The rest of the trip to Phoenix continued without any unusual problems, so 7 days later, we packed ourselves up ready for the trip back to Toronto. We arrived at the car rental drop-off nice and early, so we had lots of time to catch a shuttle bus to the airport. Try to imagine me pushing a person in a manual wheelchair with a backpack on the wheelchair, a carry-on bag over my shoulder, and dragging a suitcase. It was a well-balanced symphony, I tell ya. It all goes well until we hit a curb or a bump, and then the whole pyramid collapses.
We made it to the terminal without any major mishaps, and checked-in well ahead of schedule. All we had to do was go through security and then we could sit down and have a cup of tea.
Security is a little different for someone who cannot walk, or someone who cannot walk unassisted. They are unable to go though those x-ray portals which everyone else goes through. Instead, they are searched by a guard. Usually, I push Becky through to a guard, while our coats, shoes, and hand luggage goes through the x-ray machine, and then I walk through the portal, and stand by while Becky is searched. In the last ten years, they have started to swab the wheelchair aswell, and test it, for goodness knows what.
I pushed Becky through, watched our belongings go sailing down the conveyor belt, and stepped through the portal. Becky was searched by two women security guards, with no problems. They got the swab, and strangely, swabbed Becky’s hands. They put the sample in the machine, and an alarm went off. “I’ll have to call my Supervisor”, the one guard said, “because the alarm went off. It’s probably hand cream setting it off.”
“Okay. No problem.”
We waited for the supervisor and listened while everything was explained to her. “We have to do everything again”, she said, “because the alarm went off. It’s probably hand cream setting the alarm off.”
“We don’t use hand cream,” Becky tried to explain, because we have skin allergies.”
We were moved over to the side, and out-of-the-way of other travellers. The Supervisor began the search. Again, everything was fine. She got the swab and, again, swabbed Becky’s hands, and again, the alarm went off. The supervisor said it was probably hand cream, and again Becky said that she didn’t use any.
This time, we were moved into a separate room. I smiled at Becky to see how she was doing. She was fine, and smiled back. This time, they changed gloves. The supervisor completed the physical search, again, which, as you can imagine, is quite invasive. Once is tolerable, two times is wearisome, and I think the third time is a bit upsetting. This time, the supervisor swabbed her own gloves and tested them. You could hear the silence, as they say.
I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable by this time, and was sweating profusely. I tried to look calm. They swabbed Becky’s hands, put the sample in the machine, and, off went the alarm. Blimey. Now what? “I have to call in a higher level of security,” the supervisor explained, and off she went to phone them. Becky and I were left looking at each other in a grey, antiseptic room, with supervision, of course.
The supervisor came back and explained that her commanding officer had just arrived on shift and was making his way across the airport. We had been in the security area for about three-quarters of an hour and I could see Becky wiggling in her chair. “Do you need the washroom?” I asked. “Yes”, she replied. “Are we allowed to go to a washroom?” I asked. The supervisor explained that we could, but when we came back, we would have to start the search all over again before coming back into the contamination-free room.
“Can you hold on,” I asked Becky? She nodded. The room was hot, claustrophobic, and stuffy. I was really sweating. The fact that we may not get out of the United States, wasn’t helping matters. We were pretty close to missing our flight, and still we waited; five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen. After about twenty minutes, a man came rushing over to the room we were in. The supervisor went out to talk to him. It took her a while to explain everything to him, so I was able to study them a bit closer than I normally would.
I noticed that he had the word ‘detonation’ embroidered on the right side of his shirt with another word that I couldn’t make out. ‘Oh my God, it’s the bomb squad!’ Sweating took on a whole new level at this moment. I could have single-handedly saved areas of drought in Africa, if they had just taken my clothes and wrung them out. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and I started to have trouble breathing. I took a quick look at Becky. She was hanging in.
The man in the shirt came over to us. He started to talk, but I had trouble hearing him over the pounding noise in my ears. He said something about checking the readouts from the machine. I was waiting for him to say something about ‘custody’, but instead, he said, “it was probably hand cream”.
“Yep”, I said, “it probably was.”
Cheese and crackers! We were free to go. We had to ‘run’ to our gate, hearing, “final boarding call” echoing in our ears. It must have been the farthest end of nowhere. I ran and ran, and sweated, and sweated, but we made it! I half carried Becky onto the plane and down the aisle. We plonked ourselves down into the last two remaining seats, exhausted. I felt so uncomfortable; my clothes were stuck to me, Becky was bursting to go the bathroom, our stuff was packed all over the plane, but we were on our way.
I started to laugh, “the Bomb Squad, Becky.” The thought of this tiny, innocent, and beautiful person being considered as a threat to national security was just so hilarious, that I couldn’t stop laughing. The more I thought about it, the more I laughed. What was with the hand cream, anyway?