Suspicious Traces

I could think up a lot of reasons to end up at the 24-hour CVS on the Las Vegas strip buying isopropyl alcohol, and they’d all beat the reason that put me there. It all started at Bradley, where my carry-on tested positive for explosives.

This surprised me. I’m pretty sure that I don’t usually haul explosives around. But when a government official looks you in the eye and asks if you have any idea why your bag tested positive for explosives, it’s almost reflexive for a good citizen to experience doubt.

After all, I am kind of absent-minded. Did I maybe take up building pipe bombs as a hobby, then forget about it? Maybe I lent my carry-on to a demolition team. Could I have tripped and dropped the bag into a fireworks display? Perhaps someone planted dynamite on me. Anyway, I realized I was standing there trying to come up with a plausible explanation when there was none. So I said, trying to look puzzled in an innocent way, “No.”

This all led to a very long, slightly tense, very tedious process of swabbing every item in the bag and putting the swab in some sort of analyzer right there at the end of the Transportation Safety Administration’s conveyer belt. The verdict was that there were trace elements of some kind of explosive on the swab used on my electronics, which included a cell phone, an iPod and a portable DVD player.

The DVD player was fairly new. Maybe it had been shipped next to a box of ammo headed for Wal-Mart. The TSA agent told me there must have been some contact with explosives because no other substance could set off the alarm.

I’m not entirely convinced. There are anecdotes out there about false alarms on traces of glycerine-based hand creams, among other things. In any event, I was not in a position to argue and the TSA agent concluded that I was not a threat.

He advised me to get some isopropyl alcohol and wipe down the bag and its contents so it wouldn’t trip the sensors in the Las Vegas airport on my way back.

So there I was, in the 24-hour CVS buying the smallest bottle of isopropyl alcohol I could find, which was still considerably bigger than I needed. I wanted to buy some interesting paraphernalia to go with it, something that would suggest a “Pulp Fiction” kind of misadventure — maybe duct tape and a feather boa.

But then I figured it’s probably quite impossible to impress a clerk at the 24-hour drugstore on the Vegas strip. If I didn’t scare the TSA, I wouldn’t have a chance with her.


2 thoughts on “Suspicious Traces

  1. Kelmairun

    It is definitly true that the glycerine in some hand lotions alarm the machine. Quite possibly, you used it on your hands then handled your carry-on and left traces on it. I’m sure if they would have tested your hands it would have alarmed on them too..

  2. gmichael

    You certainly have an uplifting way of telling travel stories. Keep up the good work.
    and stock up on swabs …. you’ll likely need them


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