Karmic Kicks in the Rear

“I’m going to be one of those crazy 75 year-old radical grannies going down to DC with picketing signs,” I said to Jon earlier this morning.

“You already are,” he replied.

And while I was smiling, he was not amused. I was trying to make light of the slightly embarrassing scene I had just caused in security at Boston Logan (and get ready, what I’m about to write may flag me for the no-fly list).

Boston recently installed full-body scanners—delightful new security devices that enable security personnel to see everything (and I do mean everything) about you. Although I fly pretty frequently, my first encounter with them did not happen until this week. On Wednesday morning going through security for a flight to DC, I was pulled aside from the metal detector line and asked to go through the full body scan. I looked at the security guard quizzically, “Do I really need to?” I asked out of genuine curiosity. They were not sending everyone through them, rather picking and choosing. I was already wearing a form fitting shirt and skirt and didn’t really see how I could be concealing much (it was work appropriate, just not some big, baggy outfit). 

The security guard said, “You can go through the full body scanner or have a full-body pat down.”

I contemplated the possibilities—hmm, either have someone see literally every inch of my body (and let me tell you it really is every inch) or have someone feel my body. Neither was appealing. And frankly, neither felt warranted.

“Is there any reason why I have to go through either?” I asked nicely.

“It’s standard protocol,” the guard replied.

“I don’t really feel comfortable with either one of those, can I just go through the metal detector?” Not only did I not want someone feeling or seeing everything, the line for the full body scanner was quite long and I was already running late for my flight having waited in the security line for 20 minutes.

“Sure, go ahead,” the guard said and I whizzed through the metal detector and was on my way.

Given the experience on Wednesday, when presented with the same situation at Logan this morning—and an added long line for the full body scan—I once again asked, “can I go through the regular metal detector?” This time the security guard not only didn’t look as friendly, he was in no mood for my question.

“You can go through the full body scanner or you can get a full body pat down,” he said brusquely.

I was confused. As Jon and I had placed our carry-on items on the security belt, there were five people waiting for the full body scanner. It was quite the line. As I asked the question, another guard had taken four people ahead of us out of the long line for the full body scanner and sent them through the regular metal detector. So I thought, makes sense to shorten the line and I don’t like the invasion of privacy…a win/win.

Apparently he did not agree. “Take off your watch and your bracelet and hold them in your hand.”

So I objected again. “I really don’t feel comfortable going through the full body scanner or getting a pat down.” The male security guard kind of looked annoyed and turned his attention to Jon, while a female security guard came toward me from the full body scanner and said in a brusque tone, “you can choose: either the scanner or the pat down, which would you like to do?”

“Well, I don’t really want to do either. Can I go through the metal detector?”

She looked at me sternly. “Scanner or pat down?”

“Fine, I’ll do the scanner.”

So I stepped into the space between two walls of machinery.

“Place your feet on the indicators with your hands above your head.”

Excuse me? The position indicated was the equivalent of a Law and Order criminal frisk. My legs were spread, my hands moved to my head to a vulnerable position. I felt exposed on a multitude of fronts.

“I feel like a f*&%ing criminal,” I said under my breath, albeit a little louder, as I tried to take a deep breath. Stay calm.

Well, the female security guard really didn’t like that. “Do you want a pat down? Stand still!”

Ah, yes because there’s nothing like being ordered around to make one feel comfortable when their private regions are being exposed via live feed to the security guards watching the monitor and standing spread eagle in front of an airport full of people. Awesome.

“I really don’t understand why this is necessary,” I said again, clearly agitated as the security guard moved me from the scanning device to a holding pad where I was told to wait until given the-all clear.

I couldn’t hear and didn’t notice if anyone else was upset by this whole process, all I could think about was the burning in my face and the frustration I felt at our system.

As we grabbed our bags, Jon was visibly annoyed at my reaction. ‘Why did you have to do that,” he asked.

