And other mishaps
There used to be a segment on Art Linkletter’s show “House Party” called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Well, Art—rest in peace—here’s one for you:
A couple weeks ago, I took my 4-year-old daughter skiing. We were riding a public bus from the mountain back to our car, about a five-minute shuttle. The bus was full of tired skiers and was dead quiet as we pulled into a stop at the bus turnaround. That’s when my daughter—who has a voice that projects like that of an opera singer—asked me, “Daddy, how come you didn‘t throw any bombs this morning?”
I turned to her, speechless, a look on my face that said, “Are you kidding me?” Then I slinked down into my ski jacket and braced for the hit—fully expecting some grass roots hero to tackle me there in the bus aisle. The hit never came, but I’m sure there were some furrowed brows and mothers clasping their children tight—I didn’t have the nerve to look up.
There was an explanation, just one that wouldn’t really play in the situation. I do throw bombs, but only in the context of doing avalanche mitigation work on a ski mountain. And it’s done in uniform and early in the morning when the public isn’t around. It’s all very controlled and relatively safe. But those poor tourists on the bus didn’t know any of that.
Fortunately for me, at that very tense moment, another bus hit our bus in the roundabout. I’m sure some of the riders may have thought it was an ambush, like something you’d see in a terrorist action movie, but I think most folks were distracted by the absurdity of two giant buses bumping into one another. It was a little surreal, even without a bomb scare.
I had another such public “outing” several years ago. I was going on a trip to California, leaving through the modest but wonderful Hailey Airport, a place where most of the people waiting at any given gate know each other. I had checked a bag and was blithely carrying a backpack, one of many I seem to have accumulated in life. That’s when the alarm went off. The very stern sounding alarm was followed by a very stern man grabbing my arm and hustling me to a back room that I didn’t even know existed at the tiny airport.
The room was drab, empty, windowless, of course. It reminded me of the room I was taken to in a Macy’s department store in seventh grade after shoplifting a pack of Jack Daniel’s playing cards, the only thing I’ve ever tried to steal. So, I knew this windowless room did not portend good things.
A couple of officers—this was before TSA even existed—proceeded to interrogate me. There was no waterboarding involved, just a lot of questions along the lines of: “Why do you have bomb residue in your pack?”
Yes, it is a good question, officer, why the hell do I have bomb residue in my pack? I didn’t really know. There were what you would call some awkward silences to follow.
But then the nickel finally dropped: I realized that I had brought along my work pack, one in which I actually do carry explosives from time to time to do avalanche mitigation work. So, of course, officer, this is why there is bomb residue in the pack—because there were bombs in it, but for work, see?
He didn’t see.
Naturally, I had no paperwork or other relevant ID that would even marginally convince him I wasn’t a terrorist of some sort. It took several phone calls to the ski patrol director and mountain manager to clear the matter up. Then they let me get on my flight.
Curiously, I went on to LAX later that day and had to go through security again. My bomby little pack sailed right through the screeners there. No alarms, no interrogation, just a couple of nods along the way. So, a guy’s got to wonder.
There was one other incident.
This was long before children and married life. I was running rivers for a living, if you can call it that. In the off season, my girlfriend at the time and I decided to travel around the world. One of our stops was Paris, where one of my oldest, dearest friends—we had played on the high school tennis team together—was living and working.
The three of us went out for a night on the town, which, predictably, involved a fair bit of drinking. We went from bar to bar, then to dinner, and another bar. Then there was a cruise down the Champs-Élysées and a relatively high-speed spin around the Arc de Triomphe, my girlfriend and I poking out the sunroof, the Talking Heads (“Burning Down the House”) blasting out the windows. Stupid, yes. Disrespectful, undoubtedly. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, events that transformed France from a monarchy to a republic. We thought it was the coolest thing in the world at the time.
The “gendarmerie” didn’t think it was very cool. They seemingly came out of nowhere. There were at first two vehicles, then five or six, all with sirens and lights. My friend pulled over on the circle of the Arc. Machine guns were pointed; there was a lot of shouting in French, which I marginally understood. We were quickly pulled from the car and spread eagled on the police vehicle, patted down. More shouting. More guns. Flashlights in my face.
I was asked for an ID. I reached into my pocket and pulled out what my alcohol-muddied brain thought was my ID. Turns out it was as drink coaster from Harry’s Bar, a picture of Marilyn Monroe adorning it with her iconic come-hither look.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est ca?” the machine-gun barked at me. (“What is that?”)
“C’est un souvenir,” I said, thinking Madame Shaffner, my eighth-grade French teacher, would be oh so proud.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Paris had been suffering from a series of terrorist bombings: 13 in total, with 20 people killed and 255 injured over the course of a year or so. The bombings were believed to be the work of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Islamist militant group.
The machine gun in my face seemed disgusted by Marilyn and tossed her to the ground, then yelled, “ID!”
I fished around and found my passport, which clearly says Adam Christopher Tanous on it, and handed it toward the flashlight. Unfortunately, Tanous is a Lebanese name, a fact the gendarmerie was well aware of. So, that added a little wrinkle to the situation.
Nonetheless, my buddy, Ken, who has a French wife and is fluent in French, talked and talked and talked, apologizing for the stupidity of Americans. One by one, the drawn machine guns went down, sirens and lights turned off. Vehicles pulled away. An officer handed back my passport and proceeded to angrily lecture me, though in French, so it didn’t sound all that angry after all.
Chastised on the hallowed ground of the fallen heroes of the Revolutionary War—those who died for the principles of liberal democracy, free speech and representative government—I humbly turned away, picked up Marilyn from the street, and we drove home.
The bottom line is that bombs are no joke. But they sure are fun to watch explode on the side of a mountain.
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