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Destination: Panama (after clearing security, of course)

By August 10, 2006travel

My son and I arrived early at the New Orleans airport, 5 am to be exact.  We were heading to Panama to visit my brother and my dad, so we got in the line for "International Travel," which I noticed had a lot of commotion.  There were only about 10 people in the line but they all had their suitcases out on the floor and were rifling through them with great purpose.  "Great," I thought to myself, "the plane is going to be filled with neophyte travelers who don’t know how to act."

Then I heard someone mutter something about airport security making us take all the liquids out of carry-on luggage.  Like what liquids, I wondered?  Wine bottles?  By now, you all know that this was the first wave of security readjustment dealing with a new terrorist threat.  The guy ahead of me in line was rude to the terminal agent because he was told that even toothpaste tubes had to be checked in, remarking that post-9/11 all of our liberties had been taken away.  The agent was polite and explained that there had been a security incident in London and they were doing the best they could.

When I got to the security checkpoint it was more pandemonium.  I was behind four kindly, but travel-unsavvy elderly women.  They were on some sort of joint venture and they were giddy with excitement, until they learned that they’d have to take off their shoes and blouse-jackets.  I practiced my slow-breathing exercises and tried to savor the insanity of the moment.

Then the scanner guy said, "folks we’ve got a problem."  Turned out that one of the grandmas had packed some liquids in her carry-on (go figure!).  She said "yes officer, I am carrying my perfume."  Well, he told her, she’d have to return to the terminal to check it.  To which she responded, "check it where?  They already checked my bag."  More attempt at explanation by the security guy, but the previously kindly and giddy grandmother straightened up her spine, arched her back, and bellowed "this is BULLSHIT!"  The security guard called for reinforcements and someone came to escort the foul-mouthed matron to the terminal.  She continued to exclaim the word "Bullshit" as she made her way back. I saw her later at the gate with her friends so apparently they didn’t arrest her, but she wasn’t pleased either.

I feel bad for the security guys.  They were just doing their job and I know that they have to make a good show of treating everyone fairly. But I’m also pretty sure that, if they were given some latitude to make common sense judgments, that our grandmothers and grandfathers would be treated better when they traveled. Or at least they wouldn’t be driven to profanity.

When my son and I got to Panama we were waiting in line to pay the $10 entrance fee and I wound up talking to an American guy who seemed to know about the airport protocol in Panama.  I asked him if he traveled a lot to Panama.  He said he didn’t used to, but now he was relocating his company to Panama so he had been here 6 times this year.  He has a call-center operation based in Miami.  But he found out that it was cheaper to operate in Panama, and that other companies had call-centers here (e.g. Dell computers has a few hundred employees here and HP is setting up a call center).  So, apparently this guy is moving his business here and also building a beautiful house on the beach.  He likes Panama, which apparently has everything he needs to be content.

I thought about it and silently agreed that Panama would be a nice place to live.  Then I thought about how strange it was for me to think that.

When I was twelve years old my mother hauled my brother and I to Panama and put us in a Panamanian school.  One day I was in part of a great country and the next day I was in some remote isthmus.  I hated it.  I wanted to live in a country that had a dynamic economy, one that was not isolated from the global stage.   When I was ready to go to college I left Panama and moved to New Orleans. A lot has happened to New Orleans (and the United States) since I left, and a lot has happened in Panama (and the rest of the world).

Leaving New Orleans today I felt like I was going to a more civilized world, although many people in the United States would consider Panama a ‘third world country.’  Obviously, there are still a lot of advantages to living in the United States.  Many people from around the world make huge sacrifices to be able to come to the United States.  But, at the same time, an increasing number of people (and businesses) are finding that life outside the United States is pretty sweet too. 

Of course, wherever you are in the world (and I’m going out on a limb here) I predict that tomorrow will be a really rotten day to travel. Especially for the grandmothers flying out of London.  And God forbid they’re toting laptop computers, mobile phones or iPods.  Those are not allowed in carry-on luggage if you’re flying from England.

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  • Sophmom says:

    I can’t imagine a situation in which one would want a laptop or an ipod more than a trans-oceanic flight. ARRGGGHHH! It’s a mess. Enjoy your visit to paradise.

  • Anayansi says:

    You must have guessed by my name that I’m from Panama; I grew up there but was born in Pamplona Spain and now I’m living in the not too big not too easy anymore but beautiful nevertheless, New Orleans.

    One of my docent friends (I volunteer at the Ogden) and also bookclub cronie told me about your blog, so I decided to check it out. I hope you have grown to love Panama through the years although you hated it growing up. I believe NOLA and PTY have a lot in common. I’d love to read more about your recent trip to PTY since I haven’t been back since Feb of last year. By the way, back in my PTY life, I was an attorney working with the Attorney General for the Administration (Alma de Fletcher). Take care and don’t forget to go to Contadora!

  • TPB, Esq. says:

    How much of the change do you think could be related to the U.S. invasion/overthrow of the Noriega administration?

  • shel israel says:

    I swear Ernie, the grandmother with the perfume was my Aunt Fanny. At least it sounds a just like her.

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