Chapter 4

Traffic couldn’t be any worse on the day of our flight. I was to meet Jaci at her parents’ place, who kindly volunteered to drop us off at the airport. Despite leaving work early, Turnpike rubbernecking caused me to arrive at her parents’ house a half-hour behind schedule.

We left for the airport, both of us already a bit stressed from this late start, with the added stress of the upcoming weekend weighing me down ever-so-noticeably more. We threw our carry-ons in the car and got moving, hoping to make up some of our lost time. That was the goal, anyway.

The weather wasn’t cooperating, meaning that every nut job in the area was on the road, slowing us down even more. Dozens of thoughts were swirling around in my head; Did I pack everything I needed? Was the ring packed so that it wouldn’t accidentally be discovered? Would our flight arrive on time? But now Jaci’s worries were also taking a toll on me.

“This traffic!/We’re not going to make our flight!/Ugh!” or some similar take on this theme she exclaimed every few moments.

But I needed to stay calm and cool. I’m not one to quickly freak out in pressing situations and acting differently today might be suspicious. But the pressure of it all began overwhelming me. I needed a distraction and then remembered that I had packed a surprise for Jaci. I pulled out a mixtape (so 90s of me, yeah, yeah, yeah) hoping that the new music would amuse us for a bit. It worked.

One thing continued to weigh on me through the entire planning process. I’ve heard several stories of TSA agents ruining engagement surprises after searching luggage and exposing the ring hidden in the bag. I made it several months without a slip up. There was no way I was going to allow some random dude ruin my plans! Still, I couldn’t dismiss this fear from my head, mostly because I typically opt out of airport body scans and voluntarily submit myself to a search by security. I felt changing my behavior would pique Jaci’s suspicions, so I prayed it would all went smoothly. It’d be fine.

We arrived at the airport without much reason to fear missing our flight. We had at least forty-five minutes until departure, a half-hour ’til the plane doors closed, and security was the only thing that stood in the way of getting on our plane. We took one look at the TSA line and breathed a sigh of relief.  Fortunately, we beat the rush hour line, so TSA was relatively peaceful. We walked through the queue and the security official directed Jaci and I into neighboring lines. Things were going well. This space would ensure Jaci couldn’t accidently peek into my bag while I took out my electronics. I gave notice to a TSA agent that I requested to opt out of the scan and after a short wait, a gentleman directed me to a place where I would receive the routine pat down.

And that’s when things started to sour. When the agent wiped down his gloves to put it into the hazardous chemical detector, it came back positive. “Are you kidding me? I totally don’t need this right now!” I screamed in my head. My mind began to spin.

Agent Rich asked me a few routine questions and explained to me that he would need to escalate the pat down due to the detector’s result.

“Not a problem, sir,” I replied to his instructions.

“So, I’m going to repeat the process once more,” Agent Rich added, “Just like before, I’ll use my hands to pat you down, being sure to use the back of my hands in sensitive areas. This time, I’m going to focus additional time around your waistline, ankles, and rear pockets. I’m also calling over Eric, who is going to check your luggage.”

While “alright, not a problem,” came out of my mouth, my mind filled with expletives. I glanced at my watch. Thirty-five minutes until scheduled departure. By this time Jaci had made it through security and waited nearby quickly figuring out what was going on.  I calmly suggested she go grab us a coffee near the gate, hoping she would leave the area and assuage my fears.

“I’m not leaving you! I’ll wait,” Jaci reassured, when in reality her words only caused more internal panic.

“Well I want a drink and don’t want to get on the flight without one,” I pleaded, hoping she would emphathize with the situation and leave the area.

It didn’t work.

With a newfound audience, I prepared for my second pat down. Agent Rich began his more thorough examination as I watched Agent Eric arrive on the scene.

“That duffle bag there and this computer bag,” Rich instructed, pointing to my things. Eric nodded. Jaci was half-interested, half-responding to a text message from her mother. Noticing she was distracted, I took the opportunity to whisper to Rich.

“I’m proposing to my girlfriend on this trip,” I said softly. There’s a ring in the bag. I don’t care what you do, but please don’t ruin the surprise.”

Rich looked at me, smiled, and nodded.

“Hey Eric, come here,” he shouted.

Eric looked up while Rich waved him over from about ten feet away. Eric didn’t really get it, so he only walked about a step closer, still a solid distance away. Rich seemed satisfied with Eric’s more intimate positioning, since he felt it appropriate to relay the secret I just shared with him. From an oh-so-private distance about seven feet, Rich opened his mouth.

“Use discretion. There’s a small box in that bag. Leave it be,” he told Eric as he winked.

Seriously? I was dying inside. I glanced at Jaci and couldn’t tell if she was listening. She certainly was in earshot, but seemed preoccupied with the text-based conversation.

After patting me down again, the second test from the machine still came back positive. I was completely losing it inside. “You’ve got to be shitting me!”

My new best friend Rich informed me that I would need to go into a private screening area where they could ask me a series of questions and conduct a more invasive search.

“That’s fine,” I said trying to sound as pleasant as I could under the circumstances.

I let Jaci know and then followed Rich and Eric into a small room, where they asked me some routine questions about the plans of my trip, proceeded to quiz me about my relationship and how I planned to propose. They seemed nice but completely oblivious to the drama they were causing. Afterward, they searched my bag more thoroughly, and then let me go on my way after ensuring that there was no way I was up to something devious. They wished me luck and high-fived a-pretending-to-be-best-buds me, before exiting the room, rejoining Jaci, and moving briskly to our gate.

I looked at my watch again. Nearly 28 minutes to spare! We even managed to grab a drink and snack before boarding our flight.

I asked what she thought of them checking my bag.

Jaci’s reply: “They searched your bag? So that’s why it took so long. I didn’t see that.”

Whew. Home free. This was happening.

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