There is something about my face that triggers alarms in the
minds of those in authority.
There is something about my face that triggers alarms in the minds of those in authority.

It has always been so. My first inkling of it was as a Cub Scout at age 10. Our pack had just adjourned from its weekly meeting and several other boys and I were walking with Mr. King, the pack leader, to his car from which he customarily dropped us at our respective homes.

A number of people had gathered at the corner and two police officers were talking to them. Someone had thrown a beer bottle through a window of an appliance store and the policemen were looking for witnesses.

A man in civilian clothes fixed me with a gimlet eye and said, “You know anything about this, son?” I told him I did not and he asked my name. At that point Mr. King identified himself and me and said we had been together for the last two hours with the other Cubs. The detective said, “He wasn’t out of your sight at all?” When told that I had not been, he grudgingly abandoned his line of questioning but nodded significantly at me as we left.

Ten years later I was in the Army and on my first pass went to the USO in Louisville with several friends. We were seated with Cokes when two MPs came in. They unerringly made their way to our table and asked to see my pass. I showed it to them, and they asked for some identification. I showed it to them and the corporal asked me to spell my name. They left without having talked to the other three, and my friends had a big laugh. That was repeated innumerable times through my two-year service.

I have never boarded a plane in the last 10 years without having been questioned beyond the normal security check. Last month at the San Jose Airport before flying to Orange County, I was asked to remove my sweater and shoes. I complied and the guard went over me with a metal detector. Then he directed me to undo my belt buckle. I was slightly alarmed but followed instructions. He finally dismissed me and I got on the plane.

The following day my daughter drove me to San Diego to board a ship for a six-day Baja California cruise. At the pier the passengers waited in line for more than an hour until we were bused with police escort to a downtown hotel where about 1,000 people were already being processed. It was a way station to hell, with the procedure conducted ineptly by agents of different bureaus giving contradictory orders. Our ship sailed more than three hours late.

The streets of Cabo San Lucas were full of armed soldiers, with federal police cars everywhere. I slid lower in the tour bus seat until I learned the security had been heightened because 21 nations of the Asian Pacific Economic Committee were meeting there that week.

At the John Wayne Airport (I could almost hear The Duke ordering me against the wall) I went through the sweater and shoes routine again, only this time I was asked to undo my buckle and turn back my waistband. I complied and was released, but with the progressive strip do not know if I ever dare fly again.

At the Toledo airport several years ago, I asked a security guard searching me if I looked especially sinister. “To tell the truth, you look so naive that it raises suspicions,” he said. “No one can seem that naive naturally.” I asked if by “naive” he meant “dumb.” “That’s your word, sir,” he said as he dismissed me.

I know that I will never visit Disneyland again. My youthful illusions would be shattered forever if I saw Mickey Mouse packing heat.

-Herman Wrede is a former editor of the Free Lance. His column appears on Fridays.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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