10.14.2007

Right to Privacy ranting by HalfBrainBoy

Warning: The following contains a little bit of venting and a whole lot of soapbox.

I just need to say a few things. As many times before, I have something to say about walking.

First, let me give a little background. I walk because I don’t drive. I don’t drive because brain tumors and driving often don’t mix. I’ve been told once to get comfortable with the idea that I probably never will drive again.

So, I walk. Usually, I like to walk. I’ve gotten used to it. I like the pace of doing errands at a walking pace. I even don’t mind the snow and rain. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something when I get things done in nasty weather. Usually, I have the choice of getting a ride with my wife. But, I also like the side benefits of walking. It is healthy to walk. It is a cost-savings to walk. It is environmentally sound to walk. It also can calm me to walk. So, this is not a complaint about walking in general.

No. Surprisingly, this is a diatribe about the right to privacy.

There are things about always walking that I never thought of. For example, did you know that the canvas tote bags with 3 arm straps instead of just 2 are WAY better? Did you know that a typical canvas tote can hold more weight that I can carry?

Also, I did not know that walking in the big, ritzy suburbs of Minneapolis makes a person a mark for any insults teenagers choose to hurl from their passing cars. I’ve heard all sorts of comments about my mental stability, lineage and orientation while walking down busy suburban roads. Also, when I approach crowded parking lots by way of the sidewalk, I get many wary and suspicious looks.

I must admit, years back, I probably would have had the same reaction. Now, I’m on the different side of the equation. So, I walk. I carry bags when I walk. I have found that it is easiest to combine many errands into one trip. So, I carry some bags to carry what I need.

Does this make me look like a homeless bag-person? Sometimes. Okay, maybe often. I find it kind of funny. I make a better than average living. I could sit down and have a coherent argument on Existentialism or Differential equations with the best of them. I wear decent clothes. BUT, I walk! Even when it isn’t a nice day to walk!

Usually, I laugh off the misperceptions as harmless. I even find it teaches me a thing or two about knee-jerk judgments I make on a daily basis.

But, another thing I’ve learned about doing several errands at once, is how convenient it is to have a portable storage locker to take from errand to errand. (Read: the automobile.) Think about it. You go someplace. You get stuff. You put it in the car and go other places and then only unload it all when you get home.

Hmmm. No car. But, I still want to do more errands than just one since I’ve walked a mile to get to the shopping area. What to do… Good thing I have a good backpack.

Or is it?

Today, I was just out walking on a drizzly day getting a couple of things done. I visited my daughter and her friends. I did a little work on my laptop. Then, as long as I was here, I went to a big-box, chain hardware store nearby. I needed a hinge stop for the door and a dustpan. Not critical, but again, I kind of like to walk. So, I figured I would extend my walk and get something accomplished at the same time.

I go in and I spend maybe 2 minutes in the store. I know where everything is. I get what I need and proceed to the check-out aisle. I’ve checked out and I’m bagging my hinge stop and dustpan. I am just about to turn to go and I hear, “excuse me, sir, may I look in your backpack?”

I kind of froze. Yes, I totally understand. Shop-lifting is a major problem in these places. I’m not na├»ve at all. I fully support a store doing what it needs to keep all their profits from going out their door unpaid. Really, I do…..

To an extent.

I know how bad it is to walk into a store carrying a backpack. I know it is suspicious. So, I always keep the backpack securely on my back. I don’t take anything out or put anything in until I’m paid up and out the door. I don’t crouch in corners or look around suspiciously when shopping. I am an honest person with nothing to hide and I want them to know it.

Still, I had figured someday, someone would want to see what I had in my bag. I’ve even pictured this moment dozens of times.

I pictured this. Knowing I had nothing to hide, I would jump up on the nearest checkout counter. I’d do my best impression of Patrick Henry. I’d yell, “Give me privacy or give me…” Either that, or a Norma Rae, but I’d hold up a sign saying “Right to Privacy”.

I mean. Just as I explained. I am super careful to look completely on the up and up. I understand what the store is up against and I don’t want to make things hard on them. But, I also don’t have a choice about the backpack. Does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to shop? Or, rather, shop without expecting to be frisked at the end.

Okay, you might think this a hyperbole. And, you’d kind of be right. But, with my background, this seemed very important. I was in the USSR once. I saw what total lack of privacy is like, and what it does to people.

I was raised very liberal. I went to a very liberal school and I stood in peaceful protests and waved signs for liberal causes.

And, I don’t feel I should be put upon even more because of issues arising from brain damage from a tumor.

Many would say, “what’s the big deal, there is nothing to hide. It’s a condition of entering the store.”

I would say, “Yes, but I should have a right to shop without little kids rummaging through my bags and finding embarrassing things, like my complete collection of Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs.” Stuff like that. It’s never clear cut. But, allowing it to stay so vague allows for a lot of slipping of the line.

So, I’ve been ready. I’ve had my speeches ready for when someone asks to look through my things or check out my person. I was ready to make a little stink. I was ready to win one for the right to privacy.

