Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Travel Tale of Two Cities

Turn this plane around or I'll shoot a hat trick on your instrument panel!So dart league is over for the year, and once again I closed the season without that elusive "ton-fifty-ONE." No six-dart-out for me for the second straight year. Maybe I'm getting old. I used to notch one or two a season.

That's not really the direction in which this post is going, however. I got to thinking this week about my favorite dart story, seeing as how I didn't have to go out and actually shoot any, or drink any beer, or eat any chicken wings. (oh, how I miss dart night.)

My favorite dart story doesn't involve hat tricks or triples or perfect games. It involves two airports. Last April I went to New York City to visit a friend, and had strict orders to bring my darts, thinking that during our long weekend we might go in search of a Manhattan bar with a dartboard, on which I could show off my finely tuned skill in how not to shoot a perfect game.

We filled our weekend with many touristy-type activities and never gave darts a second thought. Turns out there's a lot of stuff to see in New York City. Who knew?

The tale begins at the security checkpoint at Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. Not wanting to hassle with checking luggage, I had a backpack and a big duffel with me as carry-ons. My duffel went through the X-ray machine, and a woman watching the screen stopped it to take a closer look, and called another security person over. She pointed to something on the screen, and he nodded and whispered, and then he pointed to something also, and I heard the woman say, "Oh, those are just darts."

So apparently the darts were fine. I had forgotten that I had a scissors in my shaving kit, though, and that's what caught her eye. She told me she had to open it up and check it, and got nothing but cooperation from me. Once she found the scissors, she measured its length and found it to be within the acceptable limit. And she never even thought twice about checking out my darts. So my shaving kit, my scissors, my darts and I all got on the plane together.

Fast-forward through the four-day weekend, to me standing in the security line at LaGuardia Airport, shoes and belt off, pockets emptied, duffel going through the X-ray machine. The scissors had been deposited in the wastebasket of my hotel room before I checked out. I had no interest in giving the aiport people a reason to go shuffling through my duffel.

Deja vu: the woman standing at the X-ray screen stops it to stare a bit, and motions for another security person to come take a look. They both stare, confused, and the woman asks, "Sir, what are these?" She points at the screen as I see my darts among all the other non-terrorist items I have packed in my bag.

"They're darts," I answer.

"...what?" is her reply.

(I begin to think that we may not have found a bar with a dartboard if we had decided to go bar-hopping.)

"Darts," I repeat. "English darts."

"I'm going to have to take these out and see them," she says with authority.

"That's fine," I say, as I watch her take out the dart case and open it...upside down...sending a spare dart tip or two scattering to the floor.

After a bit of examination and discussion, and an inspection by their immediate supervisor as well, I'm told that I can't take my darts on the plane, and that I'll have to either put them in a bag to be checked, or else go to the post office located within the airport and mail them to myself.

I ask both the man and the woman if I can throw everything else away and keep only the barrels of the darts, because those are what cost the most money. The flights, shafts and tips can all be replaced for a total of five bucks. I was willing to disassemble them and leave the pointy tips behind.

Once again, they go over to discuss it with their supervisor, and come back with a big fat, "No." At this point I'm considering just surrendering the darts and getting on the plane, and buying a new set when I get home. But...see those little ridges and curves on the gray barrel of the dart in the photo above? Those are called knurls, and my fingers know those knurls sooooo well, and they like them very much. Those knurls and my fingers have combined to throw more triples and bullseyes than I can even begin to count, and being more than a few years old, I wasn't sure if I'd find a set exactly like that one.

So the kind people at the security station led me to the line to check my bag, and once my bag was safely on the right flight (I hoped), I went back through the security checkpoint...sans weapons.

It was shortly after I got through security for the second time that I realized I'd left my camera in one of the end pockets of my duffel when I checked it. Wonderful. Crush a $400 camera to save a $50 set of darts.

The story has a happy ending. Everything made it back to Wisconsin in one piece. Well...except the scissors. They got to live out their existence rusting away in a landfill somewhere in Midtown Manhattan. (note: there's no roooom for a landfill in Midtown Manhattan.)

Next time I travel with my darts, I'll separate them into as many pieces and corners of my luggage as I'm able.

And before I get any hate mail from people who read the wrong tone into the words of this post...I may poke a bit of fun, but I have absolutely no problem with the very minor inconvenience I was caused at the airport in NYC. The people there were just doing their jobs, and doing them well. The fun part of the story comes in comparing the "oh, those are just darts" attitude in Milwaukee to not even being able to bring the barrels back with me from LaGuardia without checking them.

Lesson learned.

"Our only security is our ability to change."
—John Lilly

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