Scott was by far the worst Airport agent I had ever met.
Following September 11, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems and ensure the freedom of movement for people and commerce. Today, TSA secures the nation’s airports and screens all commercial airline passengers and baggage.
My friend dropped me off at the Reagan Airport five hours before my flight. We were in Washington for a friend’s wedding and I was headed back to Denver on a reality check trip and the start of a new week at work.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport isn’t rated as one of the favorite airports in America despite the weight of the name. It’s the commercial airport nearest to Washington, D.C. located 3 statute miles south downtown Washington, D.C., in Arlington County, Virginia.
As a road warrior, I like comparing airport statistics with my own opinion and sometimes I’m inclined to disagree with the public. Airports are ranked in seven categories: flight delays; design; amenities; food and drink; check-in and security; service; and transportation. For example, Denver airport is ranked fourth in the country but because its 25 miles from the city, then that drops it to 9th position because of accessibility.
When I walked into Reagan airport, I instantly felt like something was amiss. The restaurants and coffee shops looked like deserted streets and the security check-ins were hard to locate. You know that feeling you have at the airport of being watched? I didn’t get that at this airport and that bothered me. With five hours to kill, I walked from one end of the building to the other, back and forth until people’s faces became familiar. I could describe what folks were doing: differentiate between the excited first time fliers, the scared fliers and the road warriors. I browsed through Face Book, read my book, read the news from my laptop, took a nap … you know the drill? Just trying to kill time.
Four hours later, I was finally standing in line at the security check-in, my single luggage in hand, bored to death. Here we go again, I thought as I dreaded the procedure: remove your belt, shoes, liquids and laptops. Soon and in a few years, folks will have to strip naked in line, wrinkled behinds for all to see. I smiled at my own joke. The image reminded me of the 1987 British made movie, Escape from Sobibor: naked folks in line at the extermination camps.
And then I heard a voice that made me turn, cut off my weird fantasy.
“Tickets ple…ase, we-lco-me and have a sa-fe …fffff…light.” The stammer was distinct.
I turned in the direction of the speaker only to find myself gazing at a security agent who looked slightly … what’s the word am looking for? Mentally challenged? Yes, kind of. The name on his shirt read Scott, TSA Agent.
Scott was manning the first class ticket line, which had little traffic. Once in a while, a rich man or woman would walk up to Scott and flash out a ticket. Scott would glance at the ticket with his lazy eyes and then bow as though bowing to a King. “En-jo-y your fli-ght mum,” he would stammer and the folks in the line giggled at a chance of being entertained.
Scott’s one leg looked shorter than the other and he seemed to struggle balancing his weight. His eyes never once made contact with anybody except the ticket and the ceiling, as he talked to the invisible people around him.
I felt sorry for Scott and wondered whether the Airport had given him the job out of sympathy or in fulfillment of some eccentric hiring policy that prohibited discrimination. Whatever the reason, Scott seemed to like his job and he smiled a lot at nobody in particular.
The line moved and it was time for me to take my shoes off. Suddenly, gunshots erupted in the air and I turned and saw three men, scarves over their faces, strut into the airport firing into the ceiling.
“Everybody down!” they yelled.
Folks dropped like dead flies and I watched Scott awkwardly struggle to the floor looking confused. I crawled closer to him: an innate thing inside of me, wanting to console him. The three gunmen walked over to the security check-in and at the sight of the machine guns the few guards present dropped their pistols. They wanted to go home to their families just like everybody else. The three gunmen were now close and I could hear them breathing.
Suddenly, a movement caught my peripheral and I turned my head. Scott the TSA agent was moving. He jumped behind the last terrorist and stuck a knife into his throat and before the man could fall, Scott grabbed him and used him as a human shield as he shot the other two men. It happened so fast and in my state of shock, I found my eyes riveted on the TSA agent in disbelieve: the limp was gone, his eyes were sharp and lazy no more, his face a mask of concentration as he listened. All was quiet. Smoke settled down from the gunfire, but still nobody moved. And then it happened.
