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October 22, 2001: Better safe

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Saturday: We flew to Seattle this weekend - our first trip on an airplane since It. I had no more fear of flying than I usually do - and the usual is never much more than a momentary anxiety as we break through the clouds and start to land. The security announcement that plays at regular intervals over the loudspeaker at the Sacramento airport has, if anything, gotten even more emotionless and dry, and they've added the caveat that unattended bags may not only be seized and searched, but also removed. There are National Guardsmen and women at the security checkpoints toting rifles and their grimmest expressions (I think they may practice those behind closed doors as part of their training). And most shocking of all, in an unprecedented compromise to the gravity of the situation, they've even opened up more than one x-ray and people-scanner so that the line that forms there can actually move a bit faster. Will wonders never cease?

Our plane was delayed a bit over an hour due to a sticky air valve. Nothing to be concerned with, we were reassured, and the flight itself was uneventful. The sun was shining when we landed - odd weather indeed for Seattle at any time of year. Bil-2 met us at the airport and we chatted about little things on the drive to their house. We made pretzels and laughed over Fiona trying to figure out what to do with the bits of dough she was given, and enjoyed her favorite game of rearranging the small collection of tiny pumpkins on the window sill - she would take them off carefully one by one, standing on her tiptoes and reaching as high as she could, and then carry them to a chair, or to Richard's hands, only to return for them moments later and put them just as carefully back where she found them. She got excited over my Eeyore sweatshirt and would point and squeal 'cow!' when it caught her eye. At 21 months, she is speaking quite a bit, but it is not always intelligible to us grownups.

Sunday: Little sis and I took Fiona out to introduce her to our traditional doughnut breakfast (a requirement when she and I get together). She gleefully nibbled on a doughnut hole, but then had more fun smushing chocolate frosting and sprinkles between her fingers than actually eating the doughnut itself. That afternoon we all piled into the car at one point to go pumpkin hunting, but the weather - cold and drizzly - made our trip a bit shorter than planned, and we hastily filled a wheelbarrow with muddy fruit and gourds before returning to the warmth of their house. Passing out hugs to the adults and kisses to Fiona, we dutifully set off for the airport to arrive two hours prior to our flight, as instructed. As one might expect, with two hours to kill, there was absolutely no line at the security gate. We got our boarding passes and settled down to await the Southwest boarding cattle call.

Three policemen showed up and disappeared down the ramp to meet the plane as it arrived. A bit out of the ordinary, but considering the circumstances, it didn't strike any of us as odd. We were too busy making wisecracks about the fact that they waited until we were supposed to start actually boarding to even *start* doing the random bag searches.

And then the first fire truck showed up outside, lights flashing. Shortly thereafter, a second appeared, and when we craned our necks to see, there were at least four police cars on the runway surrounding the plane we were all supposed to be boarding.

They closed the door to the ramp, but it didn't block the view through the windows, of the men in their silver suits climbing the stairs to the ramp to enter the plane directly. And closing the door didn't stop any of us from silently counting the police who continued to file through the door down the ramp in twos and threes.

It took them over an hour to finally decide that perhaps they might want to let the people waiting in the terminal know what was going on. Seems that on the way in, one of the flight attendants saw some suspicious white powder on the floor near the galleys and….well, I don't think any more explanation should be necessary at this point. We watched the passengers finally depart the plane, taken off through the back door directly onto the runway and led to a waiting bus. Three and a half hours later, plane cleaned to their satisfaction and a new crew obtained, we finally were able to board and fly home, to stumble sleepily to our car and somehow manage to drive home and crawl into bed with less than four hours til I had to wake up again for work Monday.

But at least we got home. Somehow it's easier to be patient about such a delay (and I've been in far worse during my many trips by air) now, after It. At least we had the luxury of getting to sit safely in the terminal and trade post-September 11th security checkpoint war stories, or to crack jokes about someone flying into a panic at the sight of a little spilled coffee creamer.

A tiny article buried in a Seattle newspaper the next day revealed the white powder was simply sugar - probably spilled during the rush to collect all cups and garbage before landing. Just sugar. Nothing more.

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