From Junior Scientist to Suspected Terrorist

If it’s not readily apparent from the title of my post: I’ve had an interesting past couple of days.  The story from how I got from Kansas City to San Diego is something that usually wouldn’t deserve much attention in a blog post, but based on the past 48 hours, I’d say it deserves at least a mention.

Kansas City International, which for some reason is called MCI in airport code, is a haven for quick throughput when boarding.  So naturally, my 5:50 AM flight required me to get there at approximately 5:10 AM, which I accomplished with the help of a generous driver, my father.  Shortly afterwards, I realized there were two other flights leaving before 6:30 in the morning, and soon became “that traveler” in line.  A travel attendant came up to the line saying, “Last call for 5:50 to Phoenix.”  My heart dropped.  I raised my hand quickly and respectfully, but she was not at all pleased with my apparent traveling ineptitude.

“You’re cutting it really close, you know!” she yelled at me with distaste in her tone. After attempting to check my bag, my previously perfect credit card history was marred with failed attempt after failed attempt to get my checked bag paid for.  Only after multiple scoldings and what seemed like a circus of affairs did they get it processed.  Finally, I was in line to go through the security check.  The flight door was to close at 5:40.  With paranoia I was checking my iPhone for the time; it was now 5:29.

As I placed my backpack, laptop, poster, shoes, and anything else that could possibly contain anything resembling metal was placed on the conveyor belt, I impatiently passed through the metal detector.  No alarm went off from the metal detector, but a radio call came, from what I could make out said “young white male”, and I was pulled aside.

“Sir, did you pack your own bag today?” the woman asked me.  The only thought that came into my mind was, “Sh$%, what did I leave in my backpack.”  Soon it hit me: there was a 3 inch swiss army pocket knife in the front pocket.   After explaining the situation as calmly as possible, I was told to inform the ticket checker that I was in security and would be boarding “soon.”

The ticket checker was, in light terms, less than enthralled with my situation and let me know that the flight door would be promptly closed at 5:40.  It was 5:35.  I explained who I was, where I was going, and how terribly sorry I was for having a multi-purpose knife in my backpack (I’m an avid backpacker and I always carry such tools on me.) They understood after a barrage of questions from multiple people and multiple checks for explosives in my backpack, and they passed my bag through the checker again.  After discovering that a “bottle of lotion” was actually just an empty bottle of toothpaste – I’m a scientist, you never know when you’ll have time brush your teeth – they let me on the flight.  It was 5:39 AM.

I arrived in Phoenix, and subsequently, San Diego, without harm.  My first day at the conference went swimmingly, and I attended some incredible talks from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.  To keep this blog as short as possible with the drama of my pre-conference travels, I’ll summarize the highlights:

1. Reuniting with my mentor from the summer, Sandro Matosevic, an incredibly talented scientist working with Dr. Brian Paegel from The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida.

2. Running briefly into Biff Forbush, a name that requires no background to anyone in sodium/potassium transport, and a professor that I’ve had the pleasure to work with at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salsbury Cove, ME.

3. Some incredible talks on membrane biophysics, protein and RNA folding in respect to crowding, and the use of segregation of different polymers in vesicles to study compartmentalized enzyme kinetics.

4.  Great Mexican food at Fred’s, and good times with the greatest of people at Dublin Square, an Irish Pub just two blocks from my hostel, which will make a great seque into my next post:

The accommodations I have here in San Diego, and the feel of the city that I’ve experienced so far.  You’ve all experienced San Diego for at least 24 hours now, and I hope you’ve found as good a time as I have.  If you feel like San Diego isn’t wild enough for you, then I recommend that you take the train to Tijuana and report to me on your experiences; you’re surely going to have an interesting experience!  I would love to hear about anyone else who has had as wild an experience as I have had thus far, whether it be with traffic, the locals, the local homeless, and anything far and in between.   Again, I hope everyone at the meeting a beneficial experience and that many lasting memories are made.

BE SAFE IN SAN DIEGO, FRIENDS.

G

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