A single shot rung through the hallway and I saw Scott whirl from the impact and then fall. There was a fourth man! I gasped and lowered my head as the fourth terrorist hesitated then turned for the exit. I looked at Scott and saw him lying on his back writhing in pain: and then I saw his hand move as he tried to reach for the gun on the floor. Without thinking and against all voice of reason, I dived and pushed the gun into Scott’s hand. I had no idea what I was doing. It was as though I was standing outside a crystal ball watching my own life from a distance. Scott grabbed the gun, rose painfully and fired. Muzzle flash blinded my eyes for a second and I struggled to see. The shot was loud, the aim perfect. The terrorist’s skull exploded just as he neared the exit door. Scott dropped the gun and before his head hit the ground, I dived in and caught him.
“Stay with me Scott!” I yelled. “Don’t you dare die on me now!” Blood oozed from the agent’s mouth, his eyes struggled to stay open.
People began to rise as they became aware of their own safety.
“Is he going to live?” a little girl asked.
I propelled Scott’s head into a position that would prevent him from choking on his own blood. He broke into spasm and then he was still. I looked at him for a moment as tears streamed down my face, then I turned with dazed eyes and stared at the dead bodies on the floor, at the people around me. They just stood there and watched me.
“Help him,” I whispered. “Help him please.” Nobody moved. And then with the little energy that I had, I screamed. “Somebody help meeee!”
My spirit was shuttered. My attachment to this agent was a virtue of certainty. Sirens in the distance. Cops and anti-terrorist units flooded and flanked the building and everybody was escorted out. Flights were cancelled and the airport was shut down. The reporters arrived and the president was alerted of the situation. My heart bled for Scott as I watched the paramedics carry him away.
Many weeks later, after police statements and paparazzi bombardment, my life had resumed to normal, and I was back on the road. Things were a little different now and a few folks recognized me from the papers. I had helped to save lives at the airport. I was a hero. Hero. Definition of a hero: a hero is a man or woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his or her brave deeds and noble qualities. A hero is not necessarily found in the battlefield, but also at home, in the neighborhood.
I opened my luggage. Toothbrush- check, Hair brush- check, no liquids and coins – check: laptop and 3G iphone - check. I was a road warrior and life in the air, was the life for me: away from the burden of family, relatives, mortgages and a social life. Up in the air, I thrived through polite conversation, five star hotels, catering and the freshness of seeing different people everyday. Up in the air, 35,000 feet above ground, I was free, the world and chaos below me.
O’Hare airport, Chicago: fourth busiest international gateway in the United Sates behind John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Los Angeles International Airport and Miami International airport. O’Hare has also been voted the best airport in North America for ten years.
I walked casually down the airport corridors and enjoyed the view: men in suits, women in suits, military men reporting to base, couples on their honeymoon. I stopped to check the monitors and confirm that my flight was on time and then proceeded to the security check-in for the ‘Escape from Sobibor’ procedure.
Here in Chicago O’hare, I felt like I was being watched, and if you are not familiar with this, then just know that being watched is a good thing at the airport. It makes you feel safe. A shoe shiner beckoned me and I waved and walked on to join the line.
“Ti-ck-ets ple-ease.” I heard a familiar stammering voice that tickled my imagination. No. It couldn’t be. It was impossible: Scott was dead. I had seen it with my own eyes.
And then I craned my neck and saw him, as sure as daylight. The sight took my breath away. There… I blinked and looked again … was Scott the TSA agent looking like a mentally challenged man.
“Ti-cke-ts ple…ase” Scott bowed as a rich couple walked by.
I smiled and my heart soared at the sight. Scott was alive! I wanted to run over and shake his hand, thank him for saving my life and that of others, but I also knew that the best way to thank him was to say nothing, to do nothing. I walked over to a nearby seat and sighed into it. The drone of a plane sounded nearby. I casually flipped through a geographic magazine as I threw surreptitious glances at Scott. The cover showed artistic iridescent lights over a wet savannah in Africa. The wildebeests were on the move again: leaving the Serengeti headed for the Masai Mara in Kenya: the biggest animal migration in the whole world. On the way the wildebeests would encounter major predators like lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards and crocodile. While 400,000 wildebeest calves are born between the Months of Jan - March, many would die. This was the circle of life.
I looked up at Scott again saw something in the agent’s face: guile, recognition. He had recognized me! The look flashed once in his eyes and then it was gone, the haziness and masquerade returned. I smiled in acknowledgement as the words of a famous man came to me: that one day a world will arise, where human beings will not be judged by how they look, but by the content of their character.
Scott was by far the best TSA agent I had ever met.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...