Experimental Security Theatre

I flew out of SFO to DC early this morning, my first time back east in eleven months. My intentions for this trip are — at least initially — three-fold:

1. to revaluate myself in the context of and relationship to the east coast; to see what has changed for me (and for DC) in those eleven months
2. to challenge my disciplines against the distractions of travel (of which there are many)
3. to not have expectations, to not fret (ever), and to keep experimenting with the order and priority of things

tl;dr: “Notice changes.”

At the precipice of the SFO security screening checkpoint, after having been sniffed by a K9 dog in a line that was paced and slower moving than normal, something seemed off. The actually security lines with the x-ray machines seemed remarkably empty and serene and fast. As if the whole thing was closed like Space Mountain on a typical breakdown. But then I see what’s actually going on, and smile, and make some nonverbal utterance in disbelief, and share the revelation with my neighbor in line.

Five minutes earlier — after listening to a woman complain about having to wait in another line — I’d been on the precipice of fretting about that rushed sense I always feel when I’m unpacking half of my luggage in order to comply with the scanning techniques. There’s never enough space or time. One laptop per bin. Take your CPAP machine out of your main bag. Kindles too. Lately it’s seemed like they want everything. So I’m mentally trying to count how many bins I’ll need, and how quickly I can untie my shoes and get all of this on the stainless steel topped tables in front of the rollers, when I decide to just not fret about the speed. It will just take however long it’s going to take, and the people behind me can just wait just as I have waited, and there’s no pressure to do this any more quickly than I would expect the person in front of me to go. Which is honestly at whatever pace they need it to be.

But then I notice the confusion and then also the weird quiet calm across that side of the room.

There aren’t any bins.

At all.

And people are just walking through metal detectors. Frictionless.

After seventy-five times through the security theatre with my CPAP machine and laptops in the last seven years, the absence of this hassle at first was deeply unsettlingly, like a dream with some of the details about life askew. As if there were no longer seats in the theatre, and the performance is now unscripted and improvisational and without spectators, only participants. An agent — very casually — explains the rules as if clearly we should already know the new deal. No, we don’t know the deal. You know the deal 1. All electronics in your bag 2. No beverages. 3. Everything through the belt 4. There’s a fourth rule I have forgotten in the fog of jetlag.

It’s almost uncomfortable to experience a decrease in stress in going through the line. In that initial disbelief that something new was being tested, it feels like a mistake and an error. But, how do you know if a change is an improvement until you have experienced the change?

And it was clearly a specific Terminal 2 experiment, because as I walked past the next set of security checkpoints toward my gate, there I saw bins continuing unabated in their theatrical CPAP collecting and laptop static-inducing productions of gate-closing panic and stress.

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