Travelchick

My adventures and mis-adventures as I travel here and there

Airport Full-Body Scanners Pose A Travel Conundrum

My husband and I recently had a debate over which would be the better option at the airport, in light of the new security scans and alternative pat-downs. (“Better” could be defined as healthier and/or less traumatizing.)

The usual pat-down is the alternative for those who choose to opt out of the new nude full-body scanners. It might not be as great of a trade-off as it sounds, however, since TSA staff have been instructed to give a more thorough examination than travelers are used to.  How thorough is this, exactly?

My husband did a mock pat-down of me to illustrate how he imagined the new, more invasive procedures might go. When imagining that stranger was doing it, I felt violated and a little upset! I really don’t relish the thought of airport personnel rifling around in my crotch or any other place on my body that I hold near and dear. I’ve had the back-handed pat-down before and didn’t mind it at all, and I had imagined that the new procedure probably wouldn’t be terribly horrendous, but after my husband’s “demo” I almost didn’t want to risk psychological trauma!

On the other hand, who really wants a stranger to see a naked picture of them just so they can get on a plane? My husband has threatened to just show up nude at the airport and save them the trouble… Still, the images probably aren’t saved permanently anywhere and there probably aren’t any health risks from going through the scanners every once in awhile… or are there?  TSA claims that the pictures will never be used or seen anywhere else, that they’re more skeletal than fleshy, and that the scanners are safe for our health, but a whole lot of money was spent on getting these machines into use.  Monetary investments always create bias.

Our next flight is planned for the spring. We’re flying to California, and my husband has threatened to have us drive instead. I think that’s going a little overboard, but at the same time I’m still not sure which is the better choice if faced with a rock and a hard place: nude scanning or invasive groping? I still haven’t been able to decide.

The changes have provided inspiration for everything from cartoons about body scanners and pat-downs to “Don’t Touch my Junk” T-shirts.  The same scanner images appear everywhere, along with illustrations of how easy it would be for someone who got hold of your picture to merely invert the image and see your body in detail.

In the spotlight is Meg Mclain, who relates to Alex Jones a tale of trauma, overreaction, and humilation when she refused both the body scanner and pat-down. Her story, however, isn’t substantiated by video surveillance of the airport. Two videos, one of the scanner area and one of her exit, seem to contradict her story. I think we need to be careful not to get all riled up over accounts like this in which the person in question either deliberately expounded on the facts or remembers the events differently than the way they actually happened…

On the other hand, the stories in this news report sound pretty bad…. I especially feel sorry for the old man who was just trying to go celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife. 😦

On a positive note, anecdotal reports from friends who’ve flown recently indicate that the pat-downs still aren’t so offensive. I look forward to hearing from more people I know before it’s my turn to fly the friendly skies. Your comments on the subject are especially welcomed!

December 1, 2010 Posted by | Airplane, Airport Security, Transportation, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Not a City Girl

I drove my lovely man friend to the airport yesterday. Today I am barely alive. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t had to get up at 6am. No, actually even that wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t gone to bed at an unmentionable time the night before. But what do you expect when you go on a carriage ride and a train ride and open presents and look at pictures and make hot chocolate from truffles and talk about everything- all in one night?! Opening presents was great fun and very lucrative for several members of my family, including me with a brand new (and badly needed) laptop from my dear dad!!! So exciting! Other big-news items were a GPS for my dad (cleverly wrapped so he had no idea it was in there) and a sewing machine for my mom.

So as it turned out, I got about 3 hours of sleep and then drove 3 hours to the Dallas airport. He nodded off while I fought sleep and a growing panic as I saw the gas gauge drop at least twice the normal rate. Would have been nice to know that the gas gauge has some serious malfunctions. Would have been nice to be able to practice unlocking the gas cap under conditions not hampered by time or finger-freezing temperatures and winds. We can’t always have our way. Thankfully (and shockingly), we found the airport without complications. There was a sad goodbye. Nine days is just too long to go without seeing someone you enjoy that much, not to mention the fact that he had been my source of sanity at home.

