September 20, 2006
Blogger becomes Second-Class Citizen for a Day!
In the years I've spent being bicoastal (a category which neither finds legal protection nor elicits much sympathy) I've noticed that a primary difference between the coasts lies in the ability to get around. In California, driving 350 miles is not all that big of a deal; on the East Coast, driving the same distance can easily become a harrowing, all-day ordeal. Getting from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is a perfect example; it's nowhere near as easy as getting from, say San Francisco (or Sacramento) to Los Angeles.
Now that I'm back from Pittsburgh (a really wonderful city), I thought readers might enjoy the details. Not about Pittsburgh, but about the getting there part.
I know, I know. This sounds boring, but please bear with me; I don't blog about mundane unless there's a good reason, and in this case, the ugly realities of traveling "second class" made what should have been an uneventful trip worth a post.
There are four ways to get from here to Pittsburgh:
I decided I didn't want to drive because the PA Turnpike is not much fun (it resembles a winding cattle chute through mountains), and the five hours wasted driving would be better spent doing something like reading, or relaxing. On top of that, I saw that heavy rain was predicted. Flying anywhere is a major hassle, and it will turn a short commuter flight into a long one because of long security check-in lines, and baggage claim, plus the need to rent a car at the airport to get to your final destination.
The train would have been my first choice, but the only Amtrak train from Philadelphia arrives in Pittsburgh at 7:05 p.m. (too late -- and that's after a seven hour trip!) The Greyhound bus on the other hand takes only five hours to get to downtown Pittsburgh, and arrives earlier in the afternoon, so Greyhound seemed like a no-brainer.
The first problem I encountered was getting from the trolley station to the Greyhound station (the one nearest me is in King of Prussia, PA). It's less than a half a mile walk, but along a hellish road with zero sidewalk, but with a primitivistic path through rocks and tall weeds:
The wait was uneventful until the bus showed up. Almost immediately, local police in black jackets stenciled "NARCOTICS" came running up to the bus and stood by the door as people got on. After everyone had boarded, they announced loudly they were "part of narcotics enforcement and Homeland Security," and walked to the back of the bus, slowly making their way forward. Passengers were questioned, and some of them were asked whether the cops could look inside their bags. I was sitting in the middle of the bus and I didn't turn around to look, but after they passed me (without so much as a hello or a single question) it was impossible not to notice they they were paying more attention to young black passengers than the other passengers (whites, Asians, and a few Latinos). When one young black man told them he had no identification, they told him sternly, "you have to have ID in order to ride the bus!" and asked him to come with them. Outside the bus, frisked and questioned him in full view of the passengers, and this is how it looked from my seat:
Obviously, I don't know anything more than what I saw, and it is possible that the cops were looking for a specific person, and found him. However, they weren't behaving as if they were looking for a specific person; instead they were questioning whomever they felt like questioning -- male or female, but the black passengers got the lion's share of the attention. It occurred to me that they were just on a fishing expedition looking for dope. If that is so -- and if local police are boarding Greyhound buses like this routinely and looking for drugs in the name of "Homeland Security" -- I don't like it. It has a way of bringing out my whining ACLU leftist side. I'm all for the war on terrorism, but this guy was no terrorist, and the people being questioned did not fit any terrorist profile.
If you ask me, the police would not have dared behave this way on an Amtrak train. It reminded me of the "let me see your papers!" stereotype that we used to laugh at in World War II movies, except I'm not laughing. The more I think about it, the more irritated I become, and it's especially irritating because I have friends who would derisively say "What did you expect, riding a Greyhound bus?"
I expect the same standards I'd expect in any other common carrier. Not that I'm blaming Greyhound, because the driver had nothing to do with this, and the company has no control over local police. But these cops just had an attitude. It was as if they thought they were dealing with scummy people. Second-class citizens.
I'd like to advise curious bloggers to go Greyhound, and investigate this further, but there's another problem.
Greyhound prohibits "Laptop computers."
In every station I walked through hangs the following list of "Prohibited Items":
The sign is confusing, and I think the purpose of it is not so much to prohibit laptops as it is to discourage claims. The days of "AT YOUR OWN RISK" are long gone, so I think it's a bit like posting a sign saying "NO SWIMMING" instead of "SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK." That way, whoever takes the risk has violated the rules, and is in a weaker position from a litigation standpoint.
Returning on Amtrak, there were no such signs, and no "Homeland Security" narcotics nonsense. (Much better! And at the same price oddly enough, so I can't say "you get what you pay for.")
I guess I'm feeling properly deterred as a result of my inadvertent detour into second-class citizenship.
Let this be a lesson to me!
posted by Eric on 09.20.06 at 04:37 PM
Search the Site
Classics To Go
See more archives here
Old (Blogspot) archives
A knee sock jihad might be premature at this time
People Are Not Rational
No Biorobots For Japan
The Thorium Solution
Radiation Detector From A Digital Camera
This war of attrition is driving me bananas!
Attacking Christianity is one thing, but must they butcher geometry?
Are there trashy distinctions in freedom of expression?
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood