Where’s the cafe that refuses to serve the TSA?

Late last week, as I was thinking of a way to start a post about the TSA, I received the following comment from a reader.

From: Kc mclawson
IP Address:
Submitted on 2011/02/17 at 7:37 pm

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I work for a cafe close to a major international airport. We have had enough of the TSA, and have posted signs on our doors basically saying that they aren’t allowed to come into our business. (We have the right to refuse service to anyone) My boss flies quite a bit and he has an amazing ability to remember faces. If he sees a TSA agent come in we turn our backs and completely ignore them, and tell them to leave, their kind aren’t welcomed in our establishment. A large majority of our customers (over 90%) agree with our stance and stand by our decision. We even have the police on our side and they have helped us escort TSA agents out of our cafe. Until TSA agents start treating us with the respect and dignity that we deserve then things will change for them in the private sector.

I know the traveling public is still angry at the TSA after last November’s pat-down/opt-out controversy, but refusing someone service at a restaurant seemed a little extreme.

I followed up with McLawson by email.

Me: Hi KC, I saw your comment on my site. Thank you for taking the time to write in. I’d like to write something about the establishment you work in. Could I?

KC: Dear Chris, I talked to my boss about it and he isn’t too hot on the idea. (He’s Persian) I would do it but I’m a disabled 40 yr old mother of 2 boys and this job is what is keeping me afloat. If my boss changes his mind, I’ll let you know. Thank you for your interest in my story though, maybe more businesses will step up to the plate and do the same.

OK, the email address is real and someone took the time to respond to my inquiry. That’s a positive sign. I traced the IP address to Seattle.

McLawson had given me a name, a working email address and a believable reason why she wouldn’t want her business named. She suggested her boss, if outed, could face repercussions from the TSA.

Put it all together, and it’s not quite enough to write a whole story. But it seemed like an interesting anecdote for my Saturday roundup. I wanted to be careful not to overstate the issue in the post, which was a review of the week’s TSA news.

Several days after the article appeared, I started receiving queries from Seattle-area media. They wanted to get in touch with McLawson. I shared her contact information with them.

Late yesterday, two of the outlets suggested the cafe was not real. They were unable to find a restaurant near the Seattle airport that had refused to serve TSA agents, and the TSA was denying such a business existed. They couldn’t find anyone named KC McLawson in Seattle, and police had no incident reports from a cafe near Seattle that had escorted TSA agents out of the building.

Had McLawson punk’d me?

I put the question directly to her in an email.

Me: Hi KC, sorry to bother you again, but unfortunately, some are calling this story a hoax. Is there anything you can do to assure me that the cafe exists and that it has, indeed, banned TSA agents?

Autoresponder: Kristin Clawson – On mid winter break. Will be back next week.

So her autoresponder is showing her real name as Kristin Clawson. I can’t blame her for using an alias, if she was worried about keeping her job. But is there anyone by that name, fitting her profile (age 40) near the Seattle airport? A quick records search showed there’s a Kristin Clawson in Burien, Wash., only a few miles from SEA-TAC.

I don’t have a problem naming Clawson because she never requested anonymity for herself — only that I not identify her cafe. Also, she had already posted this information as a comment on my site.

So where does that leave us? I don’t think the fact that no one can find the cafe means it doesn’t exist. TSA’s denial that its employees have been barred from any Seattle cafes is meaningless, too. They’re not paid to monitor discrimination practices at restaurants. They’re paid to protect air travelers from terrorists.

Some of you have asked if I believe Clawson.

I believe her words struck a chord with American air travelers that I couldn’t have foreseen. Certainly, a lot of readers weighed in with strong opinions about barring TSA employees from businesses. I think it might be a good idea for the TSA to address that hostility.

I also believe I’d like to have a word with Clawson’s boss, to find out why he told TSA agents they weren’t welcome at the cafe, as she claims.

And what if Clawson made the whole thing up? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time someone lied to a reporter.

(Photo: Ken ny Lex/Flickr Creative Commons)