Thursday, May 31, 2007

Citizens and Legal Residents "Being Caught"


I just said goodnight to an old friend with whom I collaborate on agoraXchange. Zeljko's working on an installation that's going up at UC San Diego in a couple of weeks and I was picking him up at LAX. I'd picked up another friend last week and the experience left me on edge.

She had text-messaged me from the plane that she had arrived and so I pulled up to the curb to wait. I was sitting in my car and noticed an officer on a motorcycle pull up to the car behind me and start writing something. Anticipating that I would be next for this unwanted fate, I buckled up, turned on my left-hand turn signal and before I could pull out I was stopped by the motorcycle cop, who had darted in my path to prevent me from leaving.

"Why are you stopping me?"
"You're not supposed to stay here."
"But I'm not staying here. I was waiting for my friend who just messaged me that she's here. And then when I saw you pull up to the car behind, I started to leave."
"Cars are not allowed to stand here."
"Isn't this the passenger pick up area? What are you supposed to do, drive real slow so your passenger can jump in?"
He asked for my drivers' license and said that they were writing these down for anyone whom they stopped for stopping (and for having been stopped even though one was presently moving at the time of being stopped for stopping).

As he wrote down my driver's license number he explained how generous he was being, since he could have given me a ticket. Sitting there, furious that I was being either legally or illegally stopped--I can't decide which is worse, that our legislators would criminalize picking people up at the airport, or a cop pretending they would so he could collect private information--I said the f-word. "Doesn't this seem fascist?" I asked him.

"What did you say?! Can you please repeat that? Do you want a ticket?"

I was silent.

"You said something. What did you say."

"Nothing." Pick your battles, I thought, knowing that a police officer whose ticket-writing discretion could be swayed by some extemporaneous political analysis would win if I brought the fantasy First Amendment case I was contemplating. There is no "right" not to have a ticket written by a cop because he hates to be questioned.

When I returned home I told my girlfriend what happened and she said the same thing had happened to her, which was especially galling because she'd been robbed of her laptop at LAX a couple months earlier and the police there had no clue as to how to apprehend the person who did this. The security cameras were dark in that area (the outside curb!) and all they could do was join us looking in trash cans. But somehow they were planning to nab major terrorists by taking my driver's license number.

Zeljko and his friend Alexander were exactly where they said they would be in the message, waiting on the curb in front of the Delta terminal. Their first story was about the horrors of security. Alexander had to go through twice in Atlanta. Zeljko was not allowed to carry a bottle of liquor in his hand luggage and had to somehow track down his suitcase and pack it there. For my part, I often think, as I'm figuring out which is the 4 oz (illegal) carry-on bottle and which is the 3 oz (legal) bottle for my shampoo, one day people will tell their children about not being able to carry hair care products on the plane to the same bemused looks now directed to the "duck-and-cover" educational film footage instructing children on going under their school desks in the event of a nuclear attack.

And meanwhile, the country was radiating itself into the current slow death now underway. Global warming and an irradiated food chain, beginning in the ground water, to name just two current crises among dozens that were beginning fifty years ago while the government was spending most of its budget on the military, especially building a nuclear arsenal. New Orleans has vanished and tritium is now showing up in Washington State salmon and strawberries. Meanwhile, our government has no plan to prevent the loss of more major cities, or clean up the tritium, but has decided to spend billions of dollars on copying down the driver's license numbers for everyone stopping to pick up a passenger and making sure people use 3 oz and not 4 oz bottles.

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