In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Breaking the Law.”
I had a fantastic time in England this past week. So much so that I really didn’t want to get on the airplane back. I resonate with much of what Like A Child wrote in this post.*** It would be fairly easy to just pack up and move away sometimes. But then it’s not really in my nature to run away as evidenced in previous posts.
Packing for an eight day trip to a foreign country isn’t really all that easy, but I managed to get everything in one checked bag and one carry-on. Woo hoo for me! I tend to pack pretty light anyway, but when you don’t really know what exactly it is you’re packing for it makes it kind of difficult. You see, my personal tour guide from the last trip had invited me back for a week but he (Yes, he. But that’s for another post. ) didn’t exactly know what all we’d be doing.
During my packing, in my makeup bag, I came across a fingernail file, you know the metal one with the point on the end. So I thought, “I’ll never make it through security with that in my hand luggage”, and I took it out. I finished my packing and was ready to roll. Passport? Check. Plane tickets? Check. Toothbrush? Check.
My friends dropped me off at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta for my 5:30 p.m. flight. I got there a bit late and had to rush through to get checked in and it went off without a hitch. We ran my carry-on, my purse, my shoes, and my jacket through the little ex-ray machine. I walked through the metal detector and collected my items and boarded the plane. Everything is going great! I had a very smooth flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam, slept away most of the 9 hour flight. There was a two hour layover there, so I got a smoothie, took a load off for a few minutes and then headed for the security checkpoint for my connection through to Bristol.
That’s where things got a little dicey. They passed my hand luggage and purse through their little ex-ray thingie. The woman asks if she can check the contents of my purse. “Sure”, I say. She opens my purse, peruses around, and pulls out a little key-chain sized can of pepper-spray that says “DEFENDER” on the side. “What’s this?”, she asks. I say, “it’s pepper-spray”. She looks bewildered at me and says, “this is very illegal, you can’t have this here”. “Okay”, I say, “just throw it in that trash can over there, it’s no big deal”. She responds, “it is a very big deal, I can’t throw it away. I have to call my supervisor now”.
Now I’m getting a little nervous. The supervisor comes over and takes a look. “What is this, and why do you have this here?”. I explain to him that I’ve just come from America and that I’m a single woman living alone. I’ve had this in my purse for probably a year and have never used it, I forgot it was there. “This is highly illegal in Amsterdam, you can’t have this here.” “That’s fine”, I say, “keep it, confiscate it.” He explains to me that he cannot do that. Because this is an illegal substance he must now call the head of security for the airport. He sends my purse back through the ex-ray machine while we wait for the head of security. “May I check your bag again?” I tell him to go ahead. He rifles through my purse and lo and behold he pulls out the pocket knife that my brother-in-law had given me about nine months or so ago.
My knees go weak, sweat pops out, my heart is racing now. I’m thinking, “they’re gonna put me under the jail in Amsterdam for certain”. I put my hands over my mouth and nearly suck all the oxygen out of the security check-point room. I swear no one else could have had any, I was using it all. Just call me blonder than I pay to be, but I completely forgot it was in there. I’d been carrying it around in there for months and I never even think about it. I just knew I was done for. He says, “Ma’am do you not know what is in your handbag?” I explain the whole bit again and about how I’d forgotten it was even there. I’m a single woman who lives alone, I have these for self protection. He asks me, “What would the pilot think if he saw these in your bag?” My reply, and I didn’t mean this in a smarty pants way at all as I was in no position to be so, “If your pilot sees these, we have bigger problems than the fact that I have them. He would have to be attacking me to see them. These are an insurance policy. I hope to never have to use them, but they are there just in case.”
Finally the head of security arrives. They have a side-bar discussion about it and the head security guy comes back over and asks me the same questions. I give him the same answers. He says to me, “The knife is just an airport security issue, I can confiscate it. But I have to call the police about the pepper spray. It is very illegal to have this here, did you not know that?” The entire time I’m apologizing and explaining that, “Obviously I’m not from around here. I came from America where, no, it isn’t illegal to carry pepper-spray.” I tell them I went through the security check-point in Atlanta with no problems. They are both shocked and, frankly, so am I. I ask if I’m about to be arrested, half panicked by this time. He says he doesn’t know, it will be up to the police. Sort of freaking out at this point.
The police arrive on the scene, and yes, by now it is a very big scene. There is a male police officer and a female police officer. They are both very kind and ask me a few questions about where I came from and where I am going. I ask them if they are about to arrest me and they say they don’t know. They have to call the state’s prosecutor to find out what to do next. Now I’m in a huge panic. The male police officer picks up the little container of pepper-spray and examines it. They all hold it like it’s a nuclear war-head or something. He shakes it and asks if it has anything in it. I say, “I suppose so, I’ve never even used it”. The female police officer gets off the phone with the state’s prosecutor and informs me that I have the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney. “Wait a minute, am I under arrest?” “No, no, no,” she says, “I just have to inform you that you can have an attorney present if you wish and that you don’t have to answer my questions”. I breathe a huge sigh of relief and answer her questions. “Did you know you had this pepper-spray?” “Yes.” “Did you know it was illegal in Amsterdam?” “No, I did not.” “Did you intend to harm anyone with this pepper-spray?” “Most certainly not.” “May we confiscate the pepper-spray?” “Have it, it’s all yours.” “Sign here, here, and here.” Whew! “You mean I’m not under arrest?” “No, ma’am, you may go on your way.”
Okay ,so yes, it was dumb of me to carry those in my purse. I’m not denying that. And did this provide me with the scare of a lifetime? Let’s just say my heart is in good working order. I can laugh about it now, it’s pretty funny. But seriously, pepper-spray?!? I just knew I was a goner when they pulled out the knife, but that was no biggie. Just a security issue. The pepper-spray nearly landed me in the pokey in a foreign country. A country where I could have walked out of the airport and bought and smoked some of the finest cannabis or marijuana known to man. I could have openly solicited a prostitute. But I may not under any circumstances have on my person in the country of the Netherlands pepper-spray.
**First Blogged March 1, 2011
***Edited to add that the blog Like a Child has privatized at some point between the original posting date and today’s posting date. The link has been removed.