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?”


(If you like this post please SHARE on your favorite social media medium.  That will mean a great deal to the overworked, underpaid staff members in the basement.  It will warm their little hearts.)

Mr. McMulti-Tasker

We have a lot to say.  And now, with social media, we have a way to say it to the world.  What an incredible privilege to live in a time when technology has made that possible.

But just because something is ‘possible’ doesn’t make it admirable….or productive.

I have heard and been involved in conversations when there is almost zero listening happening.  It sounds almost impossible but it’s not.  Here’s one of my favorite examples…ever happened to you?


Burger Man:  Welcome to Burger Prince, home of the Whopper, and the brand new hot and juicy, spicy chicken wing nugget thingamajig.  We appreciate your business and hope you’ll try our creamy, frosty dessert McSomething-or-other. Can I help you?

Ken:  Yes, I’m going to order three burgers and some drinks.  These will NOT be meals, okay?

Burger Man:  Thank you, go ahead…

Ken:  Could I have three McWahoo burgers with cheese and three Choka-Colas, please?

Burger Man:  Will these be meals or just sandwiches?

Ken:  ??? Uh, just sandwiches….???

Burger Man:  Would you like fries with that?

Ken:  No thanks, just the burgers and drinks.

Burger Man:  What kind of a burger did you want?

Ken:  There were three burgers, all McWahoo’s with cheese.

You get the picture.  Now in defense of Burger Man we live in an environment with tremendous distractions.  He is probably multi-tasking like crazy on the other side of the speaker, right?

Sometimes you may feel as though you don’t have time to stop everything and focus all of your attention on listening to just one thing, one subject, one human being.  But the truth is that a lot of time gets wasted when you are not focused on a single task.  Your time is wasted when you have to repeat simple rudimentary tasks over and over and over again….Burger Man.

Now hold on to your hat…I’m about to expose a myth. Ready?

There is no such thing as multi-tasking.

I repeat, there is no such thing as multi-tasking.  What we call multi-tasking is actually doing many things one after the other in quick succession with less focus on whether those things are actually getting done….Burger Man.  These tasks are not happening at the same time.  The human brain cannot be in two conscious places at the same time.  It can handle some unconscious tasks like breathing in the background…but not two conscious tasks.

My wish for the world is less “multi-tasking” (which we all now agree is a myth, right?) and more focused listening.  More absorption and less contribution to the conversation.  It’s counter-intuitive but you will be able to contribute greater substance to a conversation, be more persuasive,  and waste so much less of your precious time….by contributing less and listening and understanding more.

Now, be honest, and tell me how many other things you were doing and or thinking about as you read this short piece.

I’ll bet you thought you were “multi-tasking”….Burger Man.


(Enjoying the content?  SUBSCRIBE today to receive notifications of new postings.  You can also find me on twitter @kencatmull or under Ken Catmull on Facebook.)


Bag Stealin’ Jack-Wagon!

You will not believe this story.

I was in the middle of an exceptionally heavy travel season at work.  I’m talking about being on the road for the better part of the month for several months in a row.  It was rather exhausting.

Then one night I was getting off a flight somewhere in America (not home, I think it was Charlotte) and I reached into the overhead bin for my bag….only to discover that some “jack-wagon” had taken my bag by mistake!

Once I get off the flight I check in with the gate agent to see if anyone had reported grabbing the wrong bag.  No luck.

I run down through the airport like OJ Simpson in one of those old Hertz commercials back before his rather dark turn.  No luck.

I go back to the gate….gate agents gone now.  No luck.

This is all happening at like 11pm at night mind you so the place is clearing out. I eventually make my way down to baggage claim to talk to the lady in “lost luggage”.

For some reason, that lonely room with the lowest ranking airline employee assigned to this horrible job, always reminds me of the Island of misfit toys scene of Rudolf fame.

Anyway, there sits one unclaimed bag from my flight.  So, I explain my situation, and ask about checking that bag for ID or contact information.  The poor queen of the island of misfit toys explains that it is against their policy to go through someone’s luggage checking for…..

…and before she finishes her sentence I am all up inside this passengers shorts and socks digging around for a clue.   I find what I need, and make a few late night calls to friends, colleagues, and family unfortunate enough to be listed on some printed emails in his bag.

No one is sleeping until I get my bag back!

About an hour and a half later I got my bag back from a very apologetic guy who had a job interview in the morning and was panicked about not having HIS bag.  This happened almost 10 years ago and I am still angry at this dude!

And then a week or so ago…

…I was getting off a flight in Atlanta and reached into the overhead bin for my bag….(ten years later and I still keep an eye on all the other passengers and what bag they are grabbing)…very careful to confirm that I grab the black bag (they’re almost all black) with the green ribbon in the spot where I put it.

Black check.  Green check.  Spot check.

I stop into the airport food court for lunch before I grab a cab to the hotel.  My phone rings with a Houston number that I do not recognize.  Another dang spam call.  Man those are annoying.  Reject.

Next thing you know, I get a text.  RETURN TO THE GATE YOU HAVE THE WRONG BAG.  Before that message sinks in I’m thinking…’more spam!’

Well it doesn’t take long before I figure out what has happened….I’m now on the phone with the guy and he could not have been nicer and more patient.  I get back to the gate and swap bags and apologize profusely while relaying to him that this had happened to me some years ago as well and I was still mad about it.

He started naming folks and asking if I knew them.  They were all Acquisition Executives for the company that I work for.   It turns out that he was a Commercial Real Estate Broker that we do business with and was calling them one at a time to track me down.

So there are a couple of life lessons that I took away from this experience.  First, green ribbon is not unique enough FOR ME to overcome the all black bag trend amongst travelers.   Second, if you are going to mistakenly abscond with someone’s bag….make sure to always choose a victim with a financial stake in your success as to avoid any unpleasantries.

Oh….and I have recently found it in my heart to forgive the ‘jack-wagon’ from 10 years earlier.

Imagine that.

Balancing Cheesecake and SW Airlines Jesus

I met a gentleman  of maybe 60 years of age on a Southwest Airlines flight flying home to Houston from somewhere.  He was from Guatemala as I recall.  His English was not so good but good enough for us to talk through most of a two hour flight.  He was a deeply religious man who was returning home to his family from his job working on oil pipelines in remote parts of the Canadian wilderness during the dead of winter.  We talked about his interesting work which entailed wearing cold weather gear akin to a space suit in order to battle the elements.

But more importantly he talked at great length of how important it is in life to maintain balance in all things….work, family, health, etc.

I admiringly refer to him as SW Airlines Jesus whenever I tell his story.

He had quite the spiritual quality about him.

When he asked me if I understood what he was trying to tell me about the importance of balance I shared this story with him.

Once upon a time, many years ago, the Catmull family went through a Cheesecake phase.  You know how it is….you get enamored with a particular recipe or dessert and it becomes your “go to” for a little while.

Well during this phase I became a big fan of the graham cracker crust that normally accompanies a cheesecake. In her quest to make the perfect cheesecake per my exacting (read that ‘ridiculous’) standards…my wife, Kat, increased the depth of the crust in the recipe ever so slightly.

MAN was that good!  I mean not just a little ‘gooder’….but a whole heck of a lot ‘gooder’!  What a great move by the cheesecake chef…

…and so she increased it some more.

And it got rave reviews!  And then some more….and more…and more….until finally we found ourselves with a graham cracker cake with a cream cheese frosting, basically.

It was not….gooder.

It was not good at all because the cream cheese in a cheesecake is not there for the purpose of complimenting the graham cracker crust.  It’s the other way around.
Continue reading “Balancing Cheesecake and SW Airlines Jesus”