The biggest change since the last time I traveled by train is the heightened sense of paranoia... I mean security. There's a huge television in the Concourse B Lounge that plays a video on a permanent loop. The smiling, friendly woman in an Amtrak engineer's uniform assures us that we were all in this together. TSA, along with city,county, and state police are all working together to ensure that our rail experience is safe and enjoyable. They have specially trained explosive sniffing dogs. While the friendly engineer lady reads the cue cards, a montage of competent officers and well-trained dogs plays. Everyone is calm and courteous and official.
But, that's not enough, according to the kind engineer lady and one of the calm and courteous and official TSA agents.
"After all," he proclaims to the camera, "we're all in this together!"
They say they need my help. MY HELP. Why, I can be a hero,too! I can be the eyes and ears of the police and turn in people who look suspicious.
Whatever that means. The video makes sure to not advocate racial profiling. I am told several times to focus on behavior, not looks. The nice engineer lady is Black. The TSA is Latino. All of the people committing "suspicious acts" are white... and a few of them are even dressed like urban professionals.
After all, it could be anybody.
The thing about traveling, whether you're on your own or whether you are traveling with someone or with a group, is that at some point you have to be able to reach out to fellow travellers. Even if it's just to ask directions or about some procedural. In order to travel, you need to know when to reach out and ask for basic assistance.
Yes, there are going to be less than trustworthy people; but generally, if you keep your wits about you, and you pay attention to your surroundings, you begin to learn who you can reach out to.
But does that mean that I need to be not racially profiling and report some abstract "suspicious" behavior to a cop?
I don't know. I tend not to trust cops. I know there are good ones and there are bad ones... but in the end, they're the arm of an institution I have long lost faith in. And for all the talk in that Orwellian video about NOT racially profiling, the fact is that cops do generally profile people. The fact is WE ALL generally profile people. For example, when I say "I don't trust the police" I realize I'm lumping a whole bunch of people together. The best I can do is try and remember that when they're people,too.
I sometimes hear the phrase "post 9/11America." The heightened sense of paranoia... I mean security... and increased hassle of traveling. Random searches and added delays are a part of the deal. Your property is not private if some representative of one of the cooperating agencies decides you are behaving in a suspicious way.