My husband and I just returned from a successful 10-day holiday.   I deem it successful because we managed to avoid almost all of the hazards of traveling.  We had:  no flight delays, no lost luggage, comfortable hotels, absence of intestinal backlash, good weather, and letting others do the driving, which greatly minimizes opportunities for unpleasant marital confrontation.   And on the flight home we were completely confident that the bliss of the journey would not be spoiled by long lines at passport control.  For we are the proud owners of Global Entry cards. 

     As “trusted travelers” we simply walk up to a kiosk, let a machine read our passports and fingerprints, take the receipt, and be on our way.  So smug were we as we watched the rapidly swelling throng, that we failed to notice the big, black “X” that had printed across our receipts. The Ebony Letter required that we enter a special room, which was rather unnerving.  Is this what I had read about? A place where people are detained for days? But fortunately, no. It was merely a “failure to print,” resulting in further passport review.  So with the recent experience, and jet lag, as excuses, I’m reviving an essay written a few years ago, which explains how I wound up  in that small room at the airport.


Honestly, did I really need another reminder that I was old?

I thought I paid my dues this year with a few more wrinkles, deeper frown lines, a couple of extra sun spots, and a pair of eyeglasses that I am now required to use when driving.  Oh, and the addition to my never-again list of a few more foods which now give me indigestion.

So, did I have to suffer yet another indignity of aging, in front of a complete stranger, no less? No, I didn’t lose bladder control.  I lost my fingerprints!  Let me explain how this came to light.

My husband and I had applied for the Global Entry pass that is supposed to make air travel a little easier.  If you have this card, you can bypass lines at security and immigration by checking yourself in or out using a special kiosk.  Whether this method is preferable to being escorted in a wheelchair remains to be seen.

In any event, since neither of us could justify needing a wheelchair just yet, we thought we would obtain these cards, and become official “trusted travelers.”

Part of the process of qualifying for this privilege is an in-person appointment at an office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said office usually located at your nearest major airport.

We were interviewed by a friendly, uniformed officer (I think they’re called “officers.”  Or maybe they’re called “agents.”  I’m not sure.  In any event he was friendly.)  We responded to the routine questions and each of us in turn had our picture taken.  So far, so good.

Also required was a set of fingerprints.  I went first.  They don’t use inkpads any more.  Instead, fingerprints are recorded biometrically using computers and a scanner.  It’s simple, really.  All you have to do is place four fingers on a piece of glass and the computer reads your prints.

Reads your prints, maybe, but unfortunately, not mine!

The nice gentleman tried again.  Then once again.  But neither my left or right hand would yield a set of readable, unsmeared fingerprints.

Naturally, I became concerned.  Had I contracted some exotic disease that was slowly stripping away my identity? But then this formerly-nice-man tells me not to worry.  This frequently happens with old people.  Old people!!!

Apparently, says Google, as we age, our skin loses elasticity.  (Every woman knows that already!) The ridges that form our prints get thicker, the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there is less prominence.

The problem was eventually solved by applying some lotion to my fingertips, which magically allowed the scanner to take its impression.   The no-longer-nice-man also informed me that I might have to apply some lotion to my fingertips every time I try to use one of the Global Entry kiosks at the airport.  Otherwise, it may not be able to read my prints.

Great!  My Global Entry card that was supposed to eliminate some of the stress of travelling has just added a new anxiety.  Maybe I’ll opt for the wheelchair after all.

I also learned from Google that the FBI website has instructions for taking fingerprints of elders and others with impaired “ridges in the pattern area.”  So not only am I member of the social security set, but I’m also part of a new sub-culture of people with impaired ridges.

But having this knowledge is not very helpful.  I’m still left with the sorry news that I’m now an old person with one less distinctive feature, and wondering what comes next.  And it’s not particularly comforting to know that there are others like me.

Someone or something has played an ironic prank.  Or else, why would time remove the creases from where we need them, and add new creases to where we don’t? It saddens me that Mother Nature isn’t perfect.

Either that, or she possesses a very wicked sense of humor!