Toothbrushes of mass destruction

Monday, December 20, 2004

I used to carry a tiny (and I mean tiny) screwdriver in my purse. It was useful for odd bits of electronic equipment adjustment, such as tightening screws on monitor cables, and I once impressed the hell out of a client by whipping it out in the cloakroom of a restaurant after a business lunch and fixing the handle of his briefcase. For years, my screwdriver nestled in the bottom of my purse, beside my pens and keys; rarely used but always appreciated.

Prior to 9/11, I never gave it another thought, even though I travelled tens of thousands of miles each year by plane. It was never questioned, never even noticed as far as I could tell. After 9/11, I started getting worried about the fate of my screwdriver when I heard of friends having their nail files, knitting needles and (horrors!) corkscrews taken away, and I considered removing it from my purse. However, after several flights when I completely forgot that it was there and I passed airport security without a problem, I assumed that it was small enough to not be considered a threat.

The bigger threat, I felt, was the electric toothbrush. Yes, I am a big fan of my Oral-B 3D electric toothbrush, to the point that I take it along on trips less than a week (hence not requiring me to take the charger). Since I often travel will just a carry-on bag for short trips, I felt that I was at risk of being challenged: the toothbrush is a fairly robust tool with a slightly pointed metal tip (where the brush head snaps on); wouldn’t airport security certainly pull me aside and confiscate my beloved 3D, thereby forcing me to either abandon $50 of consumer electronics or risk checking in a flimsy duffle bag?

During a round of weekly business trips between Toronto and Winnipeg, I decided to risk carrying it along. I approached security in Toronto, and breezed through without a hitch. Ditto on returning from Winnipeg. Obviously, I had been worried for nothing, or maybe enough other people carried their electric toothbrushes with them that a global memo had gone out to just consider us as slightly anal about our dental hygiene and otherwise not dangerous.

Weeks passed, and all was well, except for the fact that I was visiting Winnipeg in winter. Then one Friday evening, after a long week in the ‘Peg, I passed through Winnipeg airport security. I unloaded all the electronics (laptop, cell phone, Blackberry), dropped my purse, duffle and laptop case for scanning, and walked through. I waited while they kept scanning my bags, back and forth, pointing at the xray screen and discussing it amongst themselves. Was I about to lose my 3D? Finally, the security geek prodded my purse and asked “Do you have tools in there?” After a brief period of puzzlement, my heart sank as I remembered my trusty tiny screwdriver, and I pulled it out for his examination. He looked at me sternly and said “You’re not allowed to carry tools onboard!” I remembered the line in one of the Crocodile Dundee movies, where a bad guy pulls a smallish knife on Mick, and Mick said “That’s not a knife, this is a knife”, while whipping out a foot-long blade from under his shirt. I had an irresistible urge to say “That’s not a tool!” about my tiny screwdriver, but had left my cordless drill at home so didn’t have a good prop for the second half of the declaration.

Needless to say, that was the end of my relationship with my screwdriver. The security guard made me write my information on a form regarding confiscated goods, and when I hesitated over the “description of item” entry, he barked “write ‘screwdriver'” while I was deciding whether there was enough room to write “world’s tiniest screwdriver”. I didn’t feel like a strip search or missing my flight, so followed his order, but I’m left with a nagging feeling that someday, the toothbrush is going down.

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