Note: I’m posting this on a Saturday to give myself a head start on evading questioning.
Shortly after we moved to rural Benton County, the local newspaper printed a series of articles about disaster preparedness. The premise of the article was that if there was a disaster in your area and you had to leave your house for a week, could you grab everything you need in less than ten minutes? Then there would be a short list of items you should be able to access quickly. Each week, the article would focus on different things. I would read the article and comment to Gene, “I could teach these people about being prepared. We could survive a zombie apocalypse with what I have in the pantry. And as for those items you need to grab quickly, they are already on a shelf in the storm shelter along with a backpack to put them in.”
The weeks passed and the list of “essential items” grew and I had visions of the size of backpack you would need to put these items in. At some point, I thought it would be amusing to write a blog post about the topic and it is possible that I may have poked fun at the contents of the article. (My attorney friend says it is important to keep plausible deniability in this post – well actually, she said don’t do it.)
The following day, I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down at my computer to check email. I notice an email from someone I didn’t know with the subject line: Your blog post. “Oh good,” I think, “I have a blog reader!” I open the email and promptly spew my coffee all over my computer screen. The email reads: Good morning Kathy. My name is XXXXX XXXXXX, and I’m the Iowa Director of Homeland Security. I recently read your comments about my articles and would like to talk with you about them if you have time. You may call me at —–.
I jumped up screaming, “Oh no! Oh no! This can’t be real!” I’m in total freak out mode and I’m pretty sure Gene is going to kill me when he finds out. Since my best friend is an attorney in Des Moines, I grab the phone and call her and she dies laughing. I’m equally horrified and laughing hysterically because this is just the type of thing my humor gets me into now and then, and she well knows it.
“Do you think it is a prank?” I ask her. She promptly Googles the person’s name and says, “Unfortunately, that is the name of the Iowa Director of Homeland Security and that is his phone number.” We can’t stop laughing as I ask how in the world he found me. (I guess if you work for Homeland Security, it wouldn’t be that hard.) When I asked her what I should do, she replied, “You don’t want to have to always get that “special” screening when you fly, so I suggest you stay off the internet for a while.” We hung up the phone, both laughing. But I was pulling the shades and calculating how long it would take Homeland Security to get to my house if I was in real trouble.
Long story short, I did eventually (a week later – after I quit being paranoid) email the man back and we had several discussions on what I kept on the shelf in my storm shelter and just how stocked my pantry was. Gene thought the incident was hilarious. Shortly after that, Gene and I noticed that I was getting “random” screenings when traveling more often than other passengers. Gene said, “That’s what you get for poking fun at Homeland Security.”
Since Gene and I were planning to spend his retirement traveling, we decided to apply for TSA Pre-Check. The government website stated it could be done in three easy steps:
1. Apply Online
Submit an online application in 5 minutes & schedule an appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers.
2. Background Check
A 10 minute, in person appointment that includes a background check and fingerprinting.
3. Enjoy TSA Pre✓®
Add your Known Traveler Number to your ticket and enjoy!
Step one was easy and we promptly scheduled our appointment in Cedar Rapids. Prior to going to Step two, Gene reminded me that Homeland Security doesn’t have a sense of humor and that they could probably make our travel life miserable, so check my humor at the door. “Fine,” I say, “I will behave.” I will state for the record that Gene was correct in that this woman had NO sense of humor!
The “in person interview” includes providing the right documents, answering a few questions, and getting finger printed. I managed the first two, but when it was time for finger printing, we hit a snag. After I cleaned my hands with the wet wipe she handed me, the woman placed my fingers on the scanner and cautioned me not to move until she told me to. Several times she repeated, “Don’t move.” I wasn’t moving, I swear. She grabbed my hand and looked at my fingers and said, “You don’t have any finger prints, just wrinkles. Don’t you use lotion?” Wait, is that a security question? I glance at my fingers and say, “Well, I had a truck load of chemo and this is how my fingers have looked ever since. I try to use lotion a couple of times a week, but I’m a chronic hand washer, and it just doesn’t seem to help.” Why am I making excuses and why are Gene and the lady looking at me that way? The woman sighs, sprays water on my fingers to try to hydrate them, sighs again when the machine beeps, gives me a lecture about lotion and a foreboding warning, “I don’t know if this is going to work, but we will send it in.” Gene breezes through his interview and fingerprinting and we are told that it would take up to two weeks to get our clearance.
Gene checked his email the next day and printed out and waved his new Known Traveler Number at me. I was excited and quickly checked my email. My email read: There is an issue with your KTN application and we will inform you once it is resolved. In my mind, there can only be two issues: The background check or the fingerprints. I’m hoping for the background check because it would embarrass my kids and make a great story, and if it is the fingerprints, there isn’t anything I can do about it. But then Gene reminded me about my previous contact from Homeland Security, so that opened up another possibility – they really do carry a grudge.
After two weeks and nothing but crickets from TSA, I was finally granted a KTN for TSA Pre-check. But just to be on the safe side, Gene goes through security before me in case I hold up the line and he says I’m on my own if I print this article. And if I get picked up and detained next week for writing this article, I’ve decided that I want fried chicken and mashed potatoes as my last meal – scary that I have even given that any thought.