On Sunday evening, basking in the post-show glow, Tina and I sorted through the remaining cards. She picked a handful that she’d take to work in the morning to sneak into the goody bags she gives her patients after cleaning their teeth. A new toothbrush, floss, and a handmade Valentine: See you in six months!
I chose a few cards to stick in my backpack to distribute along the way home. I’d be traveling back to Missoula via Seattle, and it would actually be Valentine’s Day, after all.
It was a short night, and the Juneau international Airport was more alert, awake, and alive at 4:30 a.m. than I’d be all day. Navigating TSA screening in a pre-dawn blur, I watched the bin with my laptop come through, followed by the one containing my coat and scarf before the conveyor belt stopped. The guy working the scanner paused, leaned into the screen, squinted, then backed the conveyor belt up and sent my backpack on the reject detour.
The TSA agent checking the suspicious bags moved methodically, unhurried, as if she were following step-by-step instructions only she could hear. The questionable bag ahead of mine was a plastic grocery sack filled with ready-to-eat pouches of Indian food. I suppressed an exasperated sigh as she carefully kneaded each pouch of Vegetable Korma, Kashmir Spinach, and Madras Lentils while their annoyed owner stood by, tapping his foot.
After the Indian food, the TSA agent pushed a long, dark strand of hair out of her eyes, then grabbed my bag. She patted around deftly with gloved hands for the item that had brought the conveyor belt to a screeching halt. She paused at the lower corner of my backpack, slowly unzipped the zipper, and removed the knit hat that was wrapped protectively around Juneau Rain in its little glass jar.
I pictured the candle being chucked into a bin of other poorly thought out souvenirs like pocket knives and bottles of beer. Instead, the TSA agent paused, read the label, and surprised me when she lowered her mask, held the candle near her nose, took a deep sniff, then replaced the mask. She nodded at me with approval, eyes crinkling at the corners, then re-wrapped the candle in the hat and gently tucked it back into the backpack..
I took my bags over to the empty stainless steel table to regroup before heading up to my gate. I thought about going back and giving the TSA agent the candle; it seemed right in the spirit of the trip, but I realized that it would be weird, and might trigger a security event. Besides, I really did want to take Juneau Rain home with me.