What It’s Like Getting Busted Smuggling Crack (Seed) at the Airport
Turns out omiyage from Hawai‘i looks pretty sketchy to the TSA.
Photos: Courtesy of Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks
We love receiving omiyage almost as much as we love bringing Hawai‘i snacks, souvenirs and other collectibles to friends and family on the Mainland and abroad. We take trips with suitcases filled with nothing but macadamia nuts, mochi, rice cakes, taro chips, cookies and chocolate. We return with suitcases chock-full of treats from places like Trader Joe’s. And it’s usually not a problem.
But what happens if you’re traveling with snacks from Hawai‘i on a multicity trip, where airport security people in, for example, Arizona or Colorado, may not recognize the strange items in your carry-on?
red li hing mui
This was the situation I encountered back in November while on an extended trip to Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Albuquerque and Las Vegas. I picked up a couple of dozen assorted bags of crack seed from Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks before I left, with the goal of giving them out to various friends in each city.
Traveling to LA and Portland was no problem. The hitch was in my departure from Albuquerque. By then, I had given away most of the big bags of omiyage and was left with only smaller unlabeled bags.
So, as I’m going through the security scanner at the airport, my luggage gets flagged and a TSA agent calls me over. He opens my carry-on to take a look and immediately finds the deliciousness: red li hing mui, chalky-looking shredded mango strips, reddish brown licorice cherry seeds, fat slices of beet-red pickled mango and salty brown ginger slices.
salted brown ginger
“It’s just crack seed,” I say quickly.
“It’s just what now?” the agent asks, leaning in to make sure he heard me right. Bad choice of words on my part. You ever go into a restaurant on the Mainland and, instead of asking about their appetizers, you ask what sorts of “pūpū” they’re serving? It’s like that, except with consequences.
“Similar to dried fruit, rice crackers, that sort of thing,” I say.
“These don’t look like crackers,” the agent says, suspiciously. He picks up one of the sealed unmarked bags. It’s full of jet black, wet seedless plums. Which doesn’t actually look too different from a few rocks of black tar heroin, Google later tells me.
wet seedless plums
Another agent brings over a big German shepherd, which runs its nose all over my open luggage, my clothes and the little baggies filled with crack seed. No response. I offer to let the guy try some, but he shakes his head and says I can go.
Looking back, I didn’t actually think I was in real trouble. But the best part was that my suitcase was filled with “meth.” At least, the fake blue meth candy used as a prop on the television show Breaking Bad, which was filmed in Albuquerque.
TSA didn’t care about that though. I guess every state has its own tasty-yet-suspicious-looking treats.