I tried to explain how invaded I felt. How ridiculous it seemed. Given the early morning and my only 5 hours of sleep, I don’t think I was articulating my point very well. But it seems to me that this level of investigation is unnecessary in this age of information and frankly, a level of Big Brother with which I just do not agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support security measures to prevent terrorist attacks and to keep Americans safe. My question is, is the extra level of security that full-body scanning provides really worth forfeiting an American value of personal/private space? And in addition, are there not better ways to prevent terrorist attacks? In an age where we have unparalleled technologies to track movement, compile data and analyze behavior, you are telling me that our security teams don’t already have a pretty good idea of who would be a threat before they even get in the security line? If they don’t, then Houston, we have a problem.

I suffer under no delusion of privacy. I know that American Airlines (the airline I fly the most, but really any airline) and the American government have huge amounts of data on my travel, personal history, and perhaps even this blog. (And this is no conspiracy theory notion—working in online media I can attest to how much information you can gather about someone with a few clicks. And frankly if you’re a business, why wouldn’t you because you want to be able to target a customer so the more information you have on them, the better—and that same information can be passed on for security.) To ensure our security and the American way of life, we have given up a lot of our rights to privacy. So the question becomes, when is it too much? And when should we stand up to it?

Jon said I should just go along with the body scan—everyone else was doing it and they need it to see things that wouldn’t already be detected. Ok, sure. I get that—kind of. I could possibly understand it if someone gave them a reason, or provided cause (Jon said I provided cause by asking to not go through it). However, I am just left rather dumbfounded as to why people with no record and no indication of a threat are subjected to invasive procedures when people who have been identified as threats (ie, the young Nigerian fellow whose own parents had called the US Embassy to warn about) skip through unnoticed.

So I would like to US Government security officials:

  • How much safer are the people on my flight because the security guards at the airport got to see me naked?
  • How much more information do these scans really provide? If someone has a gun hidden somewhere, won’t that set off a metal detector anyway?
  • Is there a way to be smarter, more effective, and more efficient with our security so that we can be safe and at the same time not jeopardize core American values?

I’m curious to know what others think. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should go along. But as the silent masses piled through security this morning disrobing, de-shoeing, un-buckling, without even an eyebrow raise, my inner radical grannie just couldn’t be silenced. And I think maybe America might be a little better, and a little safer if there were a few more raising their inner grannie voices as well.

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New York in 24 hours on Tuesday/Wednesday followed by an 8:25am flight to San Francisco on Thursday morning makes for a busy week of traveling.

There were signs that this morning might be an issue. It could have been the blazing migraine and incredible dizziness and nausea Wednesday night—hopefully not from the Hotel Pennsylvania—or the fact that I was overwhelmed with all the things I hadn’t done that I was supposed to for this trip and the trip next week to Tanzania…but things were definitely off.

At 7:15 AM, pretty much packed, but not close to exiting the house, I said to Jon ‘Ok, I’m ready when you are!’ He came in and asked if I had any stamps. I did. I handed them to him, ‘Ok, ready to go?’ I asked. He nodded and walked into the other room. At 7:20, I asked again. He said he was ready. At 7:30, we finally left the house—I should say  I was also dithering about.

In the car Jon asked what time my flight was supposed to leave. I said ‘8:24, I’ve got plenty of time.’

Did I? Actually I wasn’t sure what time we left the house and looking at Jon’s car clock didn’t help—it moves faster than time and is generally somewhere in the range of 15-25 minutes ahead of the time.

When we arrived at the terminal, I saw a bizarre sight: a snaking line outside of the First Class/Priority Check-in. That’s usually the area I breeze through utilizing the computer check-in and move through the priority access security line. Both were backed up like I’d never seen at Logan.

I walked up to the computer but was intercepted by a woman keeping track of the line. ‘What’s your flight?’ she asked. ‘San Francisco,’ I replied. She looked at me wide-eyed. ‘What?! You gonna missa your flight! Come with me’ and she indicated I should follow her to the front of the line.

This did not go over well with the other passengers waiting in the line. ‘There’s a line for a reason!’ ‘My flight’s at 8:45 I’m not gonna make it.’ ‘Are we penalized for coming early? Maybe I should show up minutes before and get special treatment too!’

