When is a rock not a rock? When you pass through airport security. Then it becomes a potential weapon, one capable of bringing an airplane down.
I’m mad. I can think of a better way to combat terrorism than taking mineral specimens away from geologists traveling to their conferences. I suggest we get U.S. forces out of Iraq, where our blundering entry and lingering occupation are inflaming anti-American sentiment throughout the world.
There are two versions of what happened to my specimen at Bradley International Airport, Hartford. In the first version, I was completely at fault. Out of ignorance, I broke some unwritten rule. Then, in the name of homeland security, the Transportation Security Administration took my rock away.
In the second version, the federal government is at fault for not listing mineral specimens as prohibited items and for creating a climate so fearful of terrorism that it’s compromising our economic efficiency, personal freedom and instinct to trust one another.
I was traveling to Hood River, Ore., to attend the annual meeting of the Stone Foundation, an international organization of architects, sculptors, stonemasons, geologists, engravers and engineers united by their love of stone.
To enhance my speech, I nestled one of my favorite specimens between my underwear and shirts in a carry-on bag because I never check luggage on business trips. My banded chunk of the Hebron Gneiss (pronounced “nice”) resembled a broken slice of layer cake composed of licorice and cream cheese.
In retrospect, I suppose I could have put the grapefruit-sized specimen inside my sock, swung it around my head like a mace, charged the cabin and attempted to hijack the flight. This, of course, never occurred to me until the zealous inspector declared my rock a “dual-use” item.
“What, pray tell, is a dual-use item?” I asked. I’m afraid I chucked just a little, causing her to glare, withhold a satisfactory answer and call her supervisor. He hefted my rock, scrutinized it for a moment, and agreed that my specimen was indeed a dual-use item, meaning a potential low-tech weapon. During those uneasy moments when I thought I would be detained, I wondered if a doctor’s stethoscope would also be declared a dual-use item, since it could be used to strangle a pilot.