Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, December 18, 2004

  I take my axe on a plane

In the air of idiotic oppression that we face ("Der Papers? Vere are der papers?") in the post 9/11 US, I've been acting on my right as an American - to tweak the system, to laugh at it, and to roll with the punches.

My last plane flight was a hoot. I brought on board a Traveler guitar. It's 30 inches long and 7 inches wide - it meets the airline's requirements for the size of carry-on baggage - and fits into an overhead compartment nicely.

I arrived at the airport early, prepared to check in my guitar if I had to, but hoping I wouldn't - as the subzero cold in the luggage compartment of an aircraft is really hard on guitars.

I waited in line, having fun demonstrating the guitar to various passengers that inquired about it.

... Just to be especially annoying to security I was also traveling with a bag of suspicious looking tobacco and a pipe in a convienently located outside pocket, as, like John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore, I've had a sneaking suspicion that that the baggage searches were for more than just explosives.

They let the backpack full of tobacco pass, but had a conniption at the guitar. The security team X-rayed it. Twice. They tried to pry open the graphic eq compartment. They had a hurried consultation - The rules say you can't bring a club on board an airplane, and specifically prohibit billy clubs and golf clubs...

Now, look, my axe - this guitar - "El Kabong" - could be used as a weapon, as it's carved from a block of solid alderwood. In the hands of a pissed off Pete Townsend type, swung around a compartment, it could wreak havoc, and the steel strings, once removed, could be used as 5 garrotes. (it's a 6 string guitar - but the G string is .09mm and breaks on a mere bend. On an unwilling neck it would snap instantly.)

This guitar is even more dangerous to others when played amplified. People have a tendency to get up and leave the room. That would be fatal on an airplane.

I was hyperaware of security, as I waited patiently by the exit line, fully expecting at any moment to be taken to a dark room, put under the hot lights, and strip searched. I'd brought my 2nd amendment underwear for just that eventuality, and sheet music to Dylan's "Times they are a changin".

But, no, El Kabong didn't fit any of the catagories of prohibited equipment. The security officer politely handed it back to me. Later on, we in the back of the aircraft had a blast passing it around playing all sorts of music: bluegrass, blues, folk. It seemed like one out of six passengers could play a little guitar.

It's a friendly, and friend making - instrument. Yet:

Me and my axe on that flight were potentially far more dangerous to others than a lousy pair of prohibited tweezers... and that's the elaborate point I wanted to make - a weapon is only as dangerous as the person that carries it. Period.

Tweezers, screwdrivers, guns and guitars don't kill people.

I'll keep on checking in early, and taking my guitar on board, and wondering how long til the government starts prohibiting musical instruments as potential terrorist weapons?

Play a banjo, go to jail. You! Step away from that flute and put your hands in the air!
 
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