I was exhausted, but nevertheless I set off in search of friends in the area, friends I hadn’t seen in years. I confidently pulled out my Google Map of the route from the airport to the first friend’s house. …It was for the wrong airport. Bummer! Now I would have to wheedle my way through Dallas trying to reach Ft. Worth so I could reconnect with my map and it’s beautiful directions. It took hours. Ok, so it was only 2 hours, but still it took TWO HOURS for me to get from Dallas to Ft. Worth to a region I THOUGHT was close to my friend’s house. When I finally wearily stopped at a Taco Bell to ask for directions and a burrito, I only got a laugh. Apparently I was so far away from the street I was inquiring about that it was funny. Giving up for the time being, I crawled into the back seat of the car and fell asleep. Two or three hours later…

I woke up to the sound of boisterous Taco Bell patrons. Do burritos really give people that much energy?! Calling my friend to confirm her presence at home, I started off again on my search. Wow, I had been far away! After another hour (and many stops and turn-arounds and puzzled faces and frustrated words), I finally found my destination. Chatter, gossip, catching up- it was wonderful! I had been a full four years since I had seen the girl who’d been one of my closest friends through high school and the first part of college and it was magnificent to see her again! Guess what she had done since I’d seen her last: a) gotten married, b) moved three times, c) had a baby, or d) all of the above?! ALL OF THE ABOVE! Thankfully, her moves had finally brought her back to Texas where I could see her again. I felt so honored to meet her beautiful baby and friendly husband. And so much better now that I had reconnected to a friend that I never want to lose.

Long Lost Friend

I next had dinner with a friend I had gone to school with, oh, maybe six years ago, but had never really gotten to know. We had some wonderful vegan food before running around the frigid innards of Ft. Worth, bumping into female Santa Claus and reading random children’s books. It was a relief to have someone else drive me around. Getting lost is only fun for awhile. I tried to fool him, but I think he could tell that my energy was running low at that point (ok, I really didn’t try to pretend at all- oops!). After he dropped me off I went back and had another chat with the first friend (an hour before just wasn’t enough in which to fit two people’s last four years!).

At the last minute, I decided to drive down to Keene, another hour out of my way, to spend just a few minutes with a couple of friends whom I hadn’t seen since last Christmas. It was pretty late by the time I left Ft. Worth, but I knew that if I didn’t go I wouldn’t see them again until next Christmas and would probably regret missing my chance. I mean, sometimes people die. It’s morose but true and I don’t want to be haunted by the things I didn’t do when they were alive. Not that I thought they were going to die. Not that I thought about that at all, if we’re being honest. Truthfully, I think I just wanted to make the most out of my trip. I figured I might as well push to my limit. So I took off.

Miraculously, I got to Keene without getting lost (not counting the trouble I had getting out of Ft. Worth…)
Unfortunately, the directions I’d been given were missing at least three steps, so finding them once I was IN Keene was not so simple. Envy of my dad with his new GPS was growing. I spent only an hour with them, but it was a wonderful hour! Those people make me laugh so much. And they’re always on my side- how perfect! I was completely stressed over my family’s annoyance that I hadn’t come home early, but their hilarity relieved the tension for me. He is actually my sister’s ex-boyfriend and someone that I basically grew up with- have known him since I was fifteen. He’s been married now for three years and his wife is marvelous. I enjoy her more every time I see her. Their silliness (and a high-jumping dog) was the perfect ending to my hectic but wonderful day.

Oh, but it wasn’t over yet! I still had a three and a half hour drive home, which I started at 11PM. For a few hours, I was doing just fine- thinking about life, listening to Christmas music, talking out loud to myself. About an hour and a half before I got home, I started to get sleepy. I then embarked on a repertoire of stay-awake techniques that would surely impress the most creative trucker: talking on the phone, turning up the music, blasting the heat, blasting the air, pinching myself, slapping myself, country music, Spanish music, road rage, eating, drinking (juice, that is), screaming, singing, changing lanes, trying accents, car dancing…..

