'Lend me the stone strength of the past and I will lend you the wings of the future.'
- Robinson Jeffers
I had put it off as long as I could, but a necessary trip to the commissary, PX, and the Eisenhower Medical Center for a cholesterol check meant I finally had to brave that long security line at Fort Gordons Gate One. Fortunately I took along the mornings Augusta Chronicle, the latest copy of The Spirit and a library book besides, in case the delay was even worse than I expected.
I didnt get to the book, but I can tell you everything reported in both papers that day. It took exactly one hour from the time I moved into the left turn lane on Gordon Highway until I arrived at the gate. (I smiled as I read the reduced speed ahead sign when I still had 25-30 snail-paced yards to go.) Traffic returned to normal at that point, but there were further delays when the 100 percent ID check sign appeared again outside every building I entered.
Far from being upset at an intelligent response to a very real threat, Im pinching myself to make sure I'm not reliving the past.
Its been 25 years since that trip to the Holy Land, but I can still hear the armed Israeli guard screaming at passengers who had disobeyed a flight attendants orders to remain seated until we were given permission to leave the plane. Inside the terminal there were more orders, and more guards standing like statues all around the room.
Maam, you'll have to leave your purse with me.
It was Turkey this time - at the entrance to the American Embassy, the Topkapi Palace, and other tourist attractions in Istanbul. We learned to carry small amounts of cash in our pockets, wear our passports under our clothing, and trust that the security personnel were not purse-snatchers in disguise. It was there that I first heard the questions every American traveler now has memorized: Did you pack your own bags? Have they been in your sight at all times?
But the most vivid memory jarred awake by my long check-in experience last week happened when I began weaving through the maze of barricades just inside the gate. At least three lane-wide orange barriers, placed in the road in staggered positions, meant drivers had to make three or four sharp, slow turns before they could drive normally again. No one in any kind of ground transportation will storm this gate, I remember thinking.
Just like Berlin. I hadnt seen this kind of security since our family lived in the famous walled city a good 15 years before that ugliest of all barricades came tumbling down.
I marveled first at the bus drivers who guided their monstrous vehicles through those narrow twists and turns. Unlike the barriers at Fort Gordon, Berlins were neither orange nor movable, but a somber gray and cemented to the earth like smaller versions of the larger wall they never expected would come down.
For a while I found it more comforting to be a guided passenger than to drive the obstacle course myself. But by the time I needed to make my way through the checkpoints alone, I was no longer afraid. The rules were so entrenched and so automatically followed that the procedure became routine. We didnt mind because we knew those few extra steps made a giant difference in our security.
My visiting parents didnt know the rules. I felt like the Israeli security guard myself the day I grabbed a camera out of my fathers hands and told him he couldnt take pictures during a train trip through the East German countryside.
Why not? my miffed, amateur-photographer parent asked.
I couldnt answer his question, though I was tempted to repeat a little history myself and quote what he used to say to me, Because I said so. All I knew was that, by then, I was used to following the rules. Had I let him take his pictures, the East German authorities would have confiscated his camera as well as his film, if not worse.
I think thats why Im not upset now, or afraid, and why I understand those who say, Its about time American security caught up with the rest of the world.
I sympathize with those who punch an early time clock, but for the rest of us, a little inconvenience is hardly the stuff sacrifices are made of.
Just make sure you have plenty of gas in the tank, and remember to bring along something to read.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.