Itook off my jacket. I emptied my pants pockets. I put the bag on the conveyer belt.

I walked through. Beeeeep. “Step over there,” the security man ordered. “Wait for someone to wand you.”

Ah. I slapped my forehead. My glasses. In my jacket pocket.

“It’s these,” I said, waving the glasses. “Can I put them through? I’m sure I won’t beep then.”

“NO, SIR,” he barked. “You only get one chance!”

“But if I don’t beep without the glasses, isn’t it the same as . . .”

“You only get one chance!”

So I stood. And I waited. And of course, no one came. And of course, in the end, the same security man who stopped me had to get a wand and wave it all over me, and of course, I didn’t beep, and of course, it was the glasses, and is it just me or do you get the feeling that airport security since Sept. 11 is a lot of hot dust from the same old storm?

By federalizing security workers, the government may up their pay, but not their methods. Not their effectiveness. Certainly not their level of interest. I see the same bored look on the same bored faces wherever I travel, all over the country.

Let’s be honest. Staring at a screen is tedious. And by itself, it is also silly. Any terrorist smart enough to try to capture an airplane is not going to pass a gun through a metal detector.

On the other hand . . .

The next incident

On the other hand, how about a liquid explosive? Do metal detectors pick that up? How about powder? How about a balloon filled with something shoved into a body cavity?

How about the catering trucks? The baggage handlers? The maintenance crews?

I am not a terrorist. I’m not even very imaginative when it comes to destruction. But if I can think that stuff up, why can’t somebody else?

And somebody will — especially when we keep showing the world how bumble-headed we can be. Did you see the story last week that showed the new Transportation Security Administration had done next to nothing about a report that terrorists could easily use cargo storage for a bomb?

Next to nothing? The report is all but a blueprint for blowing up a plane. It shows how. It shows how easy. What are we waiting for? The boom?

Yet cargo goes into the belly of our airplanes and is rarely even screened. Explanation? We rely on trusting “reputable” shippers.

Brilliant. We trusted “reputable” flight schools, too.

Put aside politics

America’s war on terror, at least here at home, has become an almost surreal collision of frantic warnings and pathetic apathy. We get told that a new attack is imminent, unavoidable, maybe suicide bombers, maybe terrorists renting apartments. Look out! Beware!

And then we get told that the government ignores reports, ignores warnings, does little in this area, little in that area, can’t talk to each other, won’t cooperate, and answers all questions with “We’re working on it” or, worse,
“How dare you ask that, you un-American lout?”

Here’s what I say: Use your own eyes. Go to an airport. Except for taking longer — and getting your pants unbuckled and shoes checked — is anything hugely different?

Have they employed retina scans, bomb pressurization areas, chemical detection devices or intelligent, strategic questioning by ticket agents — most of which is used in other parts of the world, notably Israel, which for all its strife, hasn’t lost an airplane since the ’60s?

The answer is no. Why? Those things cost money. They take efficiency. Clear leadership. Nonpartisan politics.

We’re too busy ignoring reports.

Meanwhile, somebody out there is seeing the same old dust storm you’re seeing and is saying: “It’s possible. It’s very possible . . .”

Remember what the security man barked at me? “You only get one chance!”

Right words. Wrong target.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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