I finally made it home. It was so exciting for me to note that although I had driven from Jefferson to Dallas, to Ft. Worth, to Keene, to Jefferson, and gotten lost numerous times, making a total of 10 driving hours for the day, I had only spent about $35 on gas! I felt kind of like an adventurer who had conquered great things and made it home with virtually no losses. Not unlike the time I was lost hiking in the wilderness for hours in the total darkness without a flashlight…. heh… but that’s another story.

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Break for Freedom

It was the big day and flying to Texas was the main item on the agenda. We meant to leave at 8am, but somehow it was 8:45 before we actually slid down the snow-packed street leading to the highway. FREEDOM! I was thrilled to be leaving the confines of my routine and headed out for one glorious vacation. Those thoughts were quickly replaced, however, by thoughts of time and how we might not have enough of it to get to the airport. Judging by the road we left town on, weather conditions were not going to support hurry. Much to my relief, the highway was mostly clear and continued to be so until no traces of winter white could be seen.

After about an hour, we suddenly realized that, because of the nature of our tickets, we could have just as easily flown out of Spokane instead of Seattle, saving us 2.5 hours of driving both ways. Argh! How stupid. We almost changed plans and headed to Spokane after all, but decided to stick with the original plan. Relegating myself to the long drive, I drifted off to sleep.

Waking momentarily, I glanced up and saw nothing but swirling white all around our car! That and a driver concentrating very intensely on the road. “It’s a blizzard!” he exclaimed, rather excitedly. More than anything else, this would be the kind of news to wake me up properly, but I must have been truly exhausted because after a mumbled “Oh wow” I promptly went back to sleeping. I obviously trusted him completely. Blizzard or no blizzard, sleep took priority.

Blizzard conditions lasted through my nap and I awoke again to a white world of uncleared snow, cars in the ditch, creeping trucks, and lowered speed limits. I was a little worried about getting there again, but it looked like we were still making good time, with my travel companion driving as fast as he safely could (and maybe a tad faster, the daredevil). It felt as if the car was constantly in a slide, though, so I opted to look at the sky instead of the road just to avoid panic. I called my mom to ask her to pray for our safety and timely arrival. I also tried calling my sister as I knew that she and her boyfriend would be traveling a little ahead of us to the airport and may be able to give us an idea of what lay ahead, but was unable to reach them.

About the time we reached the pass, three snowplows appeared ahead, going veeeerrrry slooooooow. Uh-oh. We were creeping along at 20mph and the clock was ticking. A line of vehicles piled up behind us. I guess we should have been grateful for the semi-clear wake they left, but we just impatiently wanted to pass them up and get on our way. Thankfully, we were eventually able to pass one, then two, then all three snowplows. Of course, then the road was worse with big ruts that kept throwing the car around. I’m lucky though that I was with a born-and-raised north Idaho boy. He did an excellent job manhandling that snow and we picked up the pace again. I finally got a hold of my sister and she told us that after the pass the snow would soon turn to rain and then, once we got to Seattle, it would be clear. “Yeah right!” I thought, “There’s no way this can completely clear up!” Soon, however, the snow became rain and, as we neared Seattle, we could see blue sky ahead.

We were nearing the city and had enough time, so I began to relax. My ex-boyfriend (I don’t really want to keep referring to him that way but I’m doing it for the sake of anonymity). Anyway, he has always told me that he thinks you can learn a lot about a person and how you interact with them by traveling together. For all the years we’ve known each other, we haven’t actually done that much traveling together, aside from the occasional local trip and a few excursions to Canada. Because of this, he was really curious to see how things would go this Christmas. I actually was quite sure that I wouldn’t learn a lot that was new. I was wrong. Apparently, I spaz out when traveling and he stays perfectly calm. When we took a highway he wasn’t quite sure was right for getting to the airport, I began to freak out a bit and wonder why we hadn’t found out for sure how to get there ahead of time. When he stopped for directions (yes, some men do ask), I sat in the car, nervous about how long he was taking. “Yep, it’s the right way!” he said upon returning and I felt better…. Until I started to think about parking and how we might have to park and take a shuttle and how much time would that take?!? Mr. Calm might have had similar thoughts, but he didn’t voice his panic and somehow it made me feel that he didn’t realize the graveness of this situation. The entire world could cave in!

