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An Act of Patriotism
by Bill Smith

"Sir, you have been selected for inspection. Please step behind the curtain with your briefcase and remove your shoes."
I'm growing acccustomed to this as the prevailing mantra of every flight I take. I don't mean once, when I go through the metal detector, or at any other checkpoint in the boarding process. I mean at each and every opportunity to search me and my luggage between the front door of the airport and my seat on the plane.
The most recent flight convinced me it's more than mere chance. The moment of revelation came at the top of the ramp, where they check your boarding pass. "Sir, you've been selected . . ."
Surprise, surprise.
After a few minutes' quality time with the inspectors peering into the toecap of my Church's English Shoes, I rejoin the line -- at its end, so as not to appear a queue-jumper to my fellow passengers. Approaching to show my pass, "Sir, you've been selected . . ."
No thanks, I explained. Just did it.
Hurried apologies as the flight attendant, recalling me, explains I'm entitled to join the line at its head after the search. So sorry, sir.
"Not a-tall," say I in my best David Niven impersonation as I start down the ramp.
* * * *
Self-evaluation is not something we east-coast wasps are prone to, but at the moment it seemed in order.
Do I look like a terrorist? Do I fit the profile?
I'm just over 6 feet at 190 lbs. Blond hair (with a few gray ones now popping out around the edges), bluish eyes and a fair but ruddy complexion betray obvious northern European ancestry and a healthy alcohol intake. When I travel it's usually on business so I'm wearing a suit, either J. Press or pre-1990 Brooks Brothers, and a tie, usually a British regimental striped number.
And since it's all in the eye of the beholder, acquaintances on occasion have accused me of conveying an "Ivy League" look (even though I couldn't get into Princeton).
I don't know if this is good or bad, but you get the idea.
Eventually, so did I.
The point isn't that I don't fit the profile. It's that I do.
It's just a different profile.
I'm being searched so they can't be accused of various forms of socially undesirable profiling.
Pull me over and they can move through another 25 people they need to be searching. "We're not biased! We just strip-searched Thurston over there!"
And so I perform a vital duty to my country.
I never served in the military. I was too young for Vietnam and am too old for the armed forces today. But now I have a useful role. Finally, I'm "doing my bit."
I am a footsoldier in the war against terrorism.
I make it possible to stop the guys who really could be trouble. My community service. My civic pride. My patriotic duty. I make a difference. I am a volunteer in service to America.
* * * *
When the plane reached New York I went straight to J. Press, on 44th near Madison.
I probably spent too much money.
But a soldier must maintain his uniform.

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