I am sitting in the Atlanta Airport writing this story. I was reminded of the time I was arrested in the Athens Airport in 1985. This time, however, I was tagged for a TSA search. I do not know what TSA stands for. Transportation Security Administration is a good guess.
I have a SSSS pre-printed on my boarding pass. I inquire of the security guard as to why I have been chosen, because I see that I have now been forced out of the line by a real mean looking security guard with a scraggly beard. He is not impressed by my DC Government issued Identification card, so I have been escorted away from 300 plus travelers waiting to go through the scanning machines.
I am taken off to the side, where there are only three other people being targeted for a more vigorous search. Eight security personnel are going through every item in my carry-on baggage. I am happy to find that this search is segregated away from the rest of the Sunday traveling mob, and is actually much quicker this way, because I unexpectedly jumped the line of some 300 travelers.
The security woman tells me she has safely packed away my laptop back in its case. The male guard asks me to take off my shoes. I am wondering if he knows how much Mephistos cost, and that no one in their right mind would want to set them on fire or even ignite them. They cost more than the round trip plane ticket. I am also asked to undo my belt, and as I misheard the guard, I asked him if he wanted me to drop my pants.
I am told that the airline targeted me when I purchased my ticket. This extra TSA search was a result of my information being put into a database somewhere (Big Brother). Thinking back on it, it wasn’t the way I was dressed with my black cashmere turtleneck, and my designer tweed sport jacket, with the Leica digital camera hanging from my neck, sporting my dark rock star Revo sunglasses.
I thought everyone must now really dress diversely, and wear wild outfits and behave erratically, and then all these sheep abiding homeland citizens can drink their homogenous lattes from Starbucks. It’s as if everyone is watching Fox News.
When my father was the United States Ambassador to Greece I was arrested at the Athens Airport for obsessively photographing a tank. This occurred even though I went through the V.I.P. lounge and had been escorted to a bullet and bomb proof Embassy limousine waiting for me. The substitute driver just watched as the secret security police escorted me away.
They were actually dragging me by my ears. No time was allowed for any explanations. I was flailing my arms around, trying to get the attention of the Embassy driver assigned the task of picking me up at the airport and transporting me safely home to my parents’ residence. At that time, in 1985, a few months prior, some terrorists, real terrorists, not the bogus ones George Bush is looking for, shot up the Athens Airport. Anyway, the whole airport was jittery from that unexpected attack.
I was a total Nimrod for thinking I could snap photographs of the tanks or the military guards with Uzi submachine guns without causing a big stir. I shot three rolls of film before they suddenly pounced on me. I attempted to point to the limousine next to me and in my broken Greek I explained that I was only an artist. My passport was not stamped because of my entry through the V.I.P. lounge, and when the driver saw the trouble I was in, he abandoned me and headed back to the Embassy to tell them I had been arrested.
At the time I was rolling my own bulk film into film cans. This particular film and the film cans did not resemble any film that the Central Intelligence Airport cops had seen before. They were sure that they had a spy on their hands, and not an art student.
I have also ended up causing huge embarrassments for my parents and this situation was not good as I was truly trying to turn a new leaf being a newly recovered clean addict. I was taken to a small dark room and interrogated. I refused to give up my film, which made matters worse.
The fact that I spoke a little Greek also hurt my chances of being released immediately. My diplomatic passport was being considered by the interrogators to be a forged document. I tried to explain that I was a true blue diplomatic dependent, that I made a mistake photographing the tank at the front door of the airport. I thought it was cool looking and the guards with the Uzi submachine guns were surreally reflected right out of a military dictatorship.
I was allowed one phone call and I called the American Embassy, which created great embarrassment all around. The driver hadn’t explained what had actually happened and they were thinking that maybe I had been kidnapped or maybe even arrested for drugs.
A few grams of Hashish can cause you to be jailed for ten years in Greece. An hour and a half later I was released, and a driver came to pick me up. I gave the security guards a blank roll of film and went on my merry way. It’s only been recently that I started photographing in airports again.
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