Hello, Everybody—Nice seeing you again.
Some time ago—a few weeks, a couple months, I’m not sure–I noticed a big beige box in Grand Central Terminal near one of the information windows next to the big ramp that leads up to Vanderbilt Hall. The box was made out of sheet metal and had what looked like a stovepipe coming out of the top of it with a funnel-shaped cap on the top. I walked over to look at it, and it was humming away, making a noise like an air conditioner or a dehumidifier. “Checking for gas,” I thought. It just seemed obvious that it was some kind of Homeland Security machine to warn us when the Bad Thing happens.
A couple weeks later I saw some guys in MTA vests, accompanied by a cop, out in the middle of the main concourse at Grand Central. They had a funny little device set up on a table—it reminded me of those 4-armed things in physics class that spin around in sunlight, except this one was bigger and had some kind of paper tape printout spooling out of the bottom of it. So I walked over to check it out. “Excuse me,” I said, “But what is this thing?” The vest guys looked at me and looked at the cop. The cop nodded. “It’s to test the air flow in the terminal,” one of the vest guys said. Yeah, that’s what I thought it was.
A few days after that, all the National Guard soldiers and the MTA police in the terminal suddenly were walking around with bulky canvas pouches hanging from their belts. This was new equipment that they’d never carried before. Gas masks, I figured, so I asked. Yeah, that’s what they were. I have to wonder if all these studies and precautions are being taken because some security consultant just happened to think of it, or is it being done because there’s a real threat? I go through Grand Central every day—if it’s a real threat, then where’s MY gas mask? It seems like I can either go with the survivalists or with the even scarier folks who find gasmasks especially ... um ... interesting.
I’m a little skeptical about all these new “security” measures anyway. Like right after the first London bombings a couple weeks ago, the Port Authority cut off cell phone access in all the tunnels. They said it was to keep terrorists from setting off cell-phone-triggered bombs, but then everybody complained that it also kept regular folks from calling for help in case of an emergency, and a couple of big-deal security consultants were quoted as saying it was a bad idea, so then they turned the cell phone access back on. It made the whole thing seem like a panicky reaction to something happening 4,000 miles away rather than a well-thought-out security policy.
They followed that up with the new random-search policy. New York police are now stopping subway and bus passengers and searching their bags—without probable cause—supposedly at random. The Daily News sent out 5 reporters to check out the policy: Pete Donohue, Jego Armstrong, Jonathan Lemire, Veronika Belenkaya, and Tamer El-Ghobashy. Guess which one was the only one stopped and searched? In fact, he was stopped and searched twice. So random. At least it’s better than London’s Metropolitan Police policy of randomly selecting subway passengers to shoot five times in the head. And it turns out that the NYPD’s random searches are costing millions of dollars in overtime, so I’m betting they’ll be discontinued as soon as they can find a couple of big-deal security consultants to say it’s a bad idea. In the meantime, I've decided that I will decline to be searched. If the police stop me, I'll tell them I understand they're just doing their job, but that I believe the U.S. Constitution is supposed to protect me from unreasonable searches. I know they won't let me on the train, but, jeez, people have died to defend our freedoms, the least I can do is be late for work.
Grand Central has been patrolled nonstop by armed National Guard soldiers for a while now. The first time I ever saw them, I was getting off a train with an older guy, an attorney who lives upstate. “Look at the soldiers,” he said. “Aww,” I replied, “they don’t scare me.” He looked at me oddly. “They’re not supposed to scare you, Bronwyn,” he said. “They’re supposed to make you feel safe.” Well, it’s been a few years now, and I can tell you that it’s not working. Seeing soldiers with weapons and gas masks everywhere I go does not make me feel safer than I felt in the old days when National Guard patrols at the train station would have been unthinkable.
Thanks for reading my blog entry, and watch your step.