Airport travel level: Almost Professional

I’ve been meaning to write this for ages now.  And by ages, I mean like a week.

Oops.

But I’m doing it now.  So there’s that.

When I lived in the dorms, whenever I went home, I would take my violin with me.  I love the thing, and I don’t even want to chance it getting hurt while I am not around.  I’d much rather travel through an airport with it.

Yeah, that makes sense.  Heh.

But it does!!  I really do love my instrument.  It has taught me a lot and we’ve been through a lot together.  We’ve grown together.  When I lived on campus, I really just didn’t want it sitting in my dorm room by itself because it was vulnerable.  So, whenever I went home, I would take it with me.

I now live off campus.  I’ve left it home a couple of times when travelling home.  And I was going to when I went home this past week.  I really was.  Then my mom let me know that I was to play with the church choir.  Drat.  Can’t say that I will and then not take my instrument.  So when I arrived at the airport, I had my backpack, my suitcase, and my violin.

If college has taught me one thing, it is how to be a master airport navigator.  I’m a pro.  You know they have three lines (or they used to…?) at TSA: The New Flier, The Casual Traveler, and the Business Professional (or whatever they were)?  Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m kinda the upper levels of the Casual Traveler.  I could even be in the beginning stages of Professional.

Travelling with my violin is no problem at all anymore.  I used to worry about it not getting on the plane.  Or leaving it somewhere.  Or not being allowed to take it on the plane.  Or whatever.  I used to be nervous, but now I’m not.

Another thing my instrument has taught me is that TSA agents are some of the nicest people you will meet at the airport.  I know that seems counter intuitive, but hear me out.  Yes, no one really likes them.  Yes, they are grumpy sometimes.  But, also, yes, they do care about our safety.  But, they are humans, too.  I only have to be in the airport, a very stressful, cramped, stale place, for a couple hours.  They choose to be there all day long, everyday.  And they are usually very chipper.

Case in point: I got to the airport super early because it had snowed and I knew the lines would be long and I didn’t want to deal with that.  (I think we’ve discussed this.)  On my way to the airport, I found myself on the freeway, between two FedEx trucks.  It was snowy, they were trucks.  I had to go as fast as they were going or it was not going to end well for me.  I made it alright though.  Anyway.  I was standing in line to go through security, and there was a TSA agent greeting everyone and reminding us about no liquids and to take our shoes off. Etc., etc.  I was in the last little bit of the line.  When he got to me, he didn’t really have to repeat his message anymore.  He just stood by me.  Then he looked at me and said, “Were the roads okay on your way here today?”

I, being honest, said, “Nah, they weren’t too bad.  Well.  I got stuck between two FedEx trucks (he gasped appropriately), so I was a little scared, but the roads weren’t too bad.”

He replied with, “Oh, I’m glad you are ok.  Yeah, the roads were pretty bad when I came in this morning at 330, so I was worried they would get worse.  So that’s good that they weren’t too bad.  Well, have a nice flight and Merry Christmas.”  I told him to enjoy his Christmas as well and moved along.  But he was so kind on a day I was anticipating to be so stressful.  I appreciated that.

Then I got to the scanner thingy.  I started pulling off my boots and my belt.  I put my stuff in one bin and my laptop in another.  I placed my violin on the belt and pushed it towards the x-ray scanner.  (Basically, I have a stuff entourage when I go anywhere.)  Then I got in line to go through the scanner.  I got through just fine and then prepared myself for the Great Regathering of my things.  However, as my violin went through the x-ray, the agent said, quite excitedly I might add, “Oh! How long have you been playing?”

I looked at her, a little confused.  Then I realized to what she was referring.  “Eleven years,” I replied.

“Wow, that’s great!  My daughter used to play.”  She seemed genuinely amazed that I had stuck with it for so long.

“Really?  That’s cool.”  Then we parted ways.  Well, I did.  She remained on her stool, analyzing what people were taking on vacation.