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, but (per my direction) promptly headed into the wrong parking area ($26/day), asked about cheaper parking, and windingly made our way back out to search for such. After a failed attempt to smoothly choose one of the first options we saw, he decided to get out and walk around to ask. What?! Walk?! There was no time for that! But I patiently sat (fuming) while he parking a million miles from the front door and got out.

Our plane left at 3:45PM and I knew that we had to check our luggage at least 45 minutes before that. Angry that we were cutting it so close, I sternly told God that I wanted to be at the airport by 2:45. It was a little after 2:30. I wasn’t sure about demanding things like that from God, but in my defense I was really worried. He returned back to the car having decided on a place to park for $9 a day, so after moving to some back lot, we lugged our suitcases down to the front. “How often does the shuttle leave?” I quizzed my trusty companion.

“Whenever we’re ready” he replied, and I began to feel better. He, meanwhile, was chuckling at my anxiety. He must have thought it greatly entertaining to see me all atwitter with worry. As we pulled into the airport (at 2:40), he looked at me with amusement, “Feel better now?” He said he knew all along that we were going to get there on time and hadn’t been worried at all. What?! Why am I the one freaking out?!

After checking luggage, making it through security (my belt didn’t set off the buzzer- yay!- but taking off my tall boots and putting them in the little bucket was kind of a pain), and finding our gate, I began to relax. Why was I even worried? Obviously, I stressed for nothing, but I guess I just wanted this trip to go smoothly. He and I laughed about my uptightness as opposed to his calm and happily chatted about how wonderful it was that we were headed to Texas together. That is, until we hit our next snag… My ticket was technically a companion ticket, which meant that I was standby status…. And the flight was FULL! Apparently, at least ten people had decided last minute to also fly from Seattle to Albuquerque to Dallas. Not only that, but there were about 5 other people also waiting for standby spots. It was not looking good! I began to despair once again. Pessimist that I was that day, I said “See, I knew something was going to go wrong with this trip!”

My traveling guru, true to nature, was thinking about food at a time like this. It was probably good that he stuffed that extra large (and really delicious) burrito down me because I did feel better after eating it. It is just like him to pay attention our basic needs while I’m worrying about other things like “AM I GOING TO MAKE IT ON THE FLIGHT?!” We sat and made a plan. If I didn’t get on the plane, he wouldn’t either (his ticket was not standby), and we would wait for tomorrow and both get on another flight. Because we then wouldn’t be in Dallas that night when my parents came to pick us up, we would rent a car and drive to Jefferson the next afternoon. The plan was good, but I still preferred the original.

As the time to fly came closer (and the flight was delayed) we hung around the desk hoping for one tiny little “me” spot. Everyone had boarded. I had called my mom by this time and told her the latest bad news “Please pray that I make it on!”

And then. The blessed words: “Linda Troyer!” (They had written my name down wrong) I looked at my friend in amazement “Really?! Did they really just call my name?”

“Yep, you’re on!”

I fairly danced down the tunnel and into the plane, “I can’t believe it! I actually got on!”

“I knew you would. I wasn’t worried.” What?

I called my mom and excitedly told her. “Oh, really?!” she was happy, “ Good! We just prayed for you, like 2 minutes ago.”

“Mama! That’s just the time they called my name!” Sometimes I wonder at my lack of ability to trust in God. Maybe I can learn a little bit from my friend’s calm willingness to just take what comes and “go with it” when things don’t go exactly according to plan. I could also learn from the number of times God has answered my prayers, even the “demanding” ones.

Two flights later we were in Dallas being greeted by my parents, sister and sister’s boyfriend. They were all a little agitated already from getting lost finding that airport we flew into and the apparently intolerable sound of the windshield wiper scraping the entire time. A suggestion of things to come? I didn’t care. My friend and I were happier than ever and ready to enjoy a wonderful weekend in Texas.

