A few years back I attended a herb symposium in Norton, Massachusetts. It's held annually on the campus of Wheaton College and is "A weekend of herbal workshops and lectures from the world's leading teachers. The International Herb Symposium is well known for representing a wide range of ideas, beliefs, and the various ways we have of working with healing plants from shamanic and folklore to ethnobotanical, clinical and scientific."
I'd never been to (or heard of) a herb symposium, so when presented with the opportunity to attend this one I was pretty excited. At the time my cousins, Jon and Scott, lived in the Boston area, so I decided to combine my herbal adventure with a stay in Beantown.
The trip got off to a shaky start. This was a few years after 9/11 but before the era of exploding shampoo bottles, and though airport security at the time had been tightened up quite a bit, I still hadn't adjusted to the idea that it's not just advisable to get to the airport an hour before your flight leaves, it's necessary. As a result, I found myself sprinting up to the departure gate at the last minute with my boots in one hand and my boarding pass and driver's license in the other. No big deal really, but a day or two later I realized that in the rush to board I'd somehow lost my license, which meant I might have some problems getting on the flight back to Kansas City. By then I was pretty busy, and I figured there was nothing to be done but hope for the best, so I didn't lose much sleep over it.
After several days spent at Jon's place in Quincy and visiting some of my favorite Boston sites and eating fried clams and so forth I caught a train out to Norton for the symposium. It was quite interesting. The workshops were very informative, and the attendees ranged from pagans and New Age types to academics and serious botanists. Though I felt a little out of place in such a setting, all in all I had a pretty good time.
My final day in Massachusetts was kind of a blur. I took a cab to the station in Norton then rode the train to downtown Boston, where I transferred to the subway to Cambridge, the one that stops under Harvard Square. Jon's band, the Bourbonaires, was playing a benefit gig at some joint on Mass. Avenue, and after I'd wandered around a bit looking for the club, he found me and we went inside for the show.
It was a great evening. The bands all rocked, and there were all kinds of people from the Boston music scene there, even a couple of the guys from Dropkick Murphys. After the show I helped Jon carry some equipment out to his van, said 'bye, then left with Scott for his place in Newton. We picked up some good beer on the way and, as we always do when I visit, stayed up 'til sunrise talking.
My flight back to KC was scheduled for midmorning and I hadn't gotten much sleep, so I was a little groggy as I packed up my stuff and jumped in Scott's car for the ride to the airport. We got there with time to spare, Scott dropped me off, and in a few minutes I was going through security. I put my boots on the x-ray conveyor belt and placed my wallet, belt, keys, and carry-on bag in a plastic tub; the usual drill After walking through the metal detector with no problem I grabbed my boots as they came out of the machine and sat on a bench to pull them back on. As I did so I noticed a little knot of security people gathered around the x-ray machine looking all agitated. I had just enough time to think "Well that's kinda weird" before I heard the clank of metal over there and suddenly remembered...
I make edged weapons for a hobby, swords and spears and battle axes and etcetera. At the time of my Boston vacation I was trying to perfect a throwing knife that would stick in the target even if, like me, you didn't know how to use a throwing knife. The trick, I'd found, was to make the knife pointy all the way around, and after much trial and error I'd come up with some designs that were quite promising. Just before leaving for Boston I'd decided to take a couple dozen of the prototypes with me to show Jon and Scott, and knowing it wouldn't do to carry them on a plane, I'd stowed the weapons in my checked luggage. Unfortunately, after a week spent riding around in trains and cabs and subways and cars and packing and unpacking in various locations, I'd forgotten that the knives were now not in my checked luggage; they were in my carry-on bag.
Some of the knives in my bag looked like these. Notice how they're pointy all the way around.
Others looked like this. This is one of my more successful designs; I can stick it in a target nine out of ten times from thirty feet out .
There were some larger ones too.
There were also some shuriken, though my shuriken are larger than the ones you buy in martial arts stores.
There were even one or two oddities resembling this one. "Miss, could I have some more peanuts, please?"
The security people were glancing my way now, and they'd apparently pushed a button or something, because suddenly there were several serious-looking dudes converging on me, including one large state trooper complete with Smokey the Bear hat. Just as I'd got my boots on they grabbed me and hustled me off to a little room to ascertain what my problem was.
The first thing they wanted was some kind of official ID, but as I'd lost my driver's license on the outward bound leg of the trip I didn't have one. They asked if I had anything that would prove who I was, so I gave them an expired fishing license and my Costco card.
They asked about the knives, and I explained that I make edged weapons for a hobby...
They asked why I had tried to smuggled a couple dozen deadly weapons aboard a jetliner, and I explained about the trains, cars, cabs and subways...
During the interrogation the state trooper never took his eyes off me. He didn't ask any questions, just stood there watching me, and after they'd got all the information they could he pulled them aside and there was a whispered conference. As they were over there talking and shaking their heads and occasionally glancing my way, I called Scott on my cellphone. He listened to my story then burst out laughing and said "Ya know, it's only a three hour flight to Gitmo." Hilarious. I told him to be ready to bail me out.
Apparently the statey was the decider, because after a couple minutes he came back, handed me my boarding pass and useless shreds of ID and said I'd be allowed to board my flight, but they were going to keep the knives.
I couldn't believe it. Here I was, a large, hairy, disheveled man with no ID attempting to board a jetliner with a satchelful of deadly weapons at Logan Field, the place from where some of the 9/11 jets had departed, and they were going to let me on the plane? Hell, if I'd been that state trooper I'd have thrown my ass in a holding cell 'til the nice men with the water board arrived.
But they let me on the plane.
After we were safely in the air I went through my bag to make sure my socks and toothpaste were OK, and while doing so I noticed they'd overlooked one of the smaller knives which was kind of hidden in the seam. Oh well, they got most of 'em, and I'm guessing that to this day there's a room somewhere at Logan with my handcrafted cutlery on display as on object lesson for lax TSA screeners.
All's well that ends well, I suppose, and I learned a valuable lesson that day about the dangers of profiling, or of carrying a bunch of weapons through airport security, or something.
And to everyone out there who says the system doesn't work, all I can say is, well, you're kinda right.