15 December 2007

Al Qaeda, Orange Juice, and Cheese; or "I Feel Safer Now"

I am a Platinum Level Frequent Flyer on American Airlines. I fly a lot. I know all the TSA rules. I can zoom through the checkpoint barely breaking stride. I understand that most people don't fly that much. They may not know the inconsistent and ever-changing "security" rules. They may not know you can only carry on three ounces of shampoo.

So when I walk past the discard table at the airport, piled high with shampoo and water bottles, I don't think too much of it.

Still, you would think that the infrequent flyers would read up a bit before heading to the airport.

You would think they would at least know that there are rules, even if they don't know what the rules are.

It was 7:00 in the morning at the security checkpoint. I was moving fast (as always,) yet I stopped in my tracks. I did a double-take, which, had I a mouthful of coffee or juice, would have been a spit-take. There on the discard table, stood two (not one, but two) GALLONS of orange juice, and two (not one, but two) FIVE POUND BAGS of shredded cheese.

Where do I begin with the questions that ran through my mind?

Who set out for the airport this morning, checking the flight information, dropping the dog off, locking the house - and bringing along their two gallons of orange juice and 10 pounds of shredded cheese?

Where were they flying today that they thought cheese and orange juice might not be available in stores upon their arrival? And how much do they love cheese and orange juice that they prepared so thoroughly for this eventuality?

Okay, I'll admit it. I fly a lot, but even I was not aware that cheese was not allowed on planes. I know about the liquids. I get the orange juice. But, as baffled as I am about why they brought it along in the first place, even I am not sure why they left the cheese behind. Does this mean they had other groceries, too? Were their bread and pickles allowed on board, but not the cheese?

And how long was their flight anyway? Doesn't cheese need to be refrigerated? Do they always travel with cheese? Were they on their way to a special cheese commemoration? Twenty-fifth is silver. Fiftieth is gold. Which one is the Cheese Anniversary?

Was all of that packed in a suitcase? A carry-on? How heavy was that? What would it have smelled like by the time they got to their destination?

Was it a breakfast potluck? In Tanzania? Where eggs are plentiful, bur fresh juice and cheese are simply not available?

Orange juice and cheese. A lot of orange juice and cheese. Is there some meaning in that? Should I know what that means? Should the TSA be profiling people who travel with that much orange juice and cheese? Should we fear them? And, if not, why not let them bring their orange juice and cheese on board? In America, do we not have the right to love our orange juice and cheese? Even to love them irrationally?

It's not really about flying, or the TSA, or the time of day. All those things just make it weirder. When it comes right down to it, who buys orange juice two gallons at a time? Who buys shredded cheese ten pounds at a time? And who brings them on an airplane?

Did the restaurant run out and the night manager said, "Hold on - I'll fly to Dallas, get us more orange juice and cheese, and be back before the breakfast crowd rolls in."

I can't even think of anyplace I might drive across town where I would need ten pounds of shredded cheese and two gallons of orange juice, much less any place I might to travel to by air.

Can you?

Forget that sneaker you saw on the side of the road. Forget the underwear hanging from the tree branch. Forget the couch in the cornfield. I can come up with stories to explain any of those. Those things are odd, but not beyond our ken.

This is different.

This is ten pounds of shredded cheese and two gallons of orange juice. And I am not making this up.