SIDENOTE:  It would probably shock you how often I get that reaction: “My son/daughter/mother/grandmother/husband/granddaughter/me/kid down the street/person I used to babysit/basically anyone who I know used to play.”  It is usually followed by, “I wish they still did.”  People are genuine when they share their amazement in meeting a violinist.  I have never understood why.  We aren’t that rare.  The good ones are, but we as a whole are not.  I suppose they just wish they could stick with something as long as I have with my violin?  Or they regret not picking up an instrument?  I’m not sure.  All I know is that for as shocked people are that I have played for 11 years, I am equally as shocked (and maybe a teeny bit bored) with their my so-and-so used to play statement.  I guess I have had my violin so long that I don’t really know anything different.  To me, it is commonplace.  I guess to others, it isn’t.  I don’t know.  All my life, people have played instruments.  My mom plays the piano (she’s way better than me because she can practice a piece and make it sound good.  she has the coordination to have two hands beat different notes and durations.  I can’t do that.  I always get too frustrated and have to walk away.).  My sisters have the flute and the clarinet (for a bit).  My brother has perfect pitch (darn him) and plays the trombone.  I guess I just don’t know what it’s like to not have musical talent.  But anyway.  I way way way digress.  END SIDENOTE.

On my way back, the TSA agent in Billings did something I thought was comical, but very very kind.  As my violin passed out of the x-ray chamber, she snatched it off the belt and placed it on top of the scanner.  She looked at me as I was commencing the Great Regathering, and said, “Is that yours?  I didn’t want it to get hurt.  It’s free to go.”  Then she giggled at her own joke, which I thought was funny.

Her gesture was extremely kind, even though it was probably not necessary.  My case is relatively sturdy.  It can probably protect my instrument against the trip down the TSA slide all carry-on baggage must take.  But I was still very grateful to her for thinking of me.  It was a small thing, but it was not something that went unnoticed.  Thank you, Billings TSA agent.

Now these stories are all fine and dandy, but I’ll let you in on a secret.  This is not the first time TSA agents have done these very things for me.  Once, I can’t remember where (either Salt Lake or Billings), I watched a TSA agent dive onto the belt to rescue my violin from its trip down the slide.  It was a dive.  As I exited the scanner, he looked at me with real concern in his eyes and said with concern, “Is this yours?  I just didn’t want it to get crushed!”

Another agent, at a different time, took my violin off the belt and placed it on top of the scanner (different from the above mentioned instance).

Other agents haven’t dove onto the belt or whisked it to safety, they have simply told each other to be careful around my instrument.

When TSA agents see me trudging through the airport with my violin slung on one shoulder and my backpack strapped to my back, their eyes light up.  They are excited to see a violin and to ask me about it.  I always answer any questions they have (it’s always just about how long I’ve been playing, but if they had any other questions, I’d answer them!).  I don’t know exactly why they are so excited to see me, but I guess if I had to tell why, it would be because Classical music, more than any other music, brings people together.  It is something all people enjoy.  Something that everyone can understand.  There are no lyrics, no language.  No prior knowledge is needed to enjoy it (well, there is, but that’s beside the point.).  Maybe TSA agents are just excited to see something different.  Something to break the norm among the books, the iPads, the Kindles, the laptops, the wallets, the shoes.  A violin isn’t something you see in an airport everyday.  If I had to guess, I’d say they were excited to see my violin because it is something new.

Then there are the people who are just plain annoying about my violin.  Flight attendants, I’m looking at you.  A couple of flight attendants have given me straight up stink eyes when they have seen my case poking its head around my shoulder.  One or two have asked me if I wanted to gate check it.  That suggestion warranted a very stern and panicked NO! followed by a laugh to show that I wasn’t annoyed (simply because I didn’t want to come across as rude).  My most recent flight attendant asked me, as I was exiting the plane, if my violin was, “one of those ukulele things?”  Then she laughed, very annoyingly, at her own joke.

No. It’s not. Goodbye.

Now, that seems rude.  I did tell her that, “No, it’s a violin.”  Then I courtesy laughed at her joke and left the plane.

So, let’s recap.

  • Flight attendants are kinda annoying. (We all knew this before.)
  • TSA agents are usually quite kind.
  • My violin is not a ukulele.
  • Violinists are also usually quite kind.  Have a question about how the violin works?  Ask us!  We’ll let you know the answer!  Or we’ll make something up!
  • Warning, cheesy statement coming Classical music is one of the few things that unites people.
  • You still can’t take more than 3 fl.oz. of a liquid on board an aircraft, so don’t even try.

And one more thing, thank you TSA agents.  For not only keeping me safe, but also my instrument.  We both appreciate it.

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