After arriving in Texas...

After arriving in Texas, enjoying a delicious 1:00am breakfast...

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally in General Santos City

If you’ve ever heard stories of Philipino hospitality, it’s all true. If you’ve never heard of it, let me tell you. These people are so happy to see us that it’s… crazy! It’s like we’re celebrities. When we got off the plane in GeneralSantos, pretty much everyone in the church was there to see us. Someone said it was like Old Testament times when Paul came off the ship and every single Christian went down to meet him. They put beaded necklaces around our necks and shook our hands and told us a million times welcome and that they were so glad we were there. They had a huge banner and took our picture with it. They got all of our luggage for us and loaded it up.

I guess because of violence in some parts of the country, the United States government is currently recommending that Americans not travel to the Philippines. If you do, they say, just don’t go to Mindanao. And if you go to Mindanao, don’t go to General Santos City. The people here say it’s perfectly safe, but we were so unsure that the major wrote us a letter of person invitation. And when we arrived, we were given a personal police escort through town to the mission compound. It turned out to be more like a parade. Five motorcycles went ahead of us and a long line of cars of the people who came to greet us went behind. People along the road stood there watching us pass by. The cutest thing I saw was a very little boy jumping up and down because he was so excited!

What I saw shocked me. There were actually houses made of bamboo or sticks with grass roofs and dirt floors that people were living in! I guess I’d never ever seen that before in real life and I was extremely excited. The ride from the airport was long, and slow because of our “parade”, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It took a lot of driving to get to a part of the city with houses made of brick or wood. Shops that looked like shacks lined the road and people sat out in front waiting for business. We joked that all other Americans were dutifully following the government’s recommendations because we saw absolutely no other Caucasians. Eateries that looked like the kind where you might unwittingly be served dog had us fascinated. And THEN, we passed this one place and there it was. Two spits. On one was a very large pig and on the other was a big white dog! We weren’t sure we’d seen it right at first, but that’s what it was.

At the mission compound, a bunch more people were there to greet us. They sang to us and took a lot of pictures of the speakers with their individual banners for the meetings. The fact that I had to go to the bathroom really badly didn’t keep me from appreciating their joy over our arrival.

We had “breakfast” right away, but to me it felt like supper. There were dishes of stuff to go over rice that were super delicious, homemade breads, rice milk, and some of the most amazing fruits I’ve ever seen or tasted! I wish I could tell you what they were, but I can’t remember all the names. I can tell you that I had the most awesome mango of my life!

The highlight of the rest of this day was my nap and discovering that I have really great wireless internet access here. Our room is air conditioned, thankfully, because the weather is very hot! I must say, though, that it’s really no worse than Texas when I left. In fact, I think it’s a little less humid! The sun is really hot though because- dun, dun duh- we’re really close to the equator! Yay! I just realized today that I’ve never been this far south before and that the equator is, like, right there!

Before I end this account, let me talk about our living and bathing arrangements, especially the bathing ones. Three other ladies and I are sleeping in a dormitory room with bunk beds. It’s clean and comfortable and air-conditioned (thank you, God!). We have a toilet room, complete with a toilet with no seat and a bucket and spigot to wash our hands in. The shower room is quite reminiscent of the toilet room- we bathe using a bucket and ladle and some coooooool water! Bath time is one time when I’m glad it’s a very hot climate. It takes my breath away. We also have to use bottled water always, even for brushing our teeth. I’m afraid I’m going to forget one day because I’m so used to just using any old water for that.

August 18, 2007 Posted by | Philippines | , , , | 1 Comment

On the Road Again!

Well, after almost two weeks with my parents, I’m on the move again, currently in the Detroit airport. My plane to Manila leaves in three hours, with one stop in Tokyo. I’m sitting in front of the gate for a flight going to Paris because that’s the only place I could find a free outlet. We laptop people fight over them.

Across from me are two orange-clad monks eating hamburgers. They’ll have fun in Paris.

August 15, 2007 Posted by | United States | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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