Apparently there was a cancelled flight—shockingly not mine—and it was causing a lot of angst, anger, and rescheduling. And rescheduling takes a lot of the American Airlines desk attendant’s time apparently.

The woman ‘wo-manning’ the line asked for my credit card and bustled off to check me in on the computer. I watched nervously and unsure why she needed to do it and not me. She returned a few minutes later with my boarding pass. I eyed the people talking to the agents—who had been the same for the past 15 minutes. Finally there was a break in the line. I jumped up to check my bag and then sprinted to the security line.

At first it moved like molasses. I checked my watch. 8:05…still time. I made it through. I even made it to the Dunkin Donuts to get a bagel before the flight. Here’s where I made the critical error. Instead of just asking for a bagel, I asked for a bagel, egg and cheese—and paid. I checked the time, 8:10 and no boarding calls. Except, wait, was that my name being called? ‘Passenger Fowler to gate 35 for final boarding. Last call for passenger Fowler.’

I made a scramble to grab the attention of the Dunkin Donuts employee. ‘Excuse me, can I grab my bagel?’

 ‘Which bagel?’

‘The egg and cheese bagel.’

‘We’re out of eggs.’


‘We’re out of eggs.’

Out of eggs between when I ordered two minutes ago and right now?

‘My flight is calling my name, can I just get a bagel?’

‘No eggs. You can get in line?’

Ugggggghhhh. Seriously? How difficult is this?!

‘You can keep my $3 thanks!’

I sprinted down the corridor to Gate 35. Another woman was waiting at the gate telling the gate attendant that her other party members were on their way. Did I have time to go back and claim that bagel? I decided against it. Given my travel karma, it was too much to temptation to be left on the wrong side of the closed plane door.

I handed over my ticket, walked down the gangway, and was the last person to join the exit row, much to the chagrin of my seat mates. There was a smile between to two other seated passengers. I laughed, ‘Hoping I wouldn’t make it? I do that all the time when there are free seats.’ And sat down, appreciating that I would make it on time the best Bachelorette Party ever, but really hungry and craving that bagel, egg and cheese.

During marathon training, I didn’t travel quite as much as I have been over the last few years. It’s tough to negotiate 18 mile runs every Saturday when you’re not on home turf. But now the traveling has begun again.

This week, I had a traveling first on the Acela train down to New York for work. I’d never taken the express train from Boston into ‘The City’ and found it both delightful, and easy. Roomy, cushioned seats, as well as free Wi-fi made the trip breeze by. And the gentle rocking rhythm of the train soothed and made me quite sleepy—which may have impacted my ability to take advantage of the Wi-fi a bit 🙂

Once in the city, the travel karma kicked it though. A great colleague of mine had booked the hotel—Hotel Pennsylvania to be specific. Located directly across from Penn Station, it seemed the perfect location to jump off the commuter train, take part in the work event, and then jump back on the following morning. However, the website—and its reviews—painted a different picture. TripAdvisor indicated more than 60% of travelers would not recommend the hotel. Not to worry my colleague shared with me, another staffer had given it the thumbs up as ok.

Hotel Pennsylvania

The gloriously large Hotel Pennsylvania

Upon walking into the hotel, I was immediately overwhelmed by the array of people. The lobby was gargantuan, living up to the hotel’s claim to be one of the four largest hotels in New York. The building was constructed around 1919 and, if given the ability to shine, could be a testament to turn of the century architecture and ambiance. Unfortunately, the only thing that was shining were the array of bizarrely large flat screen TVs running atop the check-in counter—or rather atop the heads of the welcome counter hotel staff.

My colleague and I made our way to the front of the line and proceeded to fill out the appropriate paperwork. I inquired about internet. The hotel staffer said, “Oh yes, we have dial-up in the rooms.”

I’m sorry, was my hearing overwhelmed by CNN’s Best Political Team on Television blaring behind you? “Did you say dial-up?” I queried.

“Yes, you unplug the phone-line and put your cord in.”

I’m sorry, I think I was distracted by the declaration of the new British Prime Minister.

