I was putting on my shoes and thinking about how much I enjoy the ease and efficiency of flying in and out of our little airport in Chattanooga when a gentleman stepped from behind the x-ray monitor.
“Is this your bag, Sir”
He was looking at me and gesturing towards my backpack.
“I need to look inside. Come with me.”
I followed him to a station at the end of the conveyor where he placed the bag on a stainless steel table and typed something into a keyboard in front of him. An image of the contents of my bag appeared before us.
“Is there anything sharp or pointed in here…” Thinking he was finished I opened my mouth to answer, but was cut off, “…besides this knife?”
“Well, shit… I wondered where that knife was.”
“Now you know.”
The agent quickly confirmed everything I already knew about my options, and I called my friend Sarah, who kindly offered to come back and pick up the offender.
Fifteen minutes later I was back in the same line being patted down for an imaginary something-or-other that clearly was not in my front right pocket when the same gentleman from before pulled my laptop from the conveyor.
“I have to run this again.”
No worries, I thought to myself, I am almost to third base with this guy in the blue rubber gloves. Take your time…
Molestation complete, I was presented with my laptop and a question.
“What would Aldo do?” Clearly, the inquiry was one more of who, than what?
“Aldo Leopold,” I offered, “Author of A Sand County Almanac…”
Five minutes and a half dozen questions and answers later, I was digging through my suitcase for business cards as two TSA employees passed a copy of the Almanac back and forth.
“You mentioned wilderness,” the man who had taken my knife said. “I fly, and on my maps I see big chunks of land in North Georgia labeled as wilderness. Does that refer to a specific topography?”
“Not at all,” I began. “Leopold envisioned what he called ‘roadless pack country’…” Another agent, a short woman who had joined us from the next line over, leaned in curiously as I spoke of Leopold, the Gila, Stewart Udall, the Wilderness Act, the Cohutta Wilderness (over which he likely flew), and current efforts to protect land.
The gentleman who had started this whole encounter eventually introduced himself as Alan as he scanned a gallon of milk for… whatever TSA looks for in a gallon of milk. I was stowing my laptop (the one with the What Would Aldo Do? bumper sticker on it) as the woman who had been listening so intently asked me if the Dell laptop sitting in an adjacent bin belonged to me.
I could use a new laptop, I pondered before telling her that “nope, it was there when I got here.”
Eventually, things got busy enough that the agents had to get back to work and I headed to my gate, but not before shaking hands and being offered a flight over wilderness areas “anytime.”
I tucked Alan’s card in my wallet, boarded the plane, and sat down beside a woman named Laura who was reading No Country for Old Men.
“Great book,” I said. “Have you read much McCarthy?”
“No, but I saw the movie and loved it. What’s that you’re reading?”
“A Sand County Almanac,” I said. “Again.”
“Again? Must be a good one. Tell me about it.”
“Well,” I began, “Have you heard of Aldo Leopold…”