Prolonged travel brings with it a myriad of new experiences, and some of the oddest ones seem to take place in the many security checkpoints of the world’s airports.
In the intense heat of summer, I find wearing my hair piled up in a bun on the top of my head to be the most comfortable solution for long hair, heavy bags, and lack of air conditioning.
Apparently, this style is popular among smugglers of some sort, because each time I step through the metal detector, whether it’s in San Francisco, Washington, DC, or Phoenix, the security guard will hold up their hand, tell me to wait and then explain they are going to ‘’squeeze my bun’’.
Another favorite – which also seems unique to the US – is the old ‘’ma’am, I am now going to touch your buttocks with the back of my hand’’ routine. I kid you not. They always wait for a ‘’female assist’’ before performing this intimate act, which I do appreciate, but I find myself looking around to see if there is a hidden camera somewhere when I hear those words.
The fact that it is the exact same ludicrous phrase coming out of the mouths of various TSA agents in different cities, leads me to believe that this must be written in some kind of manual somewhere, which makes it all the more ridiculous.
The US is not alone in their odd airport behavior. Tel Aviv Ben Gurion is famous for having the most strict security in the world, and they have definitely been nothing but thorough in my experiences there.
The last time I was passing through, I was with the Englishman, and I thought that his presence might take a bit of the edge off. My usual routine of traveling as a single woman fresh from a month in Ramallah tends to ring more than a few alarm bells.
The fact that these very serious security guards are so young adds another level of surrealness to the whole thing. It always throws me when a tiny 20 year old Israeli woman is giving me the third degree about why I spent a week in Egypt 5 years ago, while simultaneously taking each and every item out of my overstuffed luggage.
But even with the Englishman by my side, this time was no different. In fact, our relationship status seemed to raise more questions than it answered. As we were waiting in one of the many security lines, a couple of young guards approached us and started asking rapid-fire questions: how do you know each other? Where are you coming from? Who packed your bags?
But this is where things got confusing, because you see, those questions may sound run-of-the-mill, but the answers are not quite as simple:
We are a couple, we are coming from the West Bank, he packed the bags.
Nope. That did not seem to fly with Israeli Security. The next set of questions got a little complicated.
Are you married? How long have you been together? Do you live together? Why did he pack the bags?
He packed the bags, because he’s got this very effective, space saving rolling technique. No we are not married, we’ve been together for a number of years.
How many years?
(shared glance) Um… depends when you start counting… No we don’t live together. He lives in the West Bank, and I live in France.
Have you ever lived together?
Well for about 6 months in 2009… then another few months sometime after that…
From there it just got more complicated and I’m not sure what any of that had to do with us getting on a plane, but after far too long spent hashing out the ins and outs of our shared history, and a very thorough inspection of my high heels, we did make it through and arrived safely in London.
I‘ve spent plenty of time in London over the years, in fact it was the first ‘’real’’ city I lived in when I studied abroad there as a college student. But this time felt a bit different.
Similar to the way I was looking at San Francisco last winter, I found myself examining the place in a more thorough way. Feeling it out to see if it might be a potential place to live for a while.
Even through the cold and fog and drizzle, London is a fabulous city. I love the grandeur and history of the buildings, and appreciate the self-deprecation worked into the national ethos. And I love east London. The lush sprawling parks, and endless hip and interesting things to see and places to eat and of course the people watching.
The longer I spend traveling, the less sure I feel about choosing a place to stay, but I am taken with London. It feels exciting there and I could see making parts of that city my own.
It was only a fleeting visit though, just enough time to see some friends and stroll through a few parks and museums, before I was back on a flight, this time without the Englishman – for the first time in a month.
After a long flight, a few trains and a bus I found myself back in Washington, DC – the first visit in nearly a year, and it was odd to be back on such familiar ground.
Even though I never particularly liked DC, I lived there for so long, it is still the most familiar place to me. And it was almost too easy to be absorbed back into the city. I instantly found myself apprehensively approaching the circulator bus like I have done hundreds of times before, with the ever-present fear that I had gone into negative value on my metro card.
Sure enough, as soon as I lugged my bags up onto the bus and pressed my card to the reader I heard that terrible buzzer telling me and everyone else on board that I had run out of money. And just as reliably, the bus driver let me ride anyway.
As nice as it was to know my way around, and to see friends and check in on a few of my old favorite spots. And as comforting as it was to see that my old neighborhood is continuing to improve with new cafes and bars and grocery stores popping up all around my condo, I can say with utter confidence, that leaving that town was the right move for me.
Being back there and feeling that so clearly, was a welcome reassurance. I like the way my relationship with the nation’s capital is evolving. It’s like an amicable divorce. I was too young when I committed to DC, but I have some good memories, and we are very civil to each other. I had to go through that to get to where I am now and I am happy with our shared custody arrangement of the condo.
But from divorce, I am now traveling on to a wedding! And into the baking heat of July in Arizona.
Bring on the pool.