Things not to try to take on an airplane

Getting ready to fly to Illinois for the Christmas holiday, I read with interest the report in the Appeal the other day about the stuff passengers tried to carry onto airplanes during Thanksgiving.

-- 15,982 pocket knives.

-- 98 box cutters.

-- 6 guns.

-- 1 brick.

Recalling statistics from a few months back that showed about 25 percent of illegal items still get by most security checkpoints at airports, that leaves a few thousand knives, a couple dozen box cutters, perhaps a gun or two and a small chunk of masonry likely flying around the nation's skies during that holiday.

The brick apparently was carried by a man at Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C.

"I don't know why he would carry a brick," said Robert Johnson, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

Maybe some people like an extra-hard pillow.

Maybe he got it at one of those charity buy-a-brick fund-raising campaigns and truly thought it was worth $500.

Maybe he's moving his house to California one piece at a time.

Maybe he's a traveling brick salesman carrying a sample because he might be able to drum up some business from the passenger next to him.

Maybe he's doing research on the effects of altitude on mortar.

Maybe he was on his way to a Thanksgiving potluck and his family told him it was his turn to bring the broccoli. But his cell-phone connection was bad.

Maybe it's his pet brick.

I'll have to take Mr. Johnson's word that it was a man carrying the brick. Because, you know, my first instinct was to believe the brick probably turned up as just another item in a woman's purse.

I don't want to say that some women lug around an amazing array of exotic -- though useful -- stuff in their purses, but here's what happened the last time my wife and I were at the airport in Reno.

Jenny gets pulled aside by the very nice security checkpoint lady who apologizes in advance for having to put her through the hassle of searching her purse.

What the poor security lady didn't know is that she was going to be stuck for the next 20 minutes sorting through the history of Jenny's life, kind of the way archaeologists do when they stumble on the tomb of some Egyptian priestess.

This is what she found:

-- 9,752 keys and keychains, all linked together like one of those maddening puzzles. Two of the keys actually work.

-- 43 cigarette lighters and books of matches.

-- 12 business cards from a health-food expert she met in 1983.

-- 9 rolls of gardeners' tape.

-- 1 screwdriver.

-- Assorted flotsam.

-- Assorted jetsam.

-- No bricks.

Those items came out of the first pouch. There were about eight more to go.

You have to understand that Jenny rarely carries a purse, instead preferring the convenience of a backpack containing more gear than the average Marine on bivouac.

I was fascinated to see the procession of artifacts as they emerged because, you know, I'm not allowed to look in her purse/cargo hold. There is some unwritten law, at least in my household, that says men are forbidden from entering there.

To tell the truth, I had misplaced a baseball mitt a few years ago and was hoping it might turn up.

I'll spare you the details of the rest of the search, which concluded with the security lady informing Jenny she would be confiscating most of the lighters and matches and, of course, the screwdriver.

"The screwdriver?" she asks.

"Sure," I said. "They're not going to let you take a screwdriver on board."

"What are they worried about ..." Jenny shoots back. "I'm going to take the plane apart?"

Hopefully when we get ready for this upcoming trip she will have unloaded most of the tools and other weapons of mass construction before we get to the airport.

All around the country, though, security personnel will be digging through purses and briefcases and other pieces of carry-on luggage in search of rare and unusual items that might pose a threat to travelers. Who knows what they will find this holiday season?

We do know for a fact, however, that in Washington, D.C., there is one fellow who, as they say, is one brick shy of a load.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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