Monday, June 28, 2010


Quite unexpectedly, the security people in Los Angeles were far kinder than in Frankfurt. I learned this through a tale of cultural differences during my flight.
At LAX, I got some Mexican food for lunch. I enjoyed it with no small amount of whimsy, even though I have enough Mexican food in my luggage to quite literally feed me for 2 weeks, and will be in Cali again in 2 months. I talked them into giving me a salsa container, then filled it with really good roasted tomatillo salsa and tried my luck at security. It was not what I expected at all.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m trying to take this delicious salsa to Graz. But, this container looks like more than 100 ml. Can you tell me how much I can take?”
“You cannot take liquids on board, sir.”
I repeated exactly what I just said, verbatim.
“OK, sir.”
“Can you please tell me how much I can take?”
“100 milliliters, sir.”
“Right. So, of this container, how much can I take?”
This went on for a couple minutes until I worked out that they actually had no way at all to measure out 100 mL. This seems pretty basic, since it is a fundamental unit of measurement in a modern airport security line. I tried to bribe her with two Mozartkügeln, no luck. Then a female supervisor came over with a totally unexpected announcement.
“Sir? If you like, we can test it for you.”
“Go ahead. It’s pretty good.” I drank a little to demonstrate.
“No, sir." She smiled a little. Promising. "That's not what I mean. We can test it for you. To make sure it is safe.”
“And then I can take it through security?”
“Yes, sir.”
Huh. I had no idea that was an option. It worked. They took my salsa, tested it with a little wand that presumably said “no nasty nitrates,” and then they let me through with at least a half pint of salsa. After confirming with the security people, and bribing the cute supervisor with my last remaining Mozartkügeln, I went back and purschased lots more salsa, which they tested, and approved. This struck me as a totally novel paradigm in airline security. I was so inspired that I hit on the TSA security supervisor there, but got denied. Some things never change.
I mentioned many times that Frankfurt is a good airport, and I never had any problems there. No longer true. I disembarked and the line through customs and passport control was fairly bad, though not exceptionally so. I went to terminal B and they no longer have free tea and coffee there, though they still have newspapers for free. Worst of all, they renovated their bathrooms and they got rid of the little flies!!! Every time I go through here, or Munich, the high point of my trip is going after those little flies that the Germans paint in to the urinals. I blogged about it repeatedly. I was sure that the fly population had probably reproduced since I last said hello during my trip out to California, and I might have to visit a few different urinals just to keep them down. But no, the “new and improved” urinals just have regular white porcelain. Boo! I should write a letter to the airport people, or better yet, the local fly king. They have to have some leader, perhaps called the Lord of the Flies or Frankfurt FührerFliege or something. Maybe I could even taunt him into bringing his posse out to San Diego, where they can try their luck taking over the urinals in my home town.
But then I hit security, which predictably followed cultural differences. To my great annoyance, I had to go through security again, which was also a problem in LA. I boarded in San Diego, went through security, connected in LA, had to go through security again, then connected in Frankfurt, and had to go through security again. Even Stapleton airport, amidst a famously delayed and thoroughly corrupt construction effort, manages to stick some long underground tunnels (or shuttles) so people, especially international travelers, don’t have to go through security every time.
Anyway. There was no line at security, so I figured I would have some flexibility cajoling them. First, of course, they did discover my roasted tomatillo salsa. The Frankfurters were, well, frank, as well as attentive and thoroughly inflexible. “Sir, what is this?”
“This is Mexican salsa.”
“Where did you get it?”
“At a Mexican restaurant at LAX. It then cleared security and-“
“You took this through a security checkpoint?”
“Yes. They said they could test it to confirm it is safe. They did. Then, they said the salsa was OK to take onboard. So, it is definitely clear.”
“It is clear in America. Not here.”
“I am sorry, sir.”
“I will give you some very nice Austrian chocolate.”
“We are not allowed to take anything, sir.”
“Can I take 100 mL of this salsa?”
“Can I buy a 100 mL bottle at the store, pour out the contents, fill it with salsa, and discard the rest?”
"You can have the rest of it." Bad move. Probably less appealing than Mozartkügeln. Sure enough:
"We are not allowed to take anything, sir."
“Do I have any other options? Can I put it in my checked luggage?”
The resulting procedure was clearly beyond the available time, so I asked if I had any other options. “You can drink it now,” he replied helpfully.
“This is Mexicanisch salsa. Sehr scharf. Is there water nearby?”
“Yes.” I noticed four other people were now watching, clearly amused.
“Have you ever had Mexican salsa?”
“Have some.”
“I am sorry, sir, I cannot drink it. It is not allowed.”
“Do you have any tortilla chips, or maybe a burrito or quesadilla to go with it?”
I really wanted the salsa. Or at least that salsa flavor. One last taste of roasted tomatillo to keep me going. And 2 of the now-five people watching me were female.
”OK. Just to entertain you, I will drink it.”
So I did. Managed to keep a straight face, and smile. Six people applauded. I bowed and tried not to puke, retch, or wince. As I mentioned, it was a really slow day at that checkpoint.

I asked one of them for her contact info, telling her I would be back through Frankfurt soon. “I am sorry, sir.” Some things never change.

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