NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Fear Of (Not) Flying

I’ve always been jumpy about airplanes. I don’t like being herded into the chute and bumped around by invisible forces, and my seat always seems to fall between people with oversized elbows. But now, I’ve found something even worse to worry about: Fear of not flying.

Picture this scene. It’s 5:45 on a pitch-black December morn, and Fargo’s Hector Airport is packed with people hoping to fly away by dawn. Shepherding cranky kids and spouses, jostling surly coffee-starved strangers and dragging carry-ons the size of Doberman kennels, we queue up to strip off our jackets, our shoes, our belts, our wallets, our phones, our laptops, the change in our pockets and pretty much everything else that flaps or jingles.

Boarding pass in hand, we fish out IDs to pass the first TSA checkpoint. Russ and the rest of our party move forward without a hitch. Then, the nice young agent in the crisp uniform looks at mine … glances up at me … and says, “Would you step aside, ma’am?”

Hmmm. Have I been profiled? Has a travel alert been issued for Minnesota grandmothers-to-be with smart mouths? I step aside as he studies my driver’s license.

“Do you still drive, ma’am?” he asks. He apparently suspects the kids have already pried my cold, crabby fingers off the steering wheel of an elderly Buick.

“Why, yes,” I answer ever so politely, “I do. Thanks for asking.”

“Mmm hmmm,” he responds, and then: “Do you know your license has expired?”

I mumble a reasonable excuse ― this was three weeks before my birthday, after all. Then he cuts me off: “In 2013?”

Yes, my driver’s license had expired in December 2013. My first clue was his stern expression. I noticed, too, that he was armed.

So what do you say next? There is clearly a down side to no longer suffering the indignity of being regularly carded ― not for something like 40 years, if truth be told. Apparently, I have missed the license renewal notice but carried on, blithely unaware that I am a ticking time bomb of vehicular malfeasance.

My interrogator smiles. While pointing out that my antique license is inadequate for the TSA-approved ID I need to board my flight, he does concede, “At least we can tell you’re a law-abiding driver.”

It is bad, but not quite insurmountable. I won’t be denied boarding privileges on the first leg of our long-anticipated New York weekend just as long as other security measures clear me of suspicion. Since I haven’t thought to bring my passport ― heck, has that expired, too? ― the very polite TSA agent calls in several females in uniform to help determine whether I represent a clear and present danger.

Hands up! I step into the full-body scanner. The view must leave at least a little to the imagination because one of the women must pat me down from head to foot. My agent, to whom I’m growing quite close, confides that the shiny embellishment on my no-longer-favorite shirt has triggered a few issues. “Next time, try a plain T-shirt,” he kindly admonishes.

My shoes are swiped with a pad designed to pick up explosives. So is my emptied carry-on. I am vaguely nervous about the circular knitting needles and yarn I’d brought to take my mind off being suspended far above the earth, but they pass without comment ― even though, when you think about it, those two metal spikes connected by a lengthy cord would make a tidy garrote …

No, Nancy, don’t say that! I choke back the comment just in time. A long, long time ago, I was almost barred from another early-a.m. flight from Bismarck because of an ill-timed smart remark. I’ve already learned my lesson. No need to see another incident added to my FBI file.

My uniformed friends and I are by now entertaining three whole planeloads’ worth of rubberneckers clogging the waiting area. At last, the mannerly TSA crew decides not to nominate me for the “do not fly” list, and we’re all herded down the chute with no further ado.

Still rattled, I elbow my way into my (middle) seat ― too distracted by the encounter to meditate as usual on air disasters, but instead consumed by the one thing on my mind: If this is the kind of alert my expired driver’s license touches off in Fargo, how on Earth will I be able to fly out of hyper-secure New York City? I spend the rest of the flight idly trying to spot the undercover air marshal who has undoubtedly been assigned to keep an eye on me.

Our all-too-brief sojourn seems to speed by in a ― forgive me ― New York minute. All too soon, we find ourselves on the bus back to LaGuardia. While fellow travelers compare their selfies and souvenirs, my mood sinks lower than the Lincoln Tunnel. Will that stupid driver’s license deny me my return flight to home-sweet-home?

Our travel agent, who is shepherding the group, sticks close to me as we approach the phalanx of tough, eagle-eyed New Yorkers employed by the TSA to weed out miscreants. I paste my special harmless-nice-old-Norwegian-lady expression on my face and steel myself for a grilling.

I hand over my worthless expired Minnesota license … hold my breath … and then feel the tension melt away. The brisk, businesslike agent gives it a cursory glance, hands it back, and tells me, “Have a nice trip.”

The day after our return, my prudent husband ― taking no chances ― drives me to the Department of Motor Vehicles. To no one’s surprise, I must be retested.

Parked among the trembling fresh-faced teens and immigrants newly arrived from tropical lands, I work my way through 89 questions. And I pass, though my score isn’t quite as perfect as you might expect from someone with that pristine driving record.

I ask you: Do you know offhand the exact number of feet you must stop behind a school bus unloading children? Are you confident about the residential speed limit on streets where nothing is posted ― 20 mph, 25 mph, 30 mph, 35 mph? Here’s a tip: Do brush up before your next driver’s test. Better yet, don’t let your license expire in the first place.

Finally I reach the dreaded climax of the exercise ― taking the photo I’ll have to endure for the next three years. I have only one desperate plea for the nice woman with the camera: “Please, please, don’t make me look like a grinning monkey.”

She smiles with great assurance and, fiddling with her gear, says, “Oh, I don’t think we need to worry about that.”

Then she clicks, looks at the pic, frowns and murmurs, “OK, we’d better try that one more time ….”

My new license should show up any day now. So what have I learned this time? Not a lot, really, except for this: If no bartender has felt the need to card you for many decades, check your own license before you attempt to fly. It’s 2016 — do you know whether your driving privileges have gone extinct?

And one more thing: Be you ever so humble, it’s a lot less trouble to just stay home.

2 thoughts on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Fear Of (Not) Flying”

  • Barbara La Valleur January 6, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Brilliant! Wait…just a minute while I check my driver’s license.

  • Helen Murphy January 6, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    My license expired once several years ago because I thought it was good through the end of my birth month and not my birthday. Fortunately I was stopped for a bad taillight and the officer informed me my license had expired and just gave me a warning. It seems like it would be good if you got another renewal notice if the first was misplaced or lost in the mail but I bet you do not. Think I will go check my license.


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