It was a cold winter Friday morning in 1995 when I left home for a very important trip. As a senior scientist I was in charge of running a $30,000 experiment I’d been planning for months. It was a textured hand towel on one of our fabric machines over the next three days. The machine was in a Kimberly-Clark factory that mostly made consumer products for women. Since it was factory work, I wore jeans and steel toe shoes and an old WWII leather flight jacket. Joining me on the trip was Susan, a materials scientist.
Going through the Atlanta airport was no big deal since I only had a briefcase and a small bag with me. The airport was packed as usual but I flew all the time, so I was mindless to the crowd. Susan and I met up at the gate and talked shop and our shared frustration of giving up a weekend to do this. The factory runs 24/7 and this was when they scheduled the experiment, so it was what it was.
After we landed Susan headed for the restroom, and everyone else headed for the exit. As I was waiting, it struck me this whole concourse was empty except for one woman near the restroom talking on the phone. What kind of hick town is this?? I’d never been here before but really, on a Friday at noon, the airport is a ghost town. Oh well, they roll up the sidewalks early here.
A few minutes later Susan comes out of the restroom and we again start talking shop and all the details of this experiment were going to run. We were very deep in conversation as we walked towards the exit. I noticed there wasn’t even anyone at the X-ray entry area on the other side, not even airport security; strange? But there was a man leaning against a table.
Suddenly the man walks over to us and stops right in front of me. Just then, that woman I saw earlier was standing right behind me. The man says to me they were from the FBI (they both flash their badges) and we need to ask you a few questions. Bam, instant terror in my mind. OK, keep your cool, I know this is a mistake of some sort. But the FBI? He goes on to explain that I was spotted in the Atlanta airport and they were notified of what flight I was on and they had come down to pick me up.
OK, clearly a mistake. So I show him my driver’s license. He looks it over carefully and asks if I had any other picture ID. No, driver’s license is it. I am really getting scared at this point. It was clear they had come all the way down here to get me and wanted to take me in and sort this out downtown. I had visions of spending the weekend in jail with some big guy named Bubba while they sorted this out.
I ask him why he isn’t believing me about who I say I am. This is when he takes a wanted poster out of his jacket and shows it to me. Damn, it was a real wanted poster just like you see in the post office and police stations. It was a sketch of a bald man with a beard. I am bald but no beard. He’s telling me I’m the guy on the poster. Hey, all you bald guys look the same.
I guess it was about then that my fear slowly turned to frustration then anger. He’s asking me why I’m here. So I try to explain (knowing this sounds unbelievable) that we are senior scientists (remember how we were dressed) with Kimberly-Clark, and were here to work this weekend in the factory. Now the questions come about why you would come here to only work on the weekend.
Up to now I’ve been 100% honest with him and he is not buying any of this. He clearly wants to arrest me. So I did the only thing I knew he would understand. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I’M HERE TO MAKE KOTEX.” It was a lie, but then again it was a lie no man would tell. In somewhat shock he looked at me and handed me back my license and said I could go, but don’t leave town before Sunday without notifying the FBI.
It was only when we returned to the airport on Sunday afternoon and it was very busy that it dawned on me the FBI had evacuated the entire airport because an extremely dangerous man was flying in from Atlanta. I never did find out who he was or what he was wanted for. But somehow he/I made the FBI’s top ten.
Two lessons learned that day:
* All bald men look the same to the police
* Police don’t want to hear about how to make Kotex and they will let you go.