Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swiss Litigation

Swiss Army that is. And if I were in the upper mucky-muck of Swiss Army Brands Ltd I'd be a little pissed at the latter 20th century Keystone Cops -- the TSA, or Transportation Safety Administration -- for cutting into sales. You know that event that changed our country forever ('9/11'), well it made possible the careers of all these folks charged with protecting us from ourselves ... err, and the unforeseen threats of terrorism too, I guess.

I fly a lot these days. Usually it is out of MSP International, our local airport. Earlier this year a friend recalled an overheard conversation at our airport between two folks in TSA uniforms who were off duty. The jist of it was one quote: "If only people knew how much of what we do is just for show." Well the GAO has apparently picked up on that theatricality. You see, the TSA has spent money like crazy since its inception but to little or no avail. The article I recently read cited none of the fancy new security systems they'd been developing ever went into service.

During one heavy travel period this year I flew out twice within two weeks. I showed up, checked in and made my way through the cattle chute known as 'Security.' Nearing the scanner conveyor I slipped off my shoes and overheard a TSA member barking at other passengers, "Shoes on the conveyor, people. Your shoes must be directly on the conveyor!" He backed this up by marching up and down a couple of lines and yanking folks' shoes out of bins and slamming them onto the conveyor. Point conveyed. Terrorists get craftier by the day, y'know. Who are we to question?

Two weeks later I went through the same line at the same airport and it was business as usual -- shoes in the bin -- no muss, no fuss. I asked around, "Do we need to put the shoes directly on the conveyor?" Nobody knew what the hell I was talking about. Security measures perhaps. Just some prick two weeks earlier fucking with everyone for the hell of it more like it.

So what are these people, this governmental organization, doing anyway?

Well, they're confiscating shit left and right. You see it when you fly and I do too. There's the 2 oz rule and the ziploc baggy rule and the laptop rule and the bottles of Evian and Gatorade swiped from folks just trying to hydrate or die. And there are the pocket knives (not to mention nail clippers). I'm talking about small pocket knives, keychain knives etc. The kind that are little longer than a key itself and of little consequence in the hands of anyone except Chuck Norris. Funny, I don't believe the TSA has started checking for sharpened keys because you could do just as much harm to someone aboard an airplane with a filed key as you could most of these knives.

However, there's no arguing the rules with someone in an airport who has been beknighted with the authority to tase and subdue your ass. In fact, in the "new reality" you'd be well advised to avoid dissecting semantics or literality with anyone employed in an airport. I once got charged the bike fee -- the fee for an oversized bag which encases a partially disassembled bike frame (a large bag indeed) -- for a regulation luggage size bag which I had foolishly revealed to the agent contained a bike (a break-apart bike). I gave an honest answer to an honest question, but she got stuck on that word 'bicycle' and the rest is $150 worth of history.

I have a 20-year-old Swiss Army knife which has been carried daily in my pocket for that duration, on countless backpacking trips, climbing adventures and everywhere I've been in between. It's gotten me out of many a jam and saved a plethora of wine drinkers by the by (it's the magical corkscrew everyone forgets to carry). I have been fortunate enough to avoid confiscation by remembering to place it in my checked bag. It's missing a handle (I glued both back on twice) and the blades are thinner now from dozens of honings. I've entertained getting a replacement more than once over the past few years.

Recently it came to my attention I should check Ebay for Swiss Army knives. I don't shop Ebay much, but I've bought and sold tons of bike stuff on Ebay. Occasionally you can find a really screaming deal if you're savvy. I discovered one needs little savvy to get good deals on Swiss Army knives, however. Just log on, search and it won't take long to discover some conspicuously low-priced auctions and buy-it-now deals on all models of Swiss knives.

The best deals to be had? Well, I discovered the sellers have little remorse admitting in plain print in their listings that these knives they're selling (most often in lots of 3, 5, 10 or more) are TSA 'forfeiture' or confiscated knives. Dozens of sellers on Ebay in locations all around the US are selling these knives for next to nothing compared to retail. And because most people have no clue how to sharpen knives, most of those being sold might as well be new except for scuffs on the handles and blades from being carried in pockets and bags.

So the next time you forget to clean your pockets before airport security and that innocent pen knife you carry every day gets lifted by the TSA with no chance of retrieving it, you might want to check Ebay. If you don't find your exact knife I guarantee you'll find a deal that will most likely wipe your remorse away.

Perhaps someday the TSA will be held accountable for giving away the personal property of millions of citizens it is supposed to be protecting. And those citizens making a few bucks off those of us ignorant enough to attempt to carry a pocket knife onto a plane? Well, you might want to get your good deal and then rip 'em a new one with negative feedback.

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