A Tale of Two Watches

Twice now I have lost watches at airport security.  This is the strange Tale of Two Watches.

I arrived in Tbilisi grumpy.  I have always worn cheap watches, Timex.  And I’ve always wanted a good watch.  On the cruise I splurged on a solar powered Citizen with a stopwatch built in.  I agonized over buying it and finally, when they cut the price at the end of the cruise I plunked down more than 300 duty free dollars.  The watch made me happy.  It kept good time, didn’t need new batteries, had a big face and glowed in the dark.  Most of all it reminded me of a wonderful trip.   I arrived in Tbilisi without the watch.

I got to the Munich airport in plenty of time but the automated kiosk would not give me a boarding pass. I had to stand on line for more than 20 minutes.  The agent said their computer showed that I had a paper ticket.  I showed her the e-ticket receipt and 20 minutes later, after phone calls and furious keyboarding, I had a boarding pass and a baggage check.  I headed for security.

I pulled my camera, radio, computer, iPad, clear baggie of liquids and phone out of my bag.  I took off my watch put all of it in a bin and put my bags on the belt.  (Germans require you to take more out of bags than Americans.)  I walked through the body scanner, which signaled an alarm.  A uniform pulled me aside, not allowing me to get my stuff.  After unpleasant groping he decided I was no longer suspicious.  I started repacking, took few steps away from security and realized I didn’t have my watch.  I went back.  The guy who told me to put it in the bin now insisted that I must have put it in my bag.  So they rescanned my bags, looking for a watch that was not there.  By the time they were done one of the guys remembered that I had put the watch in the bin.  He asked me for my boarding pass and put it to me like this; “You can either report to the police or make your flight, you can’t do both.  The police will hold you until they’ve reviewed the security camera.”  I made the flight and am now wearing a cheap Timex.

This is not the first time I have lost a watch in airport security.  Here is an extended quotation from an April 2008 letter from Alexandria Egypt.

Joe and I sat in a seaside café near the Cecil Hotel, the old British colonial watering hole. Joe was smoking a sheesha while I was sipping a mint tea.  I mentioned to Joe that I wanted to buy a watch.  Soon several men approach to sell us “Rolex” watches.  I tell one guy that there is no way I am going to buy a counterfeit Rolex so he pulls out a fake Breitling, a Longines, and a Mont Blanc. I have a choice of trademark infringements.  They all looked great, but I don’t want to wear a counterfeit watch through customs.  But I need a watch.  So finally I bought my $9 “Bratling” with “Made in China” stamped on it.  Superficially it looks a little like a Breitling but no one is going to be fooled by this watch. It would kind of like buying a “London Mist” rather than a “London Fog” raincoat.

Why do I need a watch?  Coming back from Aswan the watch that went into the x-ray machine at airport security was not the watch the guard handed to me on my way out.  It looked like my Timex Explorer but it was not.  Two things tipped me off.  The watch can tell the time in two different time zones.  I keep one time zone on Alaska Time and the other on the time where I am.  This watch the guard handed me had both time zones set on Cairo time.  My watch had one of those outer rings that can rotate.  I could never figure out why but I like twisting it.  This watch had the ring fused to the shell.  It did not twist.  THIS WAS NOT MY WATCH.  I mentioned it to Joe as kind of a joke, “look what happened to my watch at the airport.”  All sorts of alarm bells went off.  Was the replacement watch installed with a microphone?  Was it a tracking device?  Friends tried talking into it as if it were a microphone.  After all the jokes it was decided (I use the passive voice because I am still not sure who decided) that I should surrender my watch to the US government for analysis and I am wearing a 9 dollar “Bratling” bought off the street, in a café near the Hotel Cecil in Alexandria.

A little later at the same café and someone else came by to try to sell me a watch.  He saw my “Bratling”

“I bet you paid too much.  I will sell you one for 55 Egyptian pounds.” (US $10.)

“Is that a good price?”

“Yes, very good.”  

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, you cannot do better.”

“Then I will sell you this watch for 50 pounds, you can sell it for 55 and make a profit.”

“You paid less!”


“I will give you two watches for 50 pounds.”

“No buy I’ll trade you this one for two of yours.”

“Good bye, have a nice time in Egypt.”

A year later, when I was at a conference in Washington, DC my substituted watch from the Aswan airport was returned to me.  I asked what the US government found.

“No comment.”

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