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Posted: January 01, 2011

Rundles wrap-up: In at the finish line

Jeff Rundles

Rundles_jan11.jpg

As a frequent business traveler over the last
15 years, I have been through every kind of security checkpoint and backlog imaginable. While
there has been security at airports for some time,
it increased to enormous levels after 9-11, of
course, and I for one was thankful.

I remember going to Dallas for a convention a short time after 9-11, and the airport wasn't yet quite up to snuff security-wise, so we stood in line for hours, missing our flight. It was frustrating, but on reflection not quite as frustrating, one would imagine, as sitting next to a successful shoe bomber.

Once my wife and I were pulled out of line for a "talking to," because, as it turned out, our handy travel cooler happened to have a knife in it we used for slicing cheese at the park. Being short one cheese knife seems like a small price to pay to keep terrorists from getting on the plane.

I think it's interesting that there was such a hubbub about new security procedures at airports around the country during Thanksgiving. I am willing to put up with almost anything to ensure my flight won't blow up. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. Is it necessary? Unfortunately, yes.

What's amazing is that it took the terrorist community so long to target airplanes: There was a famous incident involving an airplane leaving Denver in the late 1950s that blew up when a bomb in luggage - as it turned out a son targeting his mother - killed everyone aboard. I'd rather risk humiliation than death.

Surely, the Transportation Security Administration could be somewhat better at its job; the procedures, and the people involved, could be just as thorough without the officiousness. But TSA wouldn't be the first government agency that needs to work on its customer service skills, and I believe it will.

A friend of mine suggests that we have two lines at the airport, and by extension two airplanes going to destinations. In line one, people who favor safety and security wait a little longer, get checked out thoroughly, and then fly on an airplane that, most likely, will not blow up or get hijacked. The other line would be for the complainers: no waiting, no security check, and the airplane would be a Russian Tupolev Tu-154. Yeah, it's Russian roulette, but it's quick.

No thinking person would get into Line No. 2. But, as Adlai Stevenson once famously noted, "thinking people" doesn't necessarily constitute a majority.

For instance, just a few weeks ago Denver financier Sean Mueller was sentenced to 40 years in jail for operating a Ponzi scheme and fleecing many presumably "thinking people" out of some $71 million. If you think about it, these people got in the wrong line. Mueller was promising his investors - very wealthy people, reportedly including John Elway - unbelievable returns, and they obviously forgot the saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." I hate to see people lose so much money, but c'mon: Are they really that stupid?

They could have easily stood in the longer, safer line, but their impatience, if not their greed, got the better of them. Some people just think the regular rules don't apply to them, that there is a shorter line, a quicker path. In some cases the consequence is penury; in others death.

Years ago, an employer asked my opinion on a choice between two competing bids for our company IRA and employee investments. One was a steady old company, the other a swift up-and-comer. I advised the tortoise; my boss went with the hare. The hare in this case was subsequently indicted for fraud, and we all lost our pension investments. This was no fable.

I hate waiting in line as much as the next person. Shortcuts, however - Line No. 2, if you will - 
don't appeal to me. Ultimately, it's the finish line that matters.
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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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