“Did you say I unplug the phone and plug a telephone cord into my computer?”

“Yes, or there is wireless in the lobby.” And she pointed to the sign next to her indicating that wireless connectivity in the lobby area was $2 a minute. I glanced around the lobby at the bustling intersection of foreign tourists negotiating with their tour guides in a range of languages, the out-of-towners from the States clutching maps talking over one another about where to go next, and the high school students on a school trip running after one another and giggling…all of their voices, heels clicks, rolling bags, elevator calls, and texting creating a cacophony of sound that resonated around the lobby and engulfed my ears.

Ah, yes, nothing like paying $2 a minute for wireless at the intersection of distraction and unable-to-concentrate.

At that point I should have guessed there might be some merit to that 61% not recommending.

Then I got to the room. Houston, we have a problem.

First though, was the walk of anticipation. On the way to my room I walked through darkened hallways with phone books lying outside rooms in piles. Since when are there phone books left outside of hotel rooms? The room numbers were designated by glowing green signs on the bottom right of the door. Green is my favorite color—and therefore should be a positive sign—but not when one or two are flickering haphazardly with a strange buzzing noise. Then the green takes on an ominous you-might-be-in-a-horror-movie-and-your’re-getting-a-warning feeling.

Hotel Pennsylvania shower

A little cracked tile never hurt anyone...or did it?

When I walked into the room, I briefly entertained the notion of walking out again. The carpet was circa 1919, with various undetermined stains. The bedspread looked like it had either been washed far too many times…or not for the past 30 years…it was hard to tell which one. The bathroom tile was cracking and coming off the shower wall. The light switch in the bathroom—a definite press button installation from the 1980s or early 1980s—was held to wall by one wobbly screw and missing surrounding covering. And the furniture, while not in terrible condition, looked like disjointed relics from a nice Holiday Inn in 1985 that had decided to renovate and thrown them out.

This may sound harsh, but I briefly wondered if I might get bed bugs sleeping in the bed—a fleeting thought that returned later that night when I stood in the bathroom and some kind of flying creature whizzed past my face in the midst of teeth brushing.

We ended up staying—after all, we’d already paid and had an event to get to. I did not get bed bugs—or haven’t as yet. And I did brave the shower after putting down two towels on the shower floor and standing in the running water on my tiptoes for all of two seconds before jumping out. This, from the girl who went weeks without running water staying at a hotel in rural Kenya, which for the record, seemed cleaner.

Hotel Pennsylvania bathroom doorway

Yes the lighting was that bad...both the light and the switch

I may have slightly higher standards for hotels than other travelers, but I’m pretty open to any hotel in any class as long as it meets clean, decent standards. I’m not sure what level Hotel Pennsylvania was supposed to be—whatever it was, it met few of the standards set forth for any residence someone would like to stay (except maybe college students when poor and interning in NYC for the summer—apparently it’s a great place for long-term residence I found out later). No internet, a scary bathroom, a broken in-room phone, a room air unit/fan circa 1956 that apparently only blew heat, a downstairs diner that hadn’t been cleaned since 1972 and charged $18 for an omelet,  and a bed that inspired me to wear layers of work- out clothes to bed to protect myself—oh and did I mention no lock on the room door?—are not the makings of a fine stay…   

To the Hotel Pennsylvania’s credit, I did get a good night’s sleep. Enough so that I didn’t fall asleep on the delayed Acela train back to Boston the following day. However, I will probably be making that 62% of TripAdvisor reviewers who do not recommend the hotel.

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The last few weeks I have been seriously debating whether my travel karma has traveled to my immune system. Over the last few weeks I’ve battled a sinus infection (had to miss a day of work and had a lot of fun running later in the week with zero snot control), the norovirus complete with a 100 degree fever (which is probably just about the worst I’ve felt in about 6 years since I last had the norovirus Spring Training ’04), and then another weird iteration of sinus something post-noro. All in all, a good time. There’s nothing like having a constantly stuffed, yet runny nose, an inability to eat, and constantly having to run to the restroom. I joked with a friend that I felt like a human petri dish.

