Saturday, November 20, 2004


Shawn's birthday approaches in January, as does the 10th year anniversary of when I conned her into moving in with me. A couple of years ago, I bought tickets for us to get away to Canada for a weekend. The Victoria Clipper has what they call their Triple Play package. We took a ferry to Victoria on Saturday morning. We spent the day there touring their museum and taking high tea at The Empress Hotel, where we also spent the night. After breakfast in our room the next morning, we boarded a bus which took us to a ferry back to mainland, B.C. where we drove to the bus station in Vancouver. We then took a cab to the Fairmont Hotel, dropped off our bags, did some shopping, had a glorious dinner at our favorite restaurant, Delilah's, then back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. Next day, we did some shopping, then picked up our bags and caught a cab to the train station where we boarded a train back to Seattle.

The trip was brief, but fabulous. The Clipper folks made it very easy by stapling each ticket/reservation/pass in order as we would need them on the trip. This included ferry passes, hotel reservations, bus and cab vouchers, and train tickets. Everything went off without a hitch. It was top notch and I highly recommend it.

When I made reservations, the person told me that I would either need a passport or a birth certificate in order to get back into the country on the train from Vancouver. I've often thought about getting a passport, but have never done so. My parents have the birth certificate. Luckily, I was able to go online with the state of Indiana and order a certified copy of my birth certificate. Unfortunately, despite what the state said about rushing it to me, it didn't arrive a week and a half later. I called the Clipper folks and inquired as to whether or not this was going to be a problem. After all, having lived in Detroit and Seattle, I'm accustomed to crossing the border without need for anything other than a driver's license, if that. The person at the Clipper company told me that this was a relatively new requirement, so it shouldn't be a problem. Shawn had a passport, about to expire, but she had one.

On the train ride back, customs officials stopped and boarded the train at the border. They walked through the cars and asked everyone for their passport or birth certificate. The person behind me didn't have either. He was a white man in his 60s - certain terrorist if I ever saw one. The customs official berated him for traveling without ID. Ah, but he DID have ID - his driver's license. The Customs agent told him that was unacceptable and that he needed a passport or a certified birth certificate.

When said Customs official got to me, I got the same treatment. I suppressed my true thoughts and tried to look deferential. No doubt that the strain on my face made me look more like a terrorist. Luckily, I was traveling with Shawn and she was a good daughter of the State and had her proper ID. She could be trusted, so I was given a talking to and let go. I wanted to scream at this agent: "You supercilious idiot! NOTHING changed after 9/11 except how America views it's place in the world. This is NOT SECURITY. It is a show. It's NOTHING except an ego boost for you and a false sense of protection. Security would not entail showing you a passport or a birth certificate, both of which can be easily forged. Shit, I had just ordered a replacement birth certificate from the state of Indiana OVER THE PHONE. No ID check for them. All they needed was a social security number. No picture on a birth certificate EITHER you blithering talking asshole!"

As soon as the customs agent was away, the other guy who was without proper ID and who had also crossed these borders many a time shared similar thoughts with his friends and myself. Of course, we discussed these things in more civilized tones and calmer demeanors. I've been terribly annoyed ever since, and sometimes amused, at what Americans consider to be security. It seems a lot of measures have been set up under the pretense that it's better to do something than nothing. While true, it's best to focus on the "somethings" that might actually make a difference rather than harassing citizens and furthering the culture of negativity and fear, which is where this country has retreated to since 9/11 as evidenced both by my tale above and by our election.

So, in addition to the impending anniversary of this trip, why these thoughts this morning? Bruce Schneier posted on his blog yesterday under the title, Amtrak "Security", that Amtrak is expanding this program. Only now, they are randomly checking IDs. Schneier also wrote a rather good Op Ed piece back in February which expands on the thoughts above and presents them more eloquently than I have here. I particularly appreciate his thoughts on profiling as well as what constitutes security. It's a good read and a short one.

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