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Maxed Out: I hate flying

'Choose your words carefully'

I hate flying. It’s demeaning, uncomfortable and environmentally suspect. And after flying out of Kamloops, I hate it even more.

In the world of terrorist threats, the Kamloops airport undoubtedly does not rank in the top-tier watch list. I’m certain Orange Alert remain words unspoken there except around Halloween. While there may be any number of sleeper cells in and around Kamloops, I suspect they tend to fall nearer the somnambulant end of the continuum than they do the deranged, mad-bomber end.

Would-be terrorists embarking on their missions of destruction from Kamloops would face several intractable obstacles bound to sorely test their mettle. For starters, you can get anywhere in the world you want to go from Kamloops… as long as that place is Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary or Edmonton. Not knowing any personally, I’m pretty sure real terrorists prefer to avoid connecting flights and intuitively appreciate the underwhelming terror effect of hitting a target in any of those towns. Chances are pretty good the U.S. networks wouldn’t even pick up a story of a terrorist attack on a strip mall in Kelowna except to make fun of yet another Canadian town name.

And actually hijacking a plane out of Kamloops would probably not make much tactical sense, since it seems the only aircraft flying out of there are Dash 8s, Cessnas and waterbombers. Unless they were looking at taking out a really small target—or setting a Guinness World Record for terrorist water-ballooning—Kamloops probably wouldn’t be the departure terminal of choice.

But assuming, for a moment, a sleeper cell in Kamloops was recruited from the bottom of the class at Terror University and decided to go for broke, I’m certain they’d never make it past airport security. I imagine it’s easier to be thoroughly, annoyingly, methodically secure at an airport processing a couple of hundred passengers a day than it is at one several orders of magnitude larger, but I’ve got to hand it to the hard-working security detail at Kamloops—they make getting on a plane even more of an adventure than usual.

Admittedly, the portly gent in line ahead of me fit the profile. I’m not certain which profile, but if I were a cop and couldn’t find any visible minorities to hassle on a slow Friday night, I’d have pulled him over… if for no other reason than to get a really good look at his facial hair.

He was a biker-looking kind of guy and could easily have passed for a travelling midway worker. Six-foot-five, maybe 300 pounds (138 kilojoules), polished pate, metallic orange reflective Oakleys, black leather vest laced up the sides but way too small to meet in the middle of his vast expanse, jeans, cowboy boots. No luggage.

Even without his proudly bald head his beard would have drawn attraction. It started in that netherworld where head hair ends and sideburns begin, swooped down and bifurcated at his chubby cheeks, one stream curving upwards to follow the lines where his cheekbones would have been had he had any cheekbones visible, a second plunging down to highlight his jowls. The two courses of black hair met again just below the terminus of a very handsome, vaguely Fu Manchu-ish mustache where they merged with themselves and joined up with his chin whiskers.

In between the severely trimmed frames of hair was an island of cleanly shaved skin. Apparently not satisfied with simple geometric shapes, the island itself was punctuated with points of hair from above and below nearly meeting in the middle. Very rococo.

But all the side effects were window dressing for the curvaceous Van Dyke celebrating the carneybiker’s multiple chins. Not content with bringing his chin whiskers to an understated point, he had—well, somebody had, I can’t imagine the many hours of maintenance this concoction required—braided his chin hair into three small, almost delicate whips, the centre one being several centimetres longer than its sidekicks, and topped each off with a small, glass bead.

The woman appraising him for potential terrorist threat looked dumbfounded, no small feat for anyone who has exposed themselves to the dumbfounding effect of dealing with the general public for any length of time.

“Remove your belt, please,” she said.

Without a whimper of protest or a word in return, the bikercarney hoisted his belly with one hand and deftly unbuckled and slid his belt through its loops with the other.  It was the kind of belt favoured by rodeo cowboys; thick, stiff, generously-tooled leather with a small serving platter of silver and gold metal for a buckle, itself adorned with a Harley-Davidson logo.

“Thank you,” the security dominatrix said, dismissing the proffered belt after a cursory, visual examination.

I suspect she only asked him to remove it to watch what happened next. The process of rethreading the belt was much more tortured than its removal, made all the more difficult by what I like to imagine was an old knife wound from a gang fight plaguing his right shoulder. Having snaked the belt through the tunnel made by jean loop and cascading belly as far as he could with his left hand, he couldn’t quite reach the end of it with his right hand to continue the journey behind his back and looked, for just a moment, like a small boy wishing his mommy was there to help finish dressing him.

“Move along please,” the Queen of Security said, stifling a snicker. “Next.”

In the world of airport security, here’s a helpful hint. Never, under any circumstances, wear shoes that draw attention to themselves.

New, bright white, shiny sneakers with flashy little inserts that reflect headlights if you’re silly enough to run at night draw attention to themselves.

Securityzilla was eying my new, bright white, shiny Sauconys.

“They’re safe,” I joked, smiling at her.

Second helpful hint—choose your words carefully.

“Remove your shoes,” she said.

It could have been worse. I was smart enough to just shut up and do as she said and pad on through the metal detector in my sockfeet.

The shoes were unarmed and were duly returned to me, along with my camera, tape recorder, iPod and extra batteries. My flask was already empty—nervous flyer syndrome.

It was 5:45 a.m. Pacific daylight-squandering time.

My day of flying ended at 9 p.m. MDT, two security checks later, none so thorough as the one in Kamloops.

I hate flying.