You’ll Have To Come With Me

“You’ll have to come with me,” he said.

He looked at me with a mixture of suspicion and threat. His eyes were narrowed and his pupils had shrunken to menacing pinpricks surrounded by gray. His stiff blue suit, emblazoned with official insignia and the telltale wire hanging from his earlobe gave him authority. But his short-cropped hair, steely gaze, and thick Israeli accent gave him power. He had not said “Will you please come with me” or even “Come this way, sir.” He had said “You’ll have to come with me” as if some unseen force would compel me if I resisted. It might, I thought.

Almost two years ago I started traveling for business. Determined to avoid stress I made it a habit to get to airports at least two hours early. My flight from San Francisco to Toronto was no different. With my clearly marked “Delta” ticket in hand, I waited in the line identified as “Delta International.” Fifteen minutes later, a smiling counterperson informed me that I was in the wrong line, and I needed to go wait ‘over there’ in a line marked “Delta Domestic.” She pointed across the terminal to a slightly longer line.

“Domestic?” I said, “Isn’t Toronto international?”

She smiled. “Yes, perhaps the sign ought to say Domestic and International. You should let them know.”

I wheeled my bag to the new, possibly misnamed line. I checked my watch. Plenty of time, I reassured myself.

This new line took about 30 minutes to resolve itself. The woman behind the counter smiled, took my ID, and typed my name into her terminal. She looked puzzled. And typed some more.  “Plenty of time”, I thought, “Plenty of time.”

She looked at the ticket again and brightened.  “Oh! I see. You’re going to Toronto!” She spoke as if she were giving me important information. “You’re flying El-Al airways.” She held out the ticket to me pointing at a stream of characters in the lower right hand corner. “See? It say so right here. El Al Air”

I wanted to argue and say something like “Yes, but see here… it says Delta all over the ticket!” but I knew it would do no good. Instead, I said “Where’s the El Al counter?”

“Not far,” she said. But this was LAX, an airport choked by traffic with terminals spread over a mile of roadway. Everything was far. “Just go outside and follow the roadway around the circle until you get to the Bradley International Terminal.”

I looked outside, thinking to ask about a cab or a bus, but the traffic was one-way, going in the opposite direction she was pointing and any transportation would have to travel around the entire constipated airport. Instead of arguing, complaining, blaming, or otherwise venting my frustration, I just grabbed my bag and began a determined dash out the door and around the oval. Suddenly, I realized, I don’t have much time.

The International terminal is the largest in LAX. I ran, dragging my wobbling roller-bag like a misbehaving dog on a leash. It took 15 minutes to get there and 10 minutes to find the El Al counter. I still had over 45 minutes before my plane left when I set my ticket down at the counter. I was sweating and out of breath. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears. I started to explain about the Delta mix-up but the man at the counter wasn’t listening.

“You can still make the flight,” he said, “but you’ll need an escort through security. He picked up the phone while typing at the computer. He pointed to my left and I turned to see my security representative striding forcefully toward me.

“Passport, please” as if it was his way of saying “Hello.”

According to the instructions on the Delta website when I purchased the ticket, a driver’s license was all that was needed to enter Canada from the US. But I had decided to err on the side of caution and asked that my Passport be fed-x’ed to me, Saturday delivery, from home the day before. Good thing, too. The flight I was on was destined for Tel-Aviv, with only a stopover in Toronto and my passport was demanded at almost every step.

“Where are you traveling? Where are you coming from? How did you get to the airport? When did you pack your bags? Did you mail anything to yourself at your destination?” He fired questions at me and with each answer I felt he believed me less and less.

Then, the ominous, “You’ll have to come with me.”

Was this some sort of game intended to make a potential terrorist turn and run? Had I answered a key question incorrectly and set off a mental alarm? It didn’t matter. Like he said, I had to go with him.

The guard took me into a small room that was packed with people, bags, and a huge x-ray machine. There were about half-dozen guards shepherding thirty or forty people through the security process. Very few of them were speaking English. Everyone had their carry-on bags with them. One woman was sitting amongst three large suitcases. The security guard pointed at her.

“You!” he said to the woman. “Why do you have all your bags!” It wasn’t spoken like a question.

The woman looked like she had been slapped. “They… they…they told me to wait here.” She stammered.

“Come with me. Leave the bags,” he ordered. He pointed at another security guard who had a wire hanging form his ear but with less of an insignia. “Josef, bring her bags.” The woman took a look at her bags as it might be the last time she would see them and left the room.

I watched as the guards came for the people around me and walked them through a heavy metal door. Their bags went into the x-ray machine, the other end of which was nowhere in sight. When my turn came the guard pointed to a paper bag I had in my hand.

“What’s in there?” He asked, not impolitely but with an accent that suggested that he didn’t speak much English.

“My lunch,” I said. WHERE AM I? I thought.

I preferred that my lunch not go through the x-ray machine. It may be silly, but I have a ‘thing’ about knowingly exposing my food to high levels of radiation. I told him so. He smiled… or was it a chuckle? “Give it here,” he held out his hand, still chuckling. “I will heat up your lunch for you… free.” He put it in the X-ray machine. I never saw it again.

. My bag was manually searched twice by El-Al security people and once by TSA security. I was frisked twice and a total of seven people examined my passport picture. Finally, I was escorted to my seat only moments before the airplane door was closed. Oddly, they served lunch with a metal spoon, fork, and knife.

I guess the Israeli’s know how to do security. Is this what we’re heading for?