good friend would) at the horror of seeing Amaan surrounded, nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Over the loudspeaker, an unenthusiastic white female ( I assume) begins to speak. She says, “Travellers do not panic. The bomb squad has just been called and there will be a temporary pause in flight departures and arrivals. We ask that you remain calm.” At this point, everyone is panicked, and after 20 minutes of complete chaos, three men in ABS uniform walk up to Amaan (and yes, these men were white) in a very intimidating manner, sharing looks of disgust at the possible 14-year old Indian American terrorist before them(have I mentioned that Amaan has no relation to Islam?). Without a moment’s notice, they began rummaging through Amaan’s carry-on bag (I thought the bomb squad would be more careful), scanning it ferociously for bomb residue or other bomb-like fluids. This process takes around 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, Amaan was having a panic attack; he was crying, hyperventilating, and was, at times, seconds away from passing out entirely. As Amaan wept, and the 15 minutes of rummaging had stopped, the men from the Bomb Squad began to laugh and walked towards the nearest TSA telling them that all was clear. They said, and even though I was out of earshot, I imagine it was something like, “Man are we dumb. It was just some hair gel! It was nice being needed for a few minutes. You guys have a nice day.” Hair gel. They mistook hair gel, for bomb residue. I am yet to pay taxes but when I do, I want to make certain it is not wasted on machinery and men who mistake hair gel for bomb residue. After 20 or so minutes of apologies from not-so-apologetic TSA agents, we made our way to our terminal where we sat, in awe, of what had just happened. After this day, I never touched hair gel again, and even better, haven’t said thank you to a TSA agent; I imagine Amaan has done the same.