I grew up poor. Why is this important? I had absolutely no forms of identification. No drivers’ license, no state-issued ID, not even a birth certificate or social security card to present. I- or rather, my parents- had the two latter things SOMEWHERE (I was after all, born in this country), but they’d been lost ages prior.
All that said, I was frequently put on a plane by myself since childhood to spend time with my grandparents (paid for by them) far across my very large state. My visits continued even in the years after 9/11. Before, whereas I could breeze through security with absolutely no problem and have to show no documentation before being waved off to my flight with a smile, now found myself being pulled aside for “random additional screening” almost every single time.
Standing alone in the plexiglass box and being thoroughly wanded as I watched uniformed agents search every inch of my pink and purple duffel bag, pull out my clothes, poke and prod and wand the beloved childhood teddy bear I always traveled with before roughly stuffing it back into my bag became the new normal.
The combination of my lack of identification, my later teenage years, and new security regulations suddenly made things even more difficult.
The first time it happened, I approached the agent’s podium with ticket and boarding pass in hand. He demanded I show some kind of photo ID, which I told him I didn’t have. He asked where my parents were and I (truthfully) told him they’d already dropped me off and had left. I didn’t have a cell phone to call them, either. He told me to stand over at a nearby area he indicated towards and wait. So I did.
Shortly, I was approached by two men in suits who asked/told me to come with them. We went into a part of the airport I thought I’d never see: down a hallway into a very administrative-looking wing that hardly resembled an airport at all. They took me to a small, windowless room with dark walls that bore the words and official seal of the Department of Homeland Security on the door. Needless to say, I was intrigued and nervous at the same time. I was instructed rather gruffly to sit and wait inside at a metal table with a lone chair. It resembled every interrogation room you’ve ever seen on TV. There was a camera mounted high up in one corner, pointed directly at me.
A man entered the room and began asking me questions. My full name, my parents’ full names, where they worked, where I was going, where I lived, all kinds of different things. He excused himself and walked out for a minute or two. He came back, this time with a cell phone to his ear. He was listening to someone on the other end and then asked me (clearly at the instruction of the voice on the phone), “What is your address?” I’d already told him this, but I repeated it just the same. He parroted it into the phone and listened for a few more moments. “Is your father’s name Edward?” “Well, that’s his middle name.” More listening. More instruction. “What color is the paint on your house?” That one thew me for a loop.
I told him (again, truthfully) that it was sort of a peach, with maroon trim. Colors my dad had picked out and was rather proud of. The agent once again repeated this information verbatim into the phone, listened, and with a few barely-audible “uh-huhs” and nods, hung up the phone and told me I was free to go. I was escorted back to the security line and given a pass to go past the man on the podium, as well as a stern lecture to obtain some form of ID.
I suppose I understand, that an unattended minor nearing legal adulthood with no ID, no cell phone, and a one-way ticket (this was a summer-long visit and my return date was to be determined later) is going to raise some red flags in today’s world. But it’s the fact that the color of the paint of my house was somehow known to them and was conditional toward my release that still gives me chills. From the point that I returned home to the day we moved, I never looked at my house the same way again. I felt like they were always watching.