Case of the Overly Familiar TSA Agent

The following is a true story. The names have not been changed because everyone is innocent.

I am preparing to walk through the TSA scanner in the Baltimore airport.  The TSA agent waves me through and as I emerge from the other side the alert buzzer sounds and the TSA agent loudly announces “Randomly Selected!”

I am ushered back out and around to a Full Body Scanner.  I am waived into the scanner, put my hands over my head as instructed, and asked if my pockets are empty.  I say yes.

This is a lie.

I am actually packing a fully loaded, highly combustible……wallet.  I have been through this machine many times and never removed my wallet so I didn’t think anything of it.  I step out of the machine and the scanner indicates that I have something on my person near my rear passenger side buttock.

This elevates the situation to a pat down of the suspicious area.  “Would you like a private room or would you like to do this right here?”  I resist the instinct to make a joke about the private room and opt for the public option of the…uh,…we’ll call it a pat down for now.

My wallet is gone through with a fine tooth comb and then the final step is a quick swabbing of my palms for suspicious substances.  Swab, swab…..alert!  I am positive for suspicious substances.  I ask what the swab is testing for and am told “without getting to technical it is testing for anything that could be a danger to the aircraft.”

Makes sense.

I ask him to go ahead and hit me with the technical part.  He says “Honestly, I don’t know.”  We both laugh.  Now I have a friend in this adventure because he has been honest with me.  And it’s a good thing we are now friends because what comes next should never happen between strangers.  I am offered a private room again.  I decline again.  Full body….I can’t say “pat down” because that doesn’t capture it.  It was more like a purposeful grope.

No wait….it wasn’t LIKE a grope.  It was a full throttle, take off your shoes and belt, my hands are in your pants all the way around your waist, and now making firm contact (outside the pants) with ALL parts of your anatomy from ankle to shoulder….grope.

We move on to the bags, of course, and we’re unpacking and swabbing everything.  Now with the bag fully unpacked my new friend turns to me and asks whether I prefer to re-pack it myself or have him do it.  I say “you broke it, you bought it”….and we both get another laugh as he re-packs the suitcase.

Now you may think that the reason I am telling you this story is to complain about the TSA….or to paint myself as a victim….or to illustrate government ineffectiveness, etc.

Naw….I’ll get to all that stuff another day.

Today I want to suggest that sometimes we get so focused and committed to a process or a task that we forget WHY we’re performing it.  If I’m going to make my living putting my rubber gloved hand down peoples pants….I want to know what the purpose is….what EXACTLY I am looking for.  The last place I want to be is in someone’s shorts when I get the question “What are you looking for?”…and not have a good answer.

Now ask yourself this question…

What is the thing that you do routinely in your life, that probably had a purpose at some point but serves little or no purpose now, that takes time but does not add value, that you would have a hard time explaining or justifying if put on the spot?

…and if it involves a rubber glove let’s just keep that to yourself for now.  But anything else I’d love to hear about below in the comment section!

Oh….and if you think your life does not contain an example of non-essential behavior……well,….ALERT!

“Would you like a private room or would you prefer to do this right here?”


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The Argument For Moral Failings

I was recently in Las Vegas, Sin City, the City of Lights,……Glitter Gulch.

I stepped into an elevator with what was clearly a mother with her attractive 20-ish year old daughter.   A few floors up three young 20-ish aged boys stepped into the elevator.  They had been drinking and you could kind of tell that they were relatively new to the drinking life.  One of them, for example, had a beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.  They were a little loud but mostly harmless I suppose.

Up the elevator went and the door opened on the floor that the mother and daughter had selected.  They exited the elevator and, after leering at the daughter, the two-fisted drinker waited until the elevator door started closing, leaned out and said…

“You’re doing a great job raising your daughter, ma’am…(snicker, snicker)….”

As he turned back into the elevator he was confronted with a middle aged father figure (me) staring at him in disbelief.  We had about 15 floors to go and I stared at him for the entire ride while he went back and forth between nervous giggling and contriteness.

He scurrried off the elevator first when their floor arrived followed by his two friends.

The third boy stopped as he exited and turned around.  He looked me right in the eye and said…

“Sir, I apologize for….us.”

Now you can take this story and decry the youth of America, misogyny, the evils of alcohol, or a host of other cultural shortcomings that a trip to Las Vegas will put on full display for you.

But I’m an optimist.  Boy #3 gives me reason for hope.  He didn’t owe me an apology, of course.  But I’m convinced that he recognizes that he and his friends were unnecessarily “unkind” to those ladies and it was wrong.

I hope the incident stays with him for the rest of his days as a moral failing.  Not because I want him to suffer…but because it can serve as a reference point for what is right and what is not going forward.

We all make mistakes.

