Jon Bream: What to expect when you're expecting a pat-down

  • Article by: JON BREAM
  • November 30, 2010 - 8:13 PM

MILWAUKEE - A body-scanning machine loomed ahead at General Mitchell International Airport. Would I encounter the new, evil interrogator for the first time? Or might I face a random invasive pat-down?

The line of passengers at the security checkpoint was moving more slowly than Brett Favre in the pocket. People were fretting about missing their flights. The TSA personnel were methodical, following the new rules to the letter.

"Should have been here two hours before your flight," a TSA officer said as he checked the boarding pass and ID of a passenger who whined that she might miss her plane.

My concern was whether TSA would allow me to carry on a gift for my family: a pint of Kopp's, the frozen custard that made Milwaukee famous. I'd often taken home some Kopp's in a cooler when I drove. But I'd never attempted to take a pint aboard a plane.

While biding time in line, I consulted with the guy behind me -- a Harvard Law School grad. A strict constructionist regarding the law, he said, "Go for it," because it's not liquid but rather frozen. For this tasty treat, he said, it's worth it.

At the carry-on luggage scanner, I dutifully placed my laptop computer, coat, belt, shoes and Kopp's in plastic trays. I walked through the metal detector. No problem -- until a TSA agent asked: "What's in the plastic bag?"

"A pint of Kopp's frozen custard," I said. He consulted with another TSA agent. They decided to call for a supervisor. A woman with a crop of cascading curls came over. She studied the ice cream -- sorry, frozen custard -- and talked with the two TSA agents. This wasn't going to take as long as a referee reviewing a controversial NFL play. She decided that there was apparently nothing in the rules that prohibited my frozen custard from flying coach.

Figuring that I was good to go, I gathered my gift and other belongings -- but wait. "We need to pat you down," one of the TSA agents announced.

Eschewing the body scanner that no one seemed to be using, the two TSA agents escorted me to the private pat-down room. Both wore plastic gloves. They seemed as apprehensive as I did. The one with the salt-and-pepper goatee did the procedure; the younger one with the shaved head observed.

"Spread your arms," the goatee ordered and then explained what he was going to do. This procedure continued on my torso and down my legs. I'd been patted down before going into rock and rap concerts, but those were cursory investigations compared to this one.

Just before the pat of my privates, Goatee splashed his left hand, with the glove on, with antibacterial lotion. That seemed to make as much sense as washing your hands while you're eating barbecued ribs. Once again, he explained what he was going to do. With his left hand, he assertively but not aggressively felt my groin and then softly patted my jeans over my penis.

Did I feel violated or vindicated?

I'm not sure. Goatee sent me along the way, saying, "I hope your family enjoys the Kopp's."

Thank you very much.

Halfway to my gate, I encountered the lawyer who'd stood behind me and told him about the pat-down. Being a lawyer, he had to render an opinion: "I think it was worth it for Kopp's."

I countered: "Next time I think I'll drive."

Jon Bream is a music critic for the Star Tribune. He's at 612-673-1719.

© 2018 Star Tribune