I’m so disappointed. And, maybe, relieved.

So, here was this, maybe, 17-year-old kid. He was just doing what he was told to do to make his hourly wage.

And, here was I knowing I had nothing to hide, tired and just wanting to head towards home.

My reaction? After all these daydreams of taking a stand on the right to privacy?

“Sure, no problem. Here, let me take it off so it will be easier.” ..easier to blur that bill of rights thing.

He told me it was no problem to keep it on. So, we stood in the doorway as other shoppers walked by un-frisked. He opened the many compartments and rummaged through my stuff. I stood still with my head down feeling something similar to having a doctor exam in the middle of a busy store.

Quicker than it felt, he was done. As I left, he said, “Thank you.” I actually thanked him back.

He added, “Next time, it might be good to leave your bag in the car or at the service desk.”

Deep breath.

“Thank you.”

I thought, “Oh, yeah, the CAR! Why didn’t I think of THAT??” And, “Never in a million years am I going to leave my bag at the service desk to be tended by a bunch of distracted teens.” As often, I was carrying a client’s very expensive computer, and some important medications. I had the computer so I could do a little work before walking to the store.

Don’t worry. I understand the overreaction going on here. And, again, it may sound otherwise, but I really do like being forced to do walking I wouldn’t do otherwise. Really. Maybe this situation just hit a raw nerve that started with all the suspicious glances towards the suburban bag-guy. Or, maybe the nerve that was rubbed more when almost hit by drivers only looking for cars in the crosswalks. Or, maybe, I’m kind of afraid of what happens when we start to think too many little things aren’t important.

But, now I’ve gotten it all out. Thank you. I really feel much better now. Now, I think I’m going to go for a walk. This time it will be along the pathway that leads through the forest and next to a pond – a place where cars and store security guards aren’t allowed. Aren’t allowed even in my thoughts.

7 comments:

bu.editorkate[at]gmail.com said...

When we go to the shopping malls here in Turkey, they stop us and inspect our cars for bombs. We have to open the trunks and wait while they dig through whatever is back there, and then use u mirror on a long pole to check under the car.

When we get into the shopping mall, all of our bags must go through an airport x-ray machine while we walk through a metal detector with a guard standing there with a metal detector wand.

One time I had just gone through the gate when I woman came in and took offense at being checked. Words were exchanged and the next thing I know the woman is attacking the guard while everyone around just froze and watched. What could I do but wade in and pull them apart.

Cursing Mama said...

Not to get you riled up again - but I've been thinking (oh help us all)

My (current) purse is almost as big as a back pack and nobody has ever asked to look inside except at a Twolves game & they look at everything there.

What makes a backpack any more theft or search worthy than a womans purse? I've seen purses big enough to carry small appliances...

HalfBrainBoy said...

Katie, that's a great reminder of how different it is. Much of the world wouldn't begin to understand whining about such minor things. There's definitely a trade off between security, economics and privacy. And, I'm in awe of your gutsy move getting in the middle of things.

CM. Yeah, a woman at work pointed out that purses aren't usually such and issue. And, my backpack never moves from my back and I keep it all zipped while in stores. But, I also heard the perspective that a purse in a store is more "normal" while it would be more normal to keep a backpack in a car.

Hmm. Maybe next time, instead of a backpack, I'll have to carry a big purse. Maybe a big pink one with sparkles and dangles. Then, maybe, security would consider me more normal.

I'll let you know how that goes. And, what that does for peoples' reactions as I walk up.

KinnicChick said...

Oh man. I'm really excited about heading off to Menards or Home Depot with HalfBrainBoy and his new giant blingbling pink purse. This is going to put a whole new spin on our "outings" for home improvement gear.

*sigh*

Thanks for that, CursingMama...

Heather said...

As I read the entry I was thinking the same thing Cursingmama said-no one checks my purse on a regular basis. Anyway, I work at a store, we have a room where our security gueard sits watching telemonitors for suspicious people. She looks for specific things like people grabbing stuff without looking at the price etc (she's really good at her job-never a mistake)...you never would have been stopped at our store. People are so presumptous, including myself, I understand why but still stinks to be that way.

Mel said...

Maybe that kid had just been yelled at by his boss for not checking things like that? It would be interesting to ask him.

You would think that a large store like Home Depot has camera security.... Heck, my little hometown grocery store has camera security.

There used to be a department store in a nearby mall where the women that carried purses had to have CLEAR bags. As in everyone in the store and mall could see you were carrying your tampons or medication or whatever type of bag. That always seemed a little overboard to me....

There you go. If the sparkly pink handbag doesn't work for ya, maybe a clear backpack would. (Trying to help ya there Keri!)

~Mel

Anonymous said...

That was a great article we really enjoyed it. I guess it's the times no trust anymore. Oh well we know you and we also know you wouldn't take anything that didn't belong to you. It did make me upset about the kids throwing things at you It's good I wasn't there I would have given them the what for.Shame on them they don't know what a great guy you are. Love ya, d&c