This is the twenty-first century for those that haven’t noticed. It means cell phones and blackberries and ipods and miniature umbrellas that fit in your coat pocket. It also means, because of increasing incidents of terrorism and attempted terrorism, that we all must endure heavy security at airports and theme parks and government buildings. (Don’t get me started on the similarities between the latter two examples). Terrorists win when they force us to change our way of life. I begin to think they may be gaining on us.
I work in a government building and so I have become accustomed to walking through a metal detector every time I enter my building, or any other government building I am visiting for that matter. Because I do this every day, I have had the foresight to put my cell phone and my blackberry and my miniature umbrella into the laptop case I use as a briefcase, along with my keys and coins, and wallet and other items that might normally be carried in my pockets. I don’t actually need my phone in my pocket when I’m walking from my car to the building in any case, and it saves me time at the entrance to the building. If only there were others who had similar foresight.
Unfortunately, I seem to be destined to be in line behind people who have never in their lives encountered a metal detector before. They stand patiently in line watching the people in front of them reach in their pockets and pull everything out to put in the plastic dog food bowls that security sends through the scanner, then walk through the metal detector hesitantly as if it is going to grab them. They watch intently as if they will learn something or disinterestedly as if they have seen it all before, but they never take that time to begin to pull things out of their own pockets.
No. Every morning, without fail, the person in front of me, and often the three people in front of them, go through the same routine.
First they set a bag down on the scanner belt that goes through in a matter of seconds.
Then, they reach into their pocket daintily, as if they aren’t sure what they may find, and pull an item out, showing it to the security officer and shrugging as if they weren’t aware it was there. “My phone,” they say, as if no one could figure out that it was a phone. I watch them begin to step through the metal detector and I realize it is going to be another morning like yesterday morning. It must be the first day they’ve ever had a blackberry clipped to their belt, because when the metal detector goes off, they pat themselves down and begin to search for the offending item.
They look surprised when they find the coins in their other pocket, and toss them haphazardly into another dog food bowl, the first having already gone through the scanner.
“Your Blackberry, sir,” the security officer says with a slight hint of irritated boredom. He has seen this act before as well.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot,” the genius in front of me says. “My blackberry.”
“And your metal belt, and rolexx, and whatever that is bulging in your jacket pocket,” I think to myself.
Mr. Genius tries again. The metal detector goes off again. Screwing up his face in determination, Mr Genius begins to put his hand into every pocket, one hand at a time, one pocket at a time, fishing around for items that might be setting off the detector. As he locates items he holds them up for the security officer to see, like Mr. Bean making a sandwich. I begin to fantasize about taking out my miniature umbrella and…
I watch as he fishes out and displays keys, another phone (his wife’s, he forgot he had it), a miniature umbrella, an ipod, a set of ear buds, some more coins, ANOTHER set of ear buds, (a backup pair, never can be too careful) A JACKNIFE!! (now where did that come from?). Finally stripped of all his metal items, he moves soundlessly through the detector.
“Phew,” he says, looking back at me for some sympathy, which I am thinking, comes between skull fracture and systematic dismemberment in the dictionary.
As he begins to sift through four dog bowls for his personal items, I set my bag down on the scanner belt, walk through the metal detector and pick up my bag from the other side, which is already threatening to push some of the dog food bowls filled with his items over the edge.
His eyes widen as he sees his items being scattered and grasps at them desperately. It is all he seems to grasp.
I glance back to see if he is smart enough to put at least some of the items into his bag, but no, each and every item goes into a pocket of his pants, suit, or coat.
“I don’t know why I have to go through this every day,” he tells the officer.
“Neither do I,” I think.
If this were a tourist who had never been to the twenty-first century before, I might have some sympathy. Unfortunately, it is someone who works in the building and should know better.
It may be the exact same person I was behind yesterday.
I am fairly certain it is the same person who was in front of me at security the last time I was at the airport, the guy who was trying to finish his cell phone conversation while TSA agents yelled at him to put his phone down.
Or was that the lady with the two sixteen ounce bottles of shampoo sticking out of a one quart ziploc bag.
I worry for our nation, I really do.