A few words about security. I will harken back to near forty years ago to illustrate the “then” portion of this essay and to several years ago for the “now” portion. Forty years ago, I was traveling as much as possible. On my journeys I often made friends and acquaintances, whom I swapped addresses with. To avoid change of address fees, I kept one P.O. Box during this transient time.
At one point I had thirty-seven “pen-pals” as they were called in the days of hand-networking. I corresponded with these people regularly. There was no finer feeling than grabbing a fistful of envelopes from all over the world at the end of a long days work. Some were written in languages I knew not how to read.
This was no barrier. I simply brought the ones I couldn't read on the bus with me in the mornings on the way to work and found an individual who could. From Arabic to German to Japanese I always found a willing translator. Usually the translator was flattered and also curious. As these were acquaintances the privacy was a big issue.
Sometimes the writer knew how to write English. A lovely girl I met in Spain who lived in Poland was one example. When her first letter came I was alarmed to find it had been opened, read and unceremoniously stapled shut. Pasted to the outside was a yellow label from Canada Customs pointing out this fact, in case it escaped my notice.
I was raised to respect the mail. If your name isn't on the envelope, it is not your property. You are not free to open it. In the case of Canada it remains the property of the Queen until such time as the individual named on the envelope opens it. I went straight downtown with the letter to speak to the Customs man.
The old man was very polite and patiently explained to me that as Poland was a Communist Satellite, we in the west couldn't be too careful when dealing with those people, especially if they were pretty, multilingual, intelligent blondes. I told him that it was still wrong to open mail and I wasn't happy about it. He shrugged as if to say, “What can you do?”
I was sent a carton of cigarettes from a friend in Guatemala some time later and received a card telling me to come downtown to pick it up in person. I went straightaway and wound up with the same old man. He took my package and opened it in front of me on a little table. He then told me to take a package at random out of the ten in the carton. This I did and he pulled out his Swiss knife and sliced it in two. He crumbled the tobacco onto the table and then handed me the mess.
The “War on Drugs you understand,” he said .
I told my correspondents to write on post cards, so that way everybody could read them before I got them. Save a step.
Thirty-five years ago, give or take, there was a beer brewery strike in Canada. I, along with all the other regular drinkers, knew just what to do to avoid disaster. It was an established tradition and well practiced back in those days. A beer run to the USA!
My brother-in-law, a seasoned Vietnam war vet, agreed to drive my first wife and I down to Blaine, Washington to stock up on the beer. We would be taking the Volkswagen Beetle. We all gathered up our cash and set off singing. I was twenty, my wife was eighteen and my brother-in-law was maybe thirty years old. We experienced high congestion at the Peace Arch border crossing and at the liquor store on the other side of the fence.
To celebrate our cunning and the safe securing of our three personal maximum import quotas, we decided to buy more beer and carry it back in our stomachs. This is an old smuggler's trick from the cuneiform days. We set to work in the parking lot of a gas station.
First we had a few while we discussed the possible strategies of the others like us. There was lots of daylight left and we figured that most would hurry back. We decided to take it slow and have a few more. We told jokes and funny stories from days gone by.
Inevitably, a demonstration of “shot-gunning” beers was called for. I was the expert at this because of my intimate knowledge of the Coriolis Effect. I was taught by a master in Texas. My brother-in-law was good but he laughed too much to make any real headway. My wife took at least three tries to “get her done.”
At one point in the tailgate party, my Mrs. had to relieve herself. The gas station was now full of like-minded parties and the washrooms were jammed. She was a soldier's daughter and marched off to the back where the bushes were thickest. Brother-in-law and I stood sentry a short distance away.
The little coquette got in position OK but halfway through the operation, she out-balanced on a wave of mirth and in slow motion fell away backwards down a steep slope well sown in brambles. She giggled all the way down and laughed all the way up.
She was unhurt in any serious way but covered from head to toe in long angry red scratches. I spent many minutes alone with her pulling thorns out of her backside. With her jeans back in place she was fairly presentable except for her arms, face, hair and the mud overall.
Prudently, we all decided to get the cargo back home-side and we set off for the border. It was only a ten minute drive without traffic. We enjoyed about three minutes and then became mired in the longest line I've ever seen. It was hot, muggy and the sun was coming in at eye-level through the driver's side window.
After some indeterminable time, my poor brother-in-law could brook no more. He pulled out to our right and sped like an ambulance for a half mile. When the guard sheds were in view, he politely signaled his intention to merge left back into the line. This fell on blind eyes.
With his war-face on, he edged the Beetle closer and closer to his target car. It happened to be full of uncivilized ruffians and this angered him somewhat. After all he had put his ass on the line to keep them free. In a series of moves that Mario Andretti could have learned from, he managed at last to get in line.
We cheered in the back seat. Then the first traffic cone hit the windshield. We were under attack! While we had been congratulating each other one of the varmints from the car behind us had sneaked out and lobbed the orange missile at us. Its trajectory was such that it made a very loud smack.
Then, a rain of mortars came in. Other copycat criminals had taken heart at the first wanton action and had joined in the fray. It was war. Our side managed some choice shots on target and we also knew how to swear properly, putting our various rivals to utter shame. We ran out of nearby traffic cones and got back into the relative safety of the vehicle to check on the female. The car in front moved up to the gate.
