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Recombobulation Area By Cheryl Hughes

If you’ve ever gone through airport security, you know the drill.  You have to put everything you are going to take onto the airplane into bins on a rolling conveyor belt to be scanned by a TSA agent, while other TSA agents are yelling directives at you. 

            “Laptops, phones, electronics in a separate bin!  Take off your shoes and jackets!  Empty your pockets of everything!” they yell.

            The last time I flew, I found out they do mean EVERYTHING.  I left a used tissue in my front jeans pocket, and they had me step aside after I’d gone through the full-body scanner so they could run the hand-held scanner over me.  I had to remove the used tissue from my pocket and hand it to a gloved TSA agent, who turned it this way and that before deciding it was indeed just a used tissue.  She tried to give it back to me.  I told her she could keep it.  She tossed it into a nearby trash bin.  I learned my lesson.  I will never again attempt to smuggle a used tissue onto an airplane.

            After you get through security, you have to grab your shoes, jacket, purse, cell phone, tablet, laptop and carry-on bag then walk in your sock feet to the recombobulation area.  This area has large metal benches in front of even larger windows.  This is where you put yourself back together again or recombobulate. 

            According to, the word was invented by Barry Bateman, the former airport director of General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The airport was the first to use the Recombobulation signage. 

            The Urban Dictionary defines recombobulate as: to cause to think clearly again; to reorient; to put back into working order; to put things back the way they are supposed to be. 

The recombobulation area is where you load yourself down with all the stuff you arrived with, so you can proceed at pack-mule pace to your assigned departure gate.  I’m not so sure that’s putting things back the way things are supposed to be.  Sometimes, as I stand at the end of the security conveyor belt, in just my sock feet, no phone, no laptop, no carry-on bag, I feel so unburdened that I want to turn to a TSA agent and say, “You can just keep all that stuff.  Take it home with you or throw it into the bin with the radioactive used tissues.  I don’t think I need it anymore.”  Of course, I don’t say that.  I encumber myself once again with all the trappings of modern life, too afraid to live without them, like the toddler who won’t go to sleep for fear of missing something.  

We have a customer at Valvoline Express who refuses to get internet at her house.  She doesn’t have a debit or credit card either.  She uses cash for all of her transactions.  Her family and friends bug her about it, telling her she needs those things in order to keep up and stay in touch.  She tells them to write her a letter.

If I ever decide to recombobulate—“to think clearly; to reorient; to put back into working order; to put things back the way they are supposed to be”—I’m going to her house.


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