December 30, 2010
CLEVELAND - OHARE 6:54 AM
OHARE - FARGO 9:45 AM
FARGO - DENVER 12:03 PM
The first sign of trouble came early in the morning when I sent my bag through the x-ray machine in Cleveland and my new stainless steel coffee mug set off the alarm. The TSA agent marched me over to the corner and ordered me to watch and "not touch anything" while he swabbed the mug with white cotton.
I remembered this test from the security checkpoints in Indonesia. After they wipe the object down, they put the gauze in a microwave-looking thing that checks it for bomb residue. It was freaking early, my caffeine blood level was dangerously low, and I was not amused. I made a point of checking my watch and scowling through the whole process.
Maybe that un-zenlike attitude turned the wheel of karma against me.
After clearing security, I flew to Chicago, where the weather was foggy. The flight to Fargo was delayed 15 minutes and sat on the ground for 20 more.
As we approached Fargo, the pilot announced that since the visibility was only 1/4 miles, we couldn't land. At 12:15, we were still circling in the air. I prayed my connecting flight was grounded. We finally landed, and as we taxied through the thick fog, snow blew past the windows in horizontal streaks.
For reasons unknown, they sent our gate-checked carry-ons to baggage claim. As I raced down the stairs, I caught sight of the DEPARTURES board. My 12:03 flight had apparently left ON TIME.
The customer service line stretched all the way back to Terre Haute. Stranded travelers grumbled about renting 4 x 4s and trying to make it to the Minneapolis airport. I noticed with rising panic that there were A) only 3 more flights out of Fargo that day and B) no food for sale in this airport.
Suddenly an announcement: UNITED PASSENGER MAURER, PLEASE COME TO GATE 4 FOR IMMEDIATELY DEPARTURE. I raced up the stairs to the security check-point where by some miracle there was no line. Pulled off my boots. Wrestled the laptop out of its case. Shoved everything through the machine.
The alarm went off.
"I have to search your bag," said the TSA guy.
I wanted to strangle him. "That person they just called is ME!"
"It's too late. They already closed the gate."
I felt like snatching my bag back and pounding him on the head with it. "So what do I do?" I shouted. I stopped short of demanding that he supply me with Subway for the entire week I was about to be stranded here.
"Well, you can check the gate. Sometimes they'll open the door again. A-ha!" He pulls out the culprit -- my coffee mug. Seriously, are coffee mug IEDs becoming a terrorist trend? For good measure, he swabs my hands for residue.
I grab my bag and run for gate 4. The woman at the podium smiles and opens the door. I tell her I want to hug her, and she laughs. "You have no idea how many people wanted your seat," she says.
The moment I get on, I recognize the flight attendant. I was never in any danger of missing my connecting flight. The plane to Denver is the same one I just landed on from Chicago.