Amazingly enough, I’ve been able to continue to battle through some training runs. It hasn’t been pretty–but I’ve made it. Last week, the norovirus made working out pretty impossible for a good 3-4 days, but I powered through a 10 miler on the treadmill on Saturday. Of course, that workout was followed promptly by five hours of sleeping/laying on the couch in exhaustion and trying to figure out what my stomach could muster…

Now tonight my sig other has determined that I have some kind of gallbladder issue…attack of the gallbladder!

I could pack it in and say, enough!, my body is revolting! However, another illness is more pressing…my mom’s. She’s been waging her own private body war the last few months in an extreme amount of pain. They have finally determined what they think is the source of the problem, and she’ll be having a somewhat scary surgery Monday morning. It’s of course, all related to the aneurysm and stroke she had back in 1991. And that’s why I’m running the marathon. So despite illness karma, I’m going to keep getting up at 5:45, I’m going to keep wiping my runny nose on my running gear, and I’m going to keep raising awareness about stroke.

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Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the airport is so delightful.
And since we’ve a place to go, stop the snow, Stop the snow, STOP the snow.

The weekend began with big plans…two months ago a good friend invited me to Solstice, an annual tradition in her family. One of our other friends planned her trip back from Ghana around the much-anticipated December 19th celebration and I encouraged my boyfriend that flying to Denver for our holiday celebration on December 20th so that I could also attend Solstice, would make him a very happy man.

But then all hell broke loose. It began simply enough–it was supposed to snow. Then CNN jumped in with its coverage of the “Storm of the Century.” Then the storm progressed into weathermen and women showing their stuff in gusting winds, picking up snow with their gloved hands shouting into the microphone ‘you can see Anderson, we’ve got major snow drifts…it’s just piling and piling.’

My newly-arrived-to-New York friend from Ghana called Saturday morning to say her train to Hartford was delayed. She asked what I thought the probability of making it to Barkhamsted would be. I was encouraging. Afterall, I have 4-wheel drive–and what better way to use it then driving through snow. Then her train was delayed again. And I started getting nervous watching Boston Channel 7’s ‘Storm force’ coverage. Ten to fifteen inches of snow was anticipated. Buses, trains, flights, all up and down the Eastern Seaboard were cancelled. CNN and the ‘Storm Force’ predicted deadly travel.

We decided to cancel. Travel kick-in-the-butt #1.

I decided to make the most of it, run some errands before the snow hit Boston, and do some last minute Christmas shopping. Apparently everyone in Boston had the same idea. Parking lots were masses of caroling car horns, people flicking holiday cheer through their middle fingers, and bumper nudges of affection. No snow.

When I finally went to bed Saturday night, it still wasn’t snowing.

This morning dawned, and with it, the harsh realities of the ‘Storm of the Century.’ Snow and lots of it. Boston’s Channel 7 ‘Storm Force’ was in full coverage with reporters in every small town of Massachusetts showing just how long they could stand in howling windy snow. Car accidents were reported. Logan cancelled almost all morning flights. The yoga instructor at the gym bailed (I called ahead to confirm class was still on, cleared off my car, drove in, waited 45 min and then gave up).

But our flight was still listed on time. So we packed, and planned, and organized, and laundered ski clothes–all while winds whipped outside and snow drifts accumulated against our front door.

We were ready to go by 2:30PM (our nonstop to Denver was scheduled to leave at 5:15). We checked the flight status again–delayed 45 minutes. We went ahead and called a cab. “How long do you think it’ll be?” I cheerfully asked Metrocab. “About 40 minutes to an hour if they can make it out to you,” replied the booking agent.

Shit. We launched into a mad scramble to look up long term parking fees at Logan, look up other taxis, or find another way to the airport. In the midst of some cussing, and general anxiety, my phone rang. “Your Metrocab taxi has arrived.”

What?! That was 5 minutes!! Another mad scramble, this time in disbelief, to the window. Yes, a cab was outside parked amid the piles of snow. A third mad scramble, bags thrown, shoes slightly untied, jackets grabbed, last minute attempts to jam extra items into bag crevices.

