My plan was to hitchhike from Tinicum swamp past the junkyards and into Philly through the backdoor. My friend Swamp Rabbit tried to discourage me, but I had no choice, a temp agency was insisting on proof that I really existed, so I had to order a copy of my birth certificate, in person, at the Division of Vital Records, in Center City.
This, of course, is easier said than done. When you get to the Vital Records building, you have to take a number and wait for hours to speak to a clerk through a tiny hole in a bulletproof window. And that’s only if you get past two armed, gray-uniformed guards and their scanning devices, which are to make sure no one brings in bombs or other weapons. Why anyone would want to blow up a bunch of applications for birth and death certificates is a mystery to me, but I guess Big Brother knows.
I was commanded to empty the contents of my pockets into a plastic tray and put the tray and my backpack on the conveyor belt of the x-ray scanner. Then I had to walk between the two poles of another scanner, which (I think) was merely a metal detector. I made it inside but my bag set off an alarm, beep beep. The conveyor belt stopped moving.
The heavier guard took a long look at a monitor I couldn’t see. Then she eyed me suspiciously and said, “You got something shaped like a bagel in that bag?”
“Yes,” I replied, “A bagel.”
The guard ordered me to walk back through the metal detector, zip open the bag and remove the offending article. I pulled back the tin foil in which I’d wrapped a pumpernickel bagel, my favorite kind.
“You can’t bring no bagel into Vital Records,” she said.
I explained that the bagel was my lunch and promised not to eat it until my business inside was finished, but she wasn’t having any of that.
“You got to eat it outside, or throw it away,” she said, eyeing me even more suspiciously.
You’ve heard of the shoe bomber? I guess she thought I was the bagel bomber, armed with an explosive too subtle for x-rays to detect. It was a losing battle, so I threw the bagel into a nearby trashcan. The guard tensed up, as if fearing the bagel might still go off.
I’d learned my lesson — don’t try to sneak a bagel into a municipal building. But too late! My picture was probably being taken from a dozen angles and sent by Big Brother to cops all over the country, with this message: Be on the lookout for this man. May be carrying explosive bagels.
Footnote: Here’s a good piece about x-ray scanners and police states.