The next thing that happened was that a man in a blue uniform came forward and vehemently motioned for some idiot to pull out of line and proceed to an unused booth to the right of our position. We waited to see the fools behind us get upbraided. Wait! The guard came up to us directly and jerked a flashlight in the direction he wanted us to go.
Pushed by gales of laughter from the animals behind us, we limped into the DMZ. A tired looking guard approached our Beetle and politely asked the three of us to step out. My wife was not tightly wired when it came to these kind of authority situations and as I began to disembark from the back-seat she threw up the last half-dozen beers directly onto me.
Luckily, we hadn't eaten anything for fear of wasting valuable space for beer, so my shower was entirely liquid. It did however cover me from head to toe. I stepped out. She came out next in a fit of the prettiest giggles you ever heard. Once she got started she couldn't stop. The mud and blood on her clothes was dry now. I quickly considered telling the man that her scratches were from having undergone an old Cherokee rattlesnake fang ritual and that my medicine woman was currently in an altered state due to this.
I decided against this tactic when I saw his expression. He pointed out a garden hose and suggested I use it before joining the others in the “little room.” I had a good wash which sobered me up considerably. I went into the box. My brother-in-law was receiving his instructions for the next stage of the journey and my wife was collapsed in a chair trying to breath between peals of laughter.
The man told us that our license plate number and vehicle description had been radioed in all the way to North Vancouver. Due to the special nature of the beer strike crisis and the ensuing volume being experienced we were free to proceed directly home. If we turned one block out of our way or incurred the tiniest driving infraction we were all to be thrown in irons. We thanked the man and promised to do as told. We kept our promise.
A few years ago, my current wife had occasion to go to Florida. It was during cold weather here. She needed a heavy coat to wear to the airport and wanted me to take it and keep it in the car for when I picked her up a week later.
We parked the car and went into the new modern Vancouver airport. I have been flying out of this place since the days when it resembled a Greyhound station and one could walk out to the tarmac. It has been greatly expanded and improved.
Before there was lots of cheap parking nearby, now there is lots of expensive parking far away. We got inside and checked in at the desk of her airline. After quite a while in the line we reached the clerk who said we had to go backwards and use a machine we had already passed to pay the airport tax.
I went to stand in line for that. When my turn came I inserted my debit card and got a nasty message that I should have used my credit card. I was steamed but we needed to get moving so I attempted to use my credit card and received another abortive message. Apparently, I should have used my wife's credit card of our sole credit account. Eventually we were ready for the next step.
We joined a long line for checking the boarding passes. A young South Asian man in a private company uniform was doing this duty. He had set his line at the mouth of a cavernous entrance to a shopping area. There was smoked salmon, perfumes and maple syrup. The opposite end of this duty-free shopping area had another cavernous opening out to where a new line had started for the final approach to boarding a US flight.
I asked the young fellow if I could accompany my wife through to that final line. He grabbed her ticket and grunted something unintelligible. I made a spot decision to go ahead as I had seen people meandering aimlessly in both directions into and out of the store.
We arranged ourselves in the new line. There was an old Sikh man standing behind a wooden podium in this area. He wore the same private uniform as the young fellow. The line snaked around until we were next to go through the turnstiles. There was a young South Asian woman in the ubiquitous uniform at this juncture.
I kissed my wife goodbye and took her coat for safekeeping. On my way back I decided to ask the young lady how things had changed since the last time I had flown. Halfway through my question the lady guard was visibly upset.
“You not fly today guy?!” she gasped and slapped a communication device which was strapped to her left shoulder. She pressed a button with much urgency. The next picture in my mind was of the poor Polish man who had been stun-gunned to death in this very same airport not long before.
The whole world has seen that video ad nausea. The people who killed him had the same vacant expression as the young lady in front of me. Lobster eyes, behind which lay a simple memorized set of operations with no cognition allowed. If the situation doesn't fit the model – press the button. I was already moving away.
When I passed the old Sikh guard, I felt safe enough to ask him the same question as the girl. He replied instantly in a monotone voice.
“I saw you not-ing guy. I know you not-ing guy. I tell you not-ing guy.”
This said, he repeatedly pressed the button on his device which was clipped to his left shoulder. I was already moving away.
I got back through the store area and saw the first guard. A quick scan showed I still had a few seconds before whoever had been summoned by the other two would be upon me. I asked the fellow if I had been right to go where I had gone.
“I told you guy! You cannot pass! I told you guy!” he shouted at me as he pressed the button on the device strapped to his left shoulder.
The Borg were obviously assembled but I was already moving away. The elevators, escalators and staircases were clear all the way to an exit. I didn't roll a smoke til I was home again. I don't think I'd much like flying anymore.
Security then, never has been about protecting you, dear reader and it is not now. The difference I see from then to now is that the IQ requirements for being employed in the security field have been lowered considerably and not likely by some silly mistake.
The Communist threat that my generation grew up with has turned into Panda bear worship and all the jobs in Europe and North America have been shifted to China, which last time I checked is a Communist country. Ain't that peculiar? As the West is dismantled there will be many new openings in the security field.
As to the war on drugs, the poppy fields are guarded twenty-four seven and business is growing all the time. Someday the local militias will be trained enough to do the job without outside help. In my town, you cannot smoke tobacco within eighteen feet of a doorway, on a public beach or in a park. However, for your security, clean crack pipes are handed out by the city and one can find a safe injection site downtown where a nurse will hit you up with a clean rig.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.