Traveling with the Accidental Terrorist

Over the past five months, I tried not to dwell on some of the things I’ve really missed during Covid-confinement. Yet, as the weeks passed, I pined for a good browse through the racks at Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. I craved the Saturday night energy of a crowded Cafe Paradiso in Boston’s North End, my go-to for nocciolo gelato and a Nutty Irishman coffee. I mourn the rescheduled Tower of Power and Clannad concerts to which I hold tickets that aren’t happening until 2021. But most of all, I really miss travel and Logan Airport, my gateway to the world and most especially, Ireland.

Almost every year since 2005, I’ve made my way to Ireland at least once, sometimes twice, and, in 2008, three times. Call it an addiction or an obsession, Ireland has become a second home to me, a place where I can escape without needing adventure. A place where I breathe easier. A place that is so familiar that it is “home.”

As the plane touches down at Shannon, the flight attendant announces, “Tá fáilte romhat go hÉirinn,” and I breathe. At Border Control, my highly decorated passport always gets the agent’s attention. “I guess you really like the place,” is one of my favorite remarks. Then it’s around the corner to Baggage Claim and I’m off.

My friend Simon at the rental car desk welcomes me back. “You don’t need a map, you’re a local,” he says, and we both chuckle. I know he’s ribbing me but I love the familiarity.

The first hit of Irish air at six in the morning as I walk out of Arrivals at Shannon reminds me of why I return. I grab a car and exit the airport on my way to Connemara, or Clare, or Kerry in the pre-sunrise duskiness, driving on the “wrong” side of the road like a native. What I wouldn’t give to hop on Aer Lingus right now and disappear into the Irish mist!

Unfortunately, my travel habit has a dark side since not everyone in my party has things go quite as smoothly. Tim and I travel frequently, so last November, we went to Logan to secure “Global Entry,” but not because we hate lines (although we do). No, rather, for some reason, my poor, unsuspecting, nondescript (except for a face that just can’t deny his Irishness) husband at some point has been identified as a terrorist, meaning he is randomly detained at airports in the US and abroad, including Ireland. The tell-tale ‘SSSSSSS’ along the bottom of his tickets is a dead give away. He acts like he doesn’t care, or like the SSSSSS’s aren’t there. I cruelly laugh at him, as he argues with me in denial of the inevitable.

As I pass without issue into the gate area, I pause as Tim is directed to “wait there,” off to the side. Looking back helplessly, armed airport security shoo me away, down the gate, and into the plane while Tim is left behind to be frisked and interrogated in a separate room. In the interim, I befriend the flight attendants who often chat with me since I appear to be traveling alone. When I tell them my sad story of the terrorist husband, I usually get a sympathy bottle or two of wine, or a Cadbury, or some Biscoffs. It’s a bit of a racket on my part while poor Tim suffers humiliation and possible incarceration. 

There are times that he boards the jet moments before take off, only to endure the “Walk of Shame” as he passes the other passengers already belted and nestled in their seats. They all know who he is–he’s the terrorist guy.

In an effort to remove him from the terrorist watch list, we arranged to free him of the embarrassment with Global Entry, anticipating an uneventful, travel-filled future. However, I don’t think anything will change. According to a Homeland Security official whom Tim casually engaged in conversation at a wedding, “Once on the terrorist watch list, always on the terrorist watch list.” 

Now that we are in a travel holding pattern, Ireland, false terrorist identification, Global Entry, and bizarre post-911 airport procedures don’t matter. I think wistfully of the days of TSA x-raying my carry-on gummy bears and confiscating my contact lens solution. There’s nothing like the skeevy feeling of the grit of the airport floor on my bare feet. I even miss seeing the SSSSSS on the bottom of Tim’s ticket, just for the entertainment value, although I doubt he would agree.

I hope to get back to Ireland in the (near) future, but near is subjective. Who knows when it will be truly safe to fly again?  Ireland has made it clear, despite being a “local,” they don’t want me or the rest of us germy Americans, making all the commotion with Homeland Security and TSA mute. Yet, at this point, even Tim, an Irish citizen, would be willing to endure a little humiliation for a hit of Irish air or a real Irish-pulled Guinness. 

In the past five months, I’ve spent enough time at home; now, I wait for the time, hopefully not too far away, when my ‘accidental terrorist’ and I can truly go “home.” As far as getting the SSSSSS’s, it’s a risk we are willing to take to be “local,” once again.

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