At 17 I was a very popular kid in a large crowd of kids in the high school band.  One day when a bunch of us were out having fun somewhere there was some horsing around among the boys in the group and I purposely tripped a socially awkward kid that wasn’t really well accepted by the group.  He was a couple years younger than me.  He fell onto some gravel and got scraped up.  I played it off like it was no big deal.

But it was a big deal.

It was a big deal because, particularly at that age, a couple years means a lot.  That kid looked up to me as a leader in our small circle and I betrayed that trust.   I do not remember his name but I will never forget his face.

To this day that moment haunts me as a moment of moral failing.   I have made mistakes since but none that I can remember without making it right or apologizing.

I don’t need anymore nightmares.  That one keeps me honest.

Moral failings.  We all have them.  It’s what you do with them that makes all the difference.


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Every Meeting Needs a Hero

That’s brilliant.  Tell me more.  Uh huh….yes,…I see.  Hmmm….interesting.  Well thank you very, very much. It was a pleasure.  Good day.

I have no idea what that guy was talking about.

Ever been there?  Ever left a meeting or finished listening to a speaker and thought to yourself…I’m totally lost.  Or I’m totally not getting what the heck they are talking about up there.  I’ve been there.  Sometimes I think I LIVE there!

My mother used to say “It is the responsibility of the communicatOR, not the communicatEE, to clearly enunciate the idea.”  Mom was right about that, of course.

So one might leave a meeting like that and think what a waste of time it had been.  One might think that the speaker needs to work on his or her communication skills…..per Mom.  But just exactly what is the responsibility of the communicatEE in a scenario like this?

There is another side to the coin that I think is worth exploring.

If you are an attendee of a meeting in which the leader/speaker is not making any sense or not clearly communicating their idea….I say you have a responsibility, an obligation no less, to ask questions.

Seriously, why wouldn’t you?   I’ll tell you why you wouldn’t:

“I’m probably the only one in the meeting not understanding.”

It is more likely that there are several people not understanding what is being discussed and you are doing everyone in the room a favor by asking clarifying questions.  That will sometimes give others unspoken permission to ask questions as well.  You know that expression…”misery loves company”?  Well so does confusion.  Everyone in the meeting will benefit as a result.  A meeting hero is born.

“The communicatOR will be offended or think less of me if I tell them I don’t understand what they are talking about.”

I actually think that a serious leader who is trying to communicate an idea is less concerned about whether his or her audience understands what he or she is saying the first time around….and more concerned with whether or not the audience understands the idea correctly and thoroughly by the end of the meeting.

You are actually doing them a favor….and a leader worth their salt will recognize and acknowledge that fact.  There is nothing worse than spending time and energy trying to communicate an idea that no one absorbs.

“I am not interested or lack curiosity about the topic.”

Not interested?  Leave the meeting.  Don’t waste your time or theirs with meetings for the sake of meetings.  Not curious?  Stop it.  Be curious.  Don’t miss opportunities to learn.

That’s it.  Any dumb questions?

(Nope….no such thing.)


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The Happy Life – Daydream Time

This will be a familiar scene to most of you. There is a younger person trying to explain the value of the latest technology to an older person who doesn’t quite get it.

In this instance, the older person was my Dad and the technology was the mobile phone.  The younger person (self proclaimed ‘techie’) was any number of his 6 kids over a stretch of time. This was a few years back.

Dad:  Why should I have a cell phone?

Techie Kid: Convenience.

Dad: For example?

Techie Kid: Well, if you got a flat tire you could call for assistance.

Dad: I would just change the tire…..(smile).

Techie Kid: Well, what if you had a medical emergency?

Dad: Hasn’t been a problem in the first 70-80 years of my life….(smile).

Techie Kid:  Well, okay but….(getting annoyed). What if you were traveling and wanted to call me? If you had a cell phone you could!

Dad:  I travel to get away from you guys…..(smile).

Techie Kid: Okay smart aleck. What if I want to call you while you were on the road?

Dad: You mean you could call me anytime you want?

Techie: Yes!

Dad:  Hmmm….some of my best daydreaming time is when I’m driving. I’m a very popular guy…(smile). If you and the rest of the world can call me anytime…when will I get to daydream?

And there it is….”when will I get to daydream?”

Technology is great…and it is a privilege to be living during this time of incredible innovation and advancement. But for every ying there is a yang.  And a big yang these days is the dramatic reduction in the time we all spend daydreaming or just thinking.

I once heard a speaker suggest that everyone should take some time during their day to just stop and “think” for 30 minutes to an hour. Turn off the screens, phones, podcasts, music, etc…..and just think without distraction.

I’ve done this a few times and I need to do it more. What comes out of it for me is usually a more productive day, sometimes a completely reorganized set of priorities, and always a clearer sense of purpose, a more intentional approach to whatever it is I am focusing on at that time.

So stop working, put your feet up, and do some daydreaming for awhile…and if one of those cell phone carrying techies comes by and interrupts you….

…just smile.


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