TCS Daily

Lactose Intolerant

By Lauren Schulz - August 12, 2002 12:00 AM

"Miss, please take a sip of that beverage."
Only halfway through my cardboard cup of Fresh Fields coffee and therefore a bit slow, I furrowed my brow in response to the request. My hesitation annoyed the uniformed men at Reagan National, who glared at me and repeated themselves.

"You're going to have to take a sip of the beverage if you want to get on the plane, Miss." Miss? I'm married now. "When am I going to be a ma'am?" I wondered silently.

But this was no time for random thoughts. There was serious business at hand: Whatever was in my cup, it might be dangerous. So in order for me to board I was going to have to drink some of it. Me, a youthful-looking late-twenties brunette in a white linen dress holding a flowered Le Sportsac.

Besides, it's my own fault the screeners weren't nice to me. I told them I didn't feel like taking a sip. I said that if they were that worried about it they could just throw my coffee out. They explained that they couldn't do that and that I could take it with me or throw it out myself, but only after swallowing some of the "liquid" in my cup. "OK, but can I know why?" I asked.

"It's just a procedure, Miss, that's all it is."

At this point I just wanted to get a seat on the plane so I picked up the cup and pretended to drink some. Three of them watched me. They thanked me and handed me my bag. I laughed and walked away.

Clearly my little protest was not helping anyone. Why, then, did I feel the need to be uncooperative?

Because nobody likes having freedom taken away from them once
they've had it, and people hate to feel they are untrustworthy when they've proven themselves the opposite. Normally smart, well-adjusted people are upset by the idea -even though they know these people are "just doing their job" - that they're guilty until proven innocent.

Now I was finally forming my opinion on the random searches I'd until then only heard about. Prior to this personal experience I pretty much bought what I was told - that the random searches were an annoying but necessary fact of our changed lives since 9/11.

But on this Delta Shuttle trip I was "random" searched on both legs of the trip. During one search, while I stood there having my bare feet checked, I watched a young Middle Eastern-looking man having his ticket ripped and popping into the jetway with no delay.

Should I really get upset? Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene reminds us to have a sense of humor about this kind of stuff. In a recent column he relates the tale of his airport trip when he was patted down by a guard who opened his belt - par for the course these days - and said "I'm going to be reaching down the front of your pants now." With no idea how to respond, Greene just laughed. "If you don't laugh, you might as well cry," he wrote.

Greene goes on to mention the screeners' enthusiasm over a "spectacularly physically attractive" female they had selected for a "random" pat-down and a youth who fell ill after he was ordered to drink his high school science project (rainwater he'd collected in a water bottle). Random searches make everybody feel equal: See, we're all suspects, so don't anyone get offended.

What I read in last week's New York Post made me realize I was downright lucky. Elizabeth McGarry, a New York woman who is feeding her baby breast milk she pumps into bottles, was forced by airport security to take a swig of baby's breakfast. She was carrying three bottles in her baby bag and was asked to sip from each one. When she said "I can't, it's breast milk," she was told "You have to drink it or you can't get on the plane."

The New York Post looked into the Breast Milk Episode and it turns out this isn't the first time a woman has been asked to do this. They spoke with the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees all screeners. Interestingly, the word is they have not told screeners to force passengers to take sips and make sure that Capri Sun isn't Capri Cyanide.

Speaking with McGarry earlier this week, WABC radio personality Ron Kuby - who says he is in favor of the random searches - made a good, if understated, point about the breast milk episode: "I do think the number of Caucasian, lactating mothers who have passed through Al Qaeda training camps is negligible." Members of one ethnicity and sex have been behind the terrorist attacks on Americans, and blonde breastfeeding moms don't fit the profile.

Reason, logic, and objectivity are what supposedly anchor our hi-tech age. And yet it seemed to me that day that our leaders, amid a crisis, had abandoned those principles. And maybe that's OK; maybe there really is no way to make exceptions for what could be called "low-risk people," i.e. little girls, grannies, lactating moms from Long Island. For now, we'll keep poking the bankers in Savile Row suits.

The writer is an editor for the Washington Times.



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