We made it to the cab–with all of our bags–and arrived at Logan about 20 minutes later. Then our flight delay began…and we’re still sitting here.
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So no updates on the wallet. I didn’t have much luck tracking anything down yesterday. Well, really no luck because I was simply too exhausted to try. After waking up every hour on Saturday night envisioning new ways the thieves could steal my identity, or remembering more sentimental items I’d had stored in it, and then spending hours at the bank finagling new financial information I was pretty much a no-go for a video hunting expedition.

However, I have learned ten key pieces of information regarding wallet safety/having your wallet stolen which I thought I would share for the general audience:

  1. Hanging your purse on a chair in a restaurant (even if it’s against the wall), is not (as I had thought), a safe place.
  2. If someone bumps your chair (while your purse is hanging on it), check your belongings. Apparently this is one of the oldest tricks in the book…especially if the person sitting behind you then leaves 5 minutes later without ordering anything.
  3. Even if your bank provides nice little wallet-size carrying cards for your account numbers, it’s still not a good idea to have that actually in your wallet.
  4. When people say don’t put your social security card in your wallet–again even though it’s wallet size–I discovered, that’s sound advice.
  5. If you’re purchasing ice cream when you discover your wallet is stolen, just give the ice cream back to the store. Trying to carry it out, run down the street, call multiple credit card companies, and eat melting ice cream all at the same time is simply not possible. (I had to say goodbye to a beautiful bowl of J.P. Licks black raspberry chip–it was almost sadder than having my wallet stolen. Almost.)
  6. Have copies of your credit card company’s information somewhere other than on your credit cards. Luckily 411 info was able to connect me to the card companies I needed, but going forward, I will definitely keep written copies on hand.
  7. File a fraud alert as soon as you can on one of the three major credit websites (Equifax, Trans Union or Experian). According to my bank, 71% of fraud occurs within the first week of someone having your information. For me, it happened within about 30 minutes. They already racked up about $1,000 by the time I was able to cancel my cards.
  8. Call the cops. Even though wallet theft is not generally something the police can do much about, it’s helpful to have a report of the incident and assists cities in documenting crime rates.
  9. Fellas, be aware of your back pockets. Even though my wallet was in my zipped purse, it was stolen. I don’t think back pockets are all that much safer (and are perhaps arguably less safe).
  10. Keep your stamps at home. I thought I was being pro-active and smart buying bundle upon bundle of ‘Forever‘ stamps before the postage rates went up. Well, forever isn’t that helpful when the storage device they were in disappears forev-a, ev-a, e-va.
  11. And for a little extra, a quick poll:

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Tonight I had my wallet taken directly out of my purse as I was sitting eating dinner with friends. A slightly overweight gentleman and his lady friend sat down at the table behind me. He knocked my chair slightly as he sat down so I turned around to see if he needed more space and offer to adjust my chair if needed–not even realizing that he was at that very moment sticking his hand where it didn’t belong–in my purse.

Among a range of emotions the one that came out most forcefully when I later discovered my wallet was gone: anger. Anger at myself in many ways. I got a great look at the guy who did it and even felt something was going on…but didn’t think about my purse! So I’m embarking on a Nancy Drew like endeavor to track all of this down. Watch out buddy, I’m going to be gumshoeing for you–and your lady friend. That’s right, in addition to filing the mandatory police report, I was on the phone with CVS for an hour tracking down video of you buying things with my credit card. Can’t wait for the other stores to reopen tomorrow so I can track down more video tapes!

I have to say, I thought my karma was on a bit of an upswing, but having all of your personal information stolen (as well as some really meaningful silly stuff like photos) is a major karma kick back. We did have a lovely waiter who helped us and without any prompting said, “Well, at least you know you have a whole lot of good things coming your way soon!” I appreciated his enthusiasm, but I’m not so sure. We’ll see.

More wallet saga to come soon–as well as some helpful tips I’ve discovered about traveling safely with personal belongings.

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