DAR Security

I took in a show at DAR Constitution Hall last night and was stopped by security for a bag search, because I walk around with a backpack all the time. Yes, it’s a man purse. And, yes, it’s mostly empty, which makes the habit a little upsetting whenever I really think about.

I say mostly empty because, like a troubled high school kid, I also walk around with a big old knife. It’s in the bag, since there has to be some purpose for the man purse. Also in the bag was a one liter plastic bottle of water — empty. So the security guard had me open the bag and he looked in at the knife, then his eyes lit up.

“You can’t have the bottle!”

I took it out and told him that it was empty, but he grabbed it out of my hand and tossed it.

So a big old knife is not a security threat…but an empty plastic bottle is?

Maybe that’s what happened on 9/11, eh?

Sorry, sir, you can’t take that cookie onto the plane. Here, let me take care of it for you. Yes, sir, thank you, and praise Allah to you, as well.

Actually, TSA isn’t that friendly. They treat us more like escaped — though harmless — zoo animals. They’d like you to think that they treat us all with a trained eye for security and safety, but that’s not true. In the last three years, I’ve been waved past the little metal detector things – bags and all – twice. Once at National here in DC, and once at Newark. At National, the machine was broken, so the TSA guy just rolled his eyes and told everyone to go on through, have a good day. At Newark they were all just standing around staring at the passengers as we walked around the machine and guiltily slipped away.

So if I fly twice a year, on average, and that’s happened to me twice, what are the odds that it’s happening a lot?

All this plays into the illusion of safety theory. The movie Airplane always comes to mind — where the security guards cheerfully let the heavily armed terrorists walk through and then freak out and tackle the elderly woman behind them. So it’s nothing new. Hundreds of people are waved past the metal detectors, and empty plastic bottles are a greater threat than knives… I’d hate to go into the DAR waving a gun. They’d probably take away my socks or something.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone somewhere with a knife and gotten through security. I brought my big old knife to the Ronald Reagan building in 2002 to attend a book reading. Now this was when the 9/11 freakout was still pretty fresh, so security actually looked at the metal detector screen. There they addressed the issue of the knife, but still let me keep it. The guy stopped the x-ray machine, stared, then asked me if I had a knife in the bag. I said yes. He shrugged and let me go, knife and all.

Maybe I just don’t fit the profile. I’m a middle-class white guy. Everyone’s looking for Islamic radicals, right? Guys dressed like extras from Ishtar rushing the security line with a bomb strapped to their robes, screaming lines from the Koran. Okay, we’ll stop those guys. But the white guy slinking around with a big ass knife in his bag? Let him through. It’s not like white people can do any harm, like, say, blow up a federal building or something.

A note to security people – this is why we hate you. This is why we mock you. Because you aren’t doing your job. You’re a joke. So whenever you stop us and hassle us and act snooty, we know that it’s pointless because the big guys with guns behind us are being waved through while you search an eight year old girl’s toy purse and confiscate her lollipops.