Now we’re all flying Con Air

Used to be that unless you had a condom full of hashish stuffed up your ass, you could move about this world without much stress or worry. Now anyone who tries to board a plane knows what it feels like to be a would-be drug smuggler.

The stuff might be in their shoes. Take them off. In your belt. Take it off. Your jacket, everything in your bag, your cell phone, tablet, laptop. Into the tray for X-ray. Put your feet on the footprints, hold your hands over your head for the full body scan. Might as well spread your cheeks.

Maybe making everyone feel like a criminal or an inmate at ADX is the price Americans pay to fly the non-so-friendly skies these days. It’s nice to be safe, especially at a time when everyone in the world has reason to strike out against lunatic-led countries such as North Korea, Iran and the United States. Who knows when some sane grandmother from Lichtenstein or Canada might strike out against this Axis of Weasels’?

Maybe the designated culprit will be disguised as a four-year-old, like our grandson who was pulled out of the boarding line for a second go-round with the Transportation Security Administration. The explosive might be disguised as raspberry jam, like the jar I tried to bring to a friend back home in Ohio. Or shoe polish, like that taken from Officer John, who had to wear scuffed shoes to a wedding. Or maybe in an inky jar of vanilla extract, like the one that beleaguered us as we tried to return from Mexico recently.

We cleared security as we left Oaxaca, Mexico, and again when we changed flights at the Mexico City airport. From Oaxaca to Seattle 12 hours later, we never went outside a secure area. None of that made any difference when we went through security for a third time at Salt Lake City’s airport. The TSA checkers found the three jars of vanilla extract we had purchased in the duty-free store during the stopover in Mexico City. The goods were put in a bag marked duty free and sealed with a plastic zip tie.

Not good enough, said the duty-bound rule enforcer. It has to have a tag on the zip tie that says, “Cross our hearts and hope to die, there’s no terrorist beyond this tie” or some such language.

The agent said he was sorry but he had to follow the rules.

Two choices: Surrender the vanilla extract or check another bag with it inside.

Door number three: Kathy, tired and grumpy, clobbers the agent with her handbag, sends him through the X-ray machine and starts hollering “Vanilla extract matters!” We spend the rest of our lives at ADX.

Time to step in before that door gets opened. I take the three bottles down to the Delta desk, rearrange my shoulder bag to fit them inside and check it through to Seattle despite being told it’s not regulation size. Then it was back through security for the fourth time that day.

IMG_3735.JPGYou could smell my shoulder bag before it arrived on the baggage carousel in Seattle. One of the three bottles had broken but fortunately had not brought down the plane in flight. It did turn my faithful notebook into the “Vanilla Diaries,” now has a nice aged appearance.

We’ve been reacting to the “Liquid Bomb Plot” since August 2006 when three bottle-heads in London were mercifully stopped from carrying through on plans to concoct a bomb from chemicals carried aboard separately. All three are resting uncomfortably, we can hope, in British prisons for the next 30 or so years.

But can we please make some room for common sense? Give the TSA people a little leeway to make decisions on their own? Allow passengers to taste their raspberry jam, vanilla extract or shoe polish (?!) to prove it’s the real stuff as mothers carrying breast milk have been asked to do?

Besides, in the overall scheme of things, taking my shoes off at the airport has not made the world a safer place for many people. Showing off the holes in my socks did not save the 58 people killed and the 500 wounded during a country music concert in Las Vegas. It didn’t save the 26 people killed in a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherlin Springs, Texas, or the nine shot to death at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Or the 49 dead at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla., or the 14 dead at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Or on and on and on . . .

We seem unwilling to do much to stop the terror within our borders while keeping everyone on high alert to keep out the imported variety. I’m not big on terrorism from any quarter and would cast a plague on all its sources: Akbar on your Ali-babi-ding-dong and same to our Iraqi-tacki bush wars.

Dump the fear-mongering and leave the pre-boarding jitters to those with their heads up their asses.

A drive through England’s Cotswold stirs the memories

Cotswold
Trish, Kathy and John window-shopping in a Cotswold village.

We’ve been in the Cotswold area of England before, but it was 33 years ago, which for our memory facilities is almost like visiting for the first time.

It was great to be back, traveling with John and Trish through pastures and crops separated by fences built with stones cleared from the fields and stacked without mortar. Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Camden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water and Burford are still there with their stone houses, tea rooms and narrow streets (thanks for driving John and Trish).

It brought back some great memories from 33 years ago when Kathy and I went off for four months on a tour of Europe, starting in England and the Cotswold.

Wales wins, 23-13; England gets no help from Fiji

Wales will pick up four points in the standings from their win over Fiji today. But neither the Welsh team nor the Fijians could make good at the end of the game on efforts to get the extra bonus points: Wales could not put in a fourth try and Fiji could not pull within seven points in the loss. Each would have been worth a bonus point in the standings.

So Wales gathers 13 points in the standings with one game to go. A win by England Saturday against Australia would get them to within two points in the standings, a bonus point for four tries would put them within one. A win by Australia would tie them at 13 with Wales; a bonus point for four tries would give them the lead in Pool A.

Wales has one more game after Saturday, against Australia on Oct. 10. If England loses to Australia on Saturday, the Wales-Australia match will decide who goes out as the winner to face the runner up in Pool B and who will face the Pool B winner.

On doing barbecue in England

A Manhattan in a bottle. This may have taken the sting out of eating barbecue in England.
A Manhattan in a bottle. This may have taken the sting out of eating barbecue in England.

They laughed when told there was a recommended barbecue place in Leeds, England, but hunger drove them to seek it out. However, they held me responsible if it turned out to be worst than cold mushy peas.

Kathy is especially upset when forced to eat American food in foreign places. Still thrown up to me is the worst desecration (in her mind) of all time: Eating in a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

“We’re in Paris, for God’s Sake,” she cried — and has ever after and that atrocity (in her mind) happened back in 1992. No matter that we had hungry, crying children to feed: “We’re in Paris, for God’s sake.”

So asking her to eat American barbecue in England was a tough sell. Plus, we had to wait to get into Red’s True Barbecue. “This better be worth the wait. You’re never picking another restaurant again if this turns out to be awful.”

The Corn Exchange in Leeds is now filled with shops.
The Corn Exchange in Leeds is now filled with shops.

So the five of us (we are now traveling with Dave, Tina and Ben Carpenter) moseyed around the Corn Exchange next to Red’s until it came time to face the music (American rock ‘n’ roll) at Red’s.

A Manhattan served in a bottle smoothed the way for Kathy. A huge selection on the menu meant something for everyone. I chose “The Sleepy James.” It was the special developed after Red’s 2014 pilgrimage to the American South. They go each year and bring back something new to share with Leeds.

The Sleepy James comes from the Dodge Gas Station in Memphis, Tenn., and is named for a near toothless wanderer near the place. “Sleepy” rambled on about drinking moonshine since he was five but started making sense when the talk turned to techniques for smoking meat and fixing barbecue.

The Sleepy James involved waffles, barbecued chicken, bacon and greens. It was delicious. In fact, it was all delicious, according to my four sticky-fingered traveling partners.

I might get to pick a restaurant again.

Dave and John at Red's True Barbecue in Leeds, England.
Dave and John at Red’s True Barbecue in Leeds, England.