by Jeff Turbitt
Out in Micronesia , just a small radar blip in the Pacific, sits Guam International Airport. Like many airports, it is a vast, packaged, neon vestibule of unhealthy, overpriced fast food, the mind boggling curiosity of duty free shops, and a more common currency: aggravated Asian travelers. One notable difference is that Guam is an America much closer to Hong Kong and Tokyo than New York or Los Angeles .
Guam is a full blown U.S. territory like Puerto Rico and a common transfer hub for Asian travelers to Hawaii , other Micronesian islands, Australia and other locales. Guam has two well known monikers. Fiscal conservatives noting the federal dole that Guam , and other Pacific Islands survive on, say Guam stands for Give Us American Money, while retired military expats familiar with the more lascivious, neighboring locations of Thailand and the Philippines say Guam stands for Give Up And Masturbate.
A traveler doesn’t have to visit Guam , a popular beach vacation site for Japanese honeymooners, to feel the hysteria post 9/11. A mere transfer will suffice for this dog to bite, as America continues to expand global alienation on a more personal front: airport security. I speak from recent personal experience.
I get off the plane in Guam after getting a quite thorough screening at Palau International Airport . Palau is one of the most renowned scuba diving locations on the planet, its main tourist draw and the one that brought me there, and is in Free Compact of Association with the United States , which basically means Palauans can enter the United States without visa issue, and the U.S. provides them with economic aid. The U.S. in return gets a claim on a place that is famously part of the “Coalition of the Willing” from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.
The first thing I have to do in Guam right off the plane from Palau at 4 am : Welcome to the United States . “Take your shoes off sir, belt, all metals, and are your nuts still attached, if not, please place them in this basket for inspection.” I've only been married a few years, so they are still connected, sorry, use the wand, and tickle a little bit since it's 4am , I'm on the redeye from hell, I'm stuck in your shithole airport and I need a cheap thrill.I just got off an airplane, I didn't go anywhere near an unchecked civilian, so this begs the obvious question of why do I have to go through the shoe bullshit again, not to mention another x-ray, take off your belt, shave your pubes routine in case you're hiding some well placed plutonium in your sac region? Why again!!!! Is Guam security so much more thorough than the last airport? One idiot tried something with his shoes years ago and people the planet over have to go through these shoe theatrics without end in sight. Please. I've had times when there have been like three shoe checks for one trip. I saw this one Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) officer examine my flip flops with the wrapt attention of Howard Carter opening King Tut's tomb.
Leaving Palau , the existence of shaving cream in my checked, not carry on, luggage caused a literal ten minute investigation. I might be the only one with a toothbrush coming from Palau , but I can't be the only one who shaves. Throughout Micronesia locals suffer massive dental issues from their love of a tree fruit called betel nut, which is generally stuffed with cigarette pieces, mixed with powdered lime to break it down for easier chewing, and wrapped in a pepper leaf to provide a nice buzz. There are probably more cigarettes chewed than smoked in Micronesia . Betelnut is a common addiction in Micronesia and has similar health, dental and aesthetic issues as chewing tobacco.
The war on terror, I mean hygiene continues, though. I had deodorant in my carry on, which is legal, but that still entailed a Nuremberg type deliberation since somehow Old Spice equals Al Qaeda. At some point someone needs to snap and say, “Use some sense, you soulless automaton!” I’m convinced they must electroshock all vestiges of independent thought and common sense out of these people at TSA Academy .
After the foiled UK plot a few months back, the liquid and hygiene situation is the latest overreaction. The silliness over water continues unabated. If you can drink it, and demonstrate that it isn't some Mission Impossible liquid bomb, let it go. It's water, like 80 percent of the human body. Chill out Nurse Ratched. We don't examine most any cargo coming into the states, but three shoe checks and no water, so we’re supposed to think we're safe. What a bunch of babies we’ve become, not to mention that this American airport in Asia is as welcoming as a punch to the stomach.Then Guam security sets up this rope to subdivide the airport and actually block you from your gate. This is designed so they can give the new arrivals the stare to march them along like lambs to the slaughter for the pointless Guam immigration check in counter, and if you, the already harassed, step on the wrong side at the wrong time, they threaten you with a fresh round of shoe checks, X rays and quite possibly a trip to Guantanamo Bay. Even an American traveler like me feels cowed from asking the obvious question of why do I have to clear immigration in Guam when I am not staying there, or not be able to head to my gate yet because others need to go through this ridiculous routine? Doesn’t my name go down on the easily identifiable “previously manhandled” list?
With all this security you’d think Guam International Airport would be a hub for all travelers, but nope, they won't let Filipinos, and others from less prosperous countries, transfer through without a full blown U.S. Visa.
It is still the middle of the night, I've got a long layover in Hades, and there is hardly anyone in the place, so sleep seems in order. I'm not expecting the Ritz Carlton, just to sack out in peace on their mangy carpet. Naturally, sleep is hard to come by with a blaring announcement over the loudspeaker every fifteen minutes not to leave your bags unattended and to report any suspicious activity to the Guam Gestapo.
These security pros clearly find travelers annoying, so they briefly held me hostage on my initial layover. I couldn't exit without a Continental representative to walk me through immigration like it was my first day of kindergarten. I ate at the lousy food court, so I wasn’t exiting completely within the allotted time. Since this was inconvenient to security, I had this bozo airport cop on a power trip interrogating me on whether my green tea in a cup was beer. What am I twelve, what if it was? His invented regulation: “You can't take green tea out onto the streets of Guam sir.” I'm sure the teeming masses of Guam appreciate that kind of protection. I was going to mention that I saw one guy with an apple, and if he could stop him, he might get a Homeland Security appointment in the Bush administration, but I really wasn’t in any mood to undergo extraordinary rendition and be re-routed for less comfortable questioning in Syria, so I merely smiled and sheepishly surrendered my $3.00 beverage before heading out of the Taliban’s new headquarters.
Guam Airport is the United States government in microcosm: reactionary, bullying, lacking common sense and self-important. The terrorists have already won since we are a bunch of drunk on fear ninnies, alienating both Americans and citizens of the world’s fastest growing economies with our bullshit.