SEVERAL YEARS ago as I was returning from Haiti, I stood in the security line at the airport, watching with awe their procedures. Because Haiti is too poor to have much of anything, certainly not the sophisticated security machinery we have in the U.S., the prevailing “security” system was two rubber-gloved men who would unzip your luggage and rifle through it, looking for something irregular. If they found nothing you were good to go.
Ahead of me on line was an elderly woman who looked as if she had spent far too much time in the sun. When it was her turn, she began to moan that she had lost the key to her suitcase. She begged the men not to cut it open because then she would never be able to get it home. They sized her up, looked at one another, called over some other airport personnel to pass judgment and ultimately let her go through, locked suitcase and all.
That memory resurfaced recently as I watched my suitcase being pulled off the conveyor belt at Dulles International Airport, where I was catching a plane home after visiting friends in rural Virginia. The young TSA inspector looked grim as he briskly unzipped my bag and started rifling through my carefully packed clothing. Assuming it was, I asked, “Is this a random search?” He shook his head no.
Ultimately seizing the offending object that had been spied on the X-ray machine, he unwrapped a six-ounce jar of peach butter I had purchased at one of those “pick-your-own” farms dotting the countryside outside of Charlottesville. I had forgotten all about the carry-on rules and stuck it in my bag, bringing it home as a gift for my son.
“I’ll have to take this,” the man said.
“But it’s just peach butter,” I exclaimed. “You can see that quite plainly.” Tightly sealed, the label on the jar boasted it was 100% organic, had no added sugar and was made from only the best local peaches.”It cost $7 and is supposedly quite good,” I added, hoping that information might win him over.
Sorry, he said. I asked if he could take it home or perhaps give it to one of his co-workers—just don’t throw it away. No, it had to be destroyed, unless I wanted to go back several steps and check the jar, then return and wait in that security line again, and maybe even miss my plane. Rejecting that suggestion, I asked if he thought the peach butter would explode. No answer, although I saw him struggle against a smile.
I boarded my plane without the peach butter, but I wondered why, unless I looked like a terrorist, things turned out that way. I’m pretty sure those Haitian guards would have let me keep it.