The Incident in Kalamazoo
A True Story
Twenty years ago, my buddy Rich invited me to show my work and speak at Kalamazoo College, where he is a professor. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Plans were made for me to fly out there with my large format photographs and a Powerpoint presentation.
I didn’t frame my photographs, as there would have been the expense of shipping them to and from the school in addition to the cost of the frames. So Rich came up with the idea of hanging them unframed from grommets in the borders of the prints. I got to work printing and attaching the grommets, and rolled the prints up in a large plastic tube meant for transporting studio equipment, and shortly after I was on a plane to Kalamazoo!
I had a great time there. And the presentation went well, as I spoke to an auditorium filled with students and teachers. In the adjacent room were about a dozen of my photographs set up like a gallery exhibition, minus the frames. I let the prints remain in the gallery for a couple of weeks after I left for home, as planned.
Right after the presentation, Rich drove me to the airport. The Kalamazoo airport is small and services mostly regional routes. You need to change planes in Detroit to fly to New York. And at this time, I was the only passenger in the terminal waiting for a flight.
Rich and I took a seat near the security checkpoint. The two TSA employees operating the one baggage scanner were sitting idly nearby, waiting for me to make a move before they turned on the scanner. But each time I stood up to get something from my pocket, they would stand up and turn on the scanner. Then when I sat down again, they would turn the scanner off and sit back down. This happened three times, much to our amusement.
Soon another TSA guy came up to me and said, “Excuse me, sir. You’ve been chosen at random to have your bags examined. Please come with me.”
“At random”. I laughed because I was the only traveler in the airport. How is that “at random”?
“Please, sir. This way,” he said impatiently. So I obliged and took my plastic tube to the counter to be examined.
The inspector looked at the tube, and then at me.
“What’s inside the tube?” the he asked before I opened it. And since my prints were still at the college, the tube was empty.
“Nothing,” I replied. I left it at that.
Now there’s nothing more suspicious than saying “nothing” when asked what was inside a suspicious tube that doesn’t look like luggage. The inspector gave me a skeptical look. “There’s nothing in it,” I repeated.
The examiner called over the senior examiner who had been watching us from a short distance.
“So, sir. You say there’s nothing in that tube. Is that correct?” the senior examiner said.
I once again said that there was absolutely nothing in that strange looking four foot long tube made of thick plastic, with straps and a heavy duty handle. He looked over his shoulder as if he were looking for help. I think we both baffled each other.
“Would you open it for me, please,” he said. He and the first inspector took a step back.
I slowly opened the tube, and of course inside was exactly nothing. Just as I had said.
The examiner was silent for a long moment as he slowly looked into the tube. “Why would you have a tube with nothing in it?” he asked. But he didn’t wait for an answer — he waved me on and wished me a good flight.
I grabbed my tube, bade him a good evening, and as I walked back to where Rich was sitting, the two TSA employees stood up and turned on the scanner, only to turn it off again and sit down as I took my seat.