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Security would have grounded Orville & Wilbur

Scarlet means you cannot fly, period. You will be declared an
enemy combatant and assigned to a bunk at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mel Coulter, Public Affairs Specialist (Opinion)
Idaho Transportation Department
Can you picture it?

A gentle breeze sweeps in from the Atlantic, adding a briny flavor to your Starbucks espresso. A crowd gathers on a nearby bluff, and many individuals sport camera cell phones, MP3 players and laptop computers.

There is a spirit of anticipation – not to mention seagulls – in the air.

The long-awaited arrival of Orville and Wilbur Wright should be just moments away. The gathering throng has no idea, however, that the ambitious brothers had run into unexpected turbulence. No one noticed under the bluff a black sign flashing, in florescent green letters, “Flight Delayed.”

And they weren’t aware of the interrogation that was taking place in the bowels of a nearby air terminal.

“Has any person unknown to you asked you to carry baggage or packages onto the plane today?” asked a 325-pound Transportation Security Administration screener. She recently traded her job as a federal prison matron for the higher paying and more prestigious TSA position.

“No, ma'am,” a confident Orville said.

“Have your flight jacket and goggles been in your possession at all times?”

“Yes, ma'am,” Wilbur echoed.

“Are you carrying any sticks of dynamite, Bowie knives or six-shooters? Rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-launched missiles or tank-busters?”

“No, ma'am,” both reply in unison.

“Next,” the screener barked without looking up. Surprisingly, there was no one else waiting in line for a flight.

The Wright brothers proceeded to a nearby closet that was lit by a solitary gas lamp. From the wallet in their hip pockets they both produce a drivers’ license, Social Security card, American Express card, hunting license, marriage license, ATM card and military draft notice.

“References, please,” demanded a 78-year old gatekeeper, recently retired from the Internal Revenue Service audit division.

“References?” asked a bewildered Orville.

“We need three personal references, two professional references and a letter from your rabbi or pastor who will attest to your moral character. By the way, have you been through profiling yet?”

“We thought that line was only for undocumented aliens who have no green card or proof of residency,” Wilbur replied. “Like Libyans or Assyrians.”

“Nope. Gotta have a profile. That’s the rule.”

“Fill out this Myers-Briggs Personality Trait Inventory and then come back. After our staff psychologists review the results you will be assigned a risk factor. Scarlet means you cannot fly, period. You will be declared an enemy combatant and assigned to a bunk at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Canary means we will allow you to fly only after a full body search – down to your birthday suit – and 48 hours in quarantine. Emerald means you can advance to finger printing, voice printing and an optical scan.”

“That’s it. Then we’ll be able to begin our flight?” asked an energized Orville.

“Not exactly,” the screener replied. “Once we complete the background check and verify your identity you will be permitted move on to the last screening station.”

Hope springs eternal.

“Where is that?” Wilbur questioned.

“Through those steel reinforced doors, past the drug-sniffing Dobermans, past the woman with the iceberg hands and magic wand, and onto the tarmac. Take a left to the shuttle bus departure area. You will be taken to a remote part of the airport for the final pre-boarding exam. It’s conducted in a large red, barn-shaped building. Can’t miss it.”

“What happens there?” Wilbur wondered aloud. He envisioned handing over the deed to his condo on Lake Tahoe and power of attorney papers that relinquish guardianship of his first-born daughter.

“Oh, it’s nothing, really,” the screener said in a calm, reassuring manner. “You just have to sit in a wooden apple crate to make sure you will fit into the peasant-class airplane seats. After that, we weigh you and check your cholesterol and body fat levels, and then you’re done.”

Meanwhile, the sands at Kittyhawk were strangely quiet.

The crowd that had gathered earlier for this monumental first flight dissipated like a morning fog. Satellite camera trucks were packed and headed back to the network studios. Politicians abandoned the beach and retreated to a nearby golf clubhouse. Even family and friends had given up, agreeing instead to reconvene their reunion at the local IHOP.

In the distance, two lone figures – aged beyond their years by preflight tribulation – struggled to reach the top of a hill at Kittyhawk. They paused near the wingtip of their experimental aircraft and gazed in momentary silence, scanning the deserted beach.

A forlorn Wilbur turned to his brother.

“You know, this powered flight thing is really overrated,” he said.

“Know what you mean,” Orville replied, nodding his head in agreement.

“Flyin’ just ain't what it used to be.”