On the Santa Fe trip, I spent one afternoon in Albuquerque. My friend, who really deserves a pseudonym at this point -- but it hasn't come to me yet, so let's call her Pseudonym until something better comes up -- yes, Pseudonym suggested we explore a grocery store called Talin.
This place is an eater's paradise. Every aisle has food from a different part of the world. There's a whole section of teas, half an aisle of sake, and more spices than you'd find in a Byzantine trading ship.
Pseudonym filled an entire shopping cart, and I a measlie baggie. I opted for restraint, since I like to travel light.
Thus I bought some Balsen cookies I can't find in San Diego, some banana chips from Puerto Rico that looked yummy, a tin of peach black tea from England, a creamy base for making Thai coconut soup, and the piece de resistance, a tarragon mustard from France.
Not just any mustard -- a flavor that I've been searching for years, since one exquisite nibble back in 2001.
As Pseudonym dropped me off, she wisely checked: "Anything you want to leave with me, which I can bring you when I check a bag to San Diego?" I told her I was good to go. "Are you sure?" I said yes.
Of course as soon as I walked through the x-ray machine, a TSA agent stopped me and asked:
"Is this your bag?"
"Would you please come with me? I'm going to have to take a look."
"Of course. Please go ahead."
"Do you have any liquids, gels or creams?" she asked as she tested it for explosives with tweezers and a swab.
"Yes, I have a deodorant which might be a problem, and a little sunscreen..."
"I'm talking about your jars."
With the tactical precision of a bomb diffuser she burrowed deeper and deeper into my luggage until, with one swift gesture, she removed both of the offending jars: the Thai soup base and the tarragon mustard!!!
[image from this skidmore blog]
"These can't come with you. They're creams."
"Really?" I asked meekly. "I thought they were solids. I mean, if you look at them, they don't move. They're kind of sludgy."
"No, those are creams. You'll have to leave them here."
"You can have the Thai soup. It costs $1. Enjoy it. But, it's just that that's a really special mustard, from France, and it was expensive, and I've been looking for it for years. What is the volume limit, again?"
"So I could get rid of half and it would be fine?"
"Yes, but it also needs to be in a container that's labeled less than 3 ounces."
I started rifling through my bag. "This deodorant container says 2.4 ounces. So could I dump some in there?"
"I'm not sure you'd want to do that, but sure."
"You're right, it could be toxic. I also have a ziplock bag. Could I spoon some in there? I'm sorry, but it's sooo goooood! And so hard to find!!!"
She read the ingredients and turned the jar in her hand. I sensed she wanted to help. Or at least, she didn't think I was as deranged as I really am.
"I'm sorry, but it has to be labeled with a number that's less than 3 ounces. Do you have any other containers?" she tried. "Or you could check it."
"My flight is in 20 minutes. Do you think I can make it?"
I looked in my bag again.
"Look at this!" I showed her the tea tin. It said 2 ounces. It was much larger than the mustard container, since tea leaves take up more room than the dense mustard, but if the label was all that mattered...
"That won't work either. It's obvious the container is larger than 3 ounces."
"I'm sorry, but I'm confused. Is what's important the label or the volume? Because I could put less than 3 ounces in the ziplock, or in this container that says 2 ounces. Whatever you think would work!"
"Hold on a second."
She returned with her supervisor and told me to state my case. I explained that it was a mustard I couldn't find in San Diego, really really delicious, and I'd be happy to dump out half or do whatever was necessary to comply with the rules, but please don't make me throw it all away.
They exchanged a few words in private and turned back to me.
"We're going to test it. Please open the container."
I twisted it open with a pop and was about to scoop up a sample to prove it was edible when they stopped me.
"I'll use this machine."
Result: Kept the damn mustard. It's sitting in front of me now, a reminder of the crazy things I'll do for tarragon.