by Andrea Gross
My four-year-old neighbor, a cute kid with the nicely old-fashioned name of Billy, knocks on my door. "Wanna see what Mommy gave me?"
Billy is carrying a huge box, nearly as big as he is. He hands it to me, I wave to his mother, and we go into my living room.
He unpacks the box. "It catches 'terrists,'" he tells me. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature airport security check point station. I kid you not.
It has seven parts: a baggage x-ray machine, a people metal-detector, three plastic people, a rolling carry-on suitcase that fits in the x-ray machine, and a chair for the person who watches the suitcase in the x-ray machine. The people consist of the following: a traveler, a TSA agent, and a policeman with a gun.
The possibilities for creative play are obviously endless. Traveler tackles policeman. TSA agent gets trapped in metal detector. Policeman shoots x-ray machine. Child has nightmares.... (All people are white and male, but that's a discussion for another time.)
Billy is having problems. "The man's shoes don't come off." He puts the traveler's feet between his teeth and tugs. He's right. Plastic Man is wearing glued-on-shoes. Billy decides the man can't go on vacation after all because "he might have a bomb in his shoes." He throws the doll into the box and wanders into my kitchen.
I flash back to the time when I simply walked onto a plane, carrying a water bottle and, heaven forbid, a manicure scissors. My four-year-old friend tells me that “getting on an airplane is almost the same as getting in the swimming pool. You have to take your clothes off all by yourself.”
I don’t know quite how to respond, so I instead I ask him if he’d like a cookie and a glass of milk. Of course he would. Some things don’t change.
While he's happily munching, I go to my computer to check the Playmobil website. I learn that I can have my very own Security Check Point Station for only $52.99.
Then I see the fine print. Regulations state that this item can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to U.S. military bases abroad. Wouldn't want those Arab jihadists to learn our secrets now, would we?
Guess what, says Billy, who now has a mustache of chocolate crumbs. His best friend not only has a Security Check Point Station but also a Scan-It Operation Toy X-Ray that makes sure the checked baggage is safe. When metallic items are present, the unit beeps and lights up. Then the policeman comes over.
And that's not all. For his birthday his friend is going to get the Playmobil jet plane.
No shit! (I don't say this, not in front of a four-year-old. Especially not in front of a four-year-old who doesn't belong to me. But I think it.)
That night I again check the Playmobil website. The plane is perfect, says the manufacturer for "transporting passengers and cargo." Or for ramming into a tall tower of blocks? I'm getting paranoid.
Do kids still play with plastic farms and dollhouses? Evidently not. The website tells me that the Security Check Point Station is #1 on the list of Playmobil toys that children want. Kids today are obviously living in a new world. I'm just not sure that it's a brave one.
I continue to check prices. The Scan-It X-Ray is $44.95, and the jet plane is $58.93. When you add in the Check Point Station, the total cost is $157. A child has to have wealthy parents to learn about airports.
Hoping to find a bargain, I go to Amazon. The prices are the same, but the customers' reviews are priceless. "Loosenut," a reviewer from Seattle, says he's going to buy his child the Playmobil Abu-Ghraib Interrogation Set just as soon as it comes out.
Whoop-de-doo and safe travels to you.
Photojournalist team Andrea (Andy) Gross and her husband, Irv Green, bring the flavor of other cultures to readers of a variety of print and online publications. They are regular travel columnists for three publications and their articles have appeared in places such as TIME magazine, Ladies Home Journal (where Andy was contributing editor for ten years), Newsweek.com, MSNBC.com, St. Petersburg Times and the Washington Post.