Flying With Pirates (and an apology)

For those of you who receive these by e-mail, Barry says he wants to apologize. His add-on code went haywire last week and resent a whole bunch of old posts. I was mortified! I hope this new piece makes up for the unintentional spamming of your e-mail.
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I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport, reminiscing about the good old days. Those were the days before 9/11, when airport security changed forever.

Back then, you could walk someone to the gate and say goodbye, with their very plane visible through the big windows. You could meet people at the gate, too, carrying huge bouquets of flowers and gigantic teddy bears. One year, I put on my leather jacket and chauffeur’s cap and made a large cardboard sign reading “SCHULTE.” My brother didn’t recognize me standing at the gate. Given that he walked right by me, he must not have recognized his own name, either.

They were worried about terrorists back then, but they didn’t know which weapons to be afraid of. Flying home from a Christmas celebration in the early 90’s, Barry and I were just about strip-searched. Grandma had given us a lovely letter opener shaped like a butter knife, and we foolishly left it in our carry-on. They didn’t have envelopes like they do now, so you can nail your sentimental nail clippers home; back then, they just let us carry that scary butter knife on the plane.

They used to put the metal detectors a lot closer to the gates, too, so waiting passengers could enjoy the show. We were sitting near the checkpoint in a Michigan airport once, when everyone started talking and snickering. A biker had walked up to the metal detector. Every square inch of his leather jacket and pants was covered in decorative metal rivets. He sported earrings, a nose ring, chains around his neck and waist, a studded collar, and a studded wristband.

The security fellow sighed, waved him over to the side, and pulled out his wand. It was useless to try to “detect” metal within about ten feet of him, so the screening was silly. Nonetheless, they didn’t subject Mr. Metal to the embarrassing pat-downs used today. A few minutes later, the voluptuous Mrs. Metal appeared, togged out in matching attire, and was given even less of a screening.

My favorite story about travelers with interesting attire was on a redeye flight from Seattle to this very airport, Atlanta. I was traveling alone, on business, and Barry walked me to the gate. We were distracted from our farewell embrace by the arrival of a half-dozen pirates. They wore pantaloons and pirate blouses, bandanas and eye patches. Luckily, since Barry had accompanied me to the gate, I was able to confirm that I was not hallucinating.

The pirates were incredibly loud and boisterous, laughing and joking and slapping each other on the back. Every step jangled and clanked, thanks to the chains and medallions around their necks, plus each one had a huge pewter tankard hanging from his belt. “So much for sleeping on this redeye,” I commented wryly to Barry.

But I was wrong! They were not the youngest pirates, and shortly after settling on the plane, they were all fast asleep. The only noise was a little snoring.

They turned out to be Seattle’s infamous Seafair Pirates, headed to a pirate rendezvous in the Caribbean. A bunch of pirates were getting together from all over the world, and these guys wanted to be well-rested for the nonstop partying ahead.

When we got off the plane in Atlanta, it was about 5 am. The pirates and I were all a bit wilted as we started walking down the empty concourse. Just before we parted ways, I pulled out my camera. “Just one picture,” I pleaded, “or nobody will ever believe this.” They insisted on putting me in the middle of the photo, and we found a sleepy passenger to snap the photo.

Ever since that experience, I have always wanted to dress up as a pirate and jump on a jumbo jet. Sadly, I think I would have to pack my costume in checked baggage. I’m not sure what the security folks would do to a lady in an eye patch with a pewter tankard hanging from her belt, and I’m not sure I want to find out.

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