The Walk of Shame

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Long before 9-11, terrorism was in my consciousness. When I was overseas, posters of the most wanted terrorists were prominently hung in our barracks. Those who drove were taught to examine the underside of vehicles for bombs.

During the last years of the Cold War, I had to fly out of West Germany from Frankfurt to New York on the Fourth of July. Just before my trip, a broadcast warned of a terrorist threat planned for July on just such a flight. I remember expecting things to go boom hours into the trip over the Atlantic Ocean.

With that backdrop and the world we live in today, I can understand the necessary precautions when we use airports, government buildings, and other public places. Sometimes, I complain about the loss of freedom, but I’m really complaining about my personal inconvenience.

About a decade after 9-11, my wife and I took the kids to Washington, D.C. We stayed at the same hotel where, just outside, a sniper’s bullet almost killed President Reagan and did kill his press secretary. We woke early to get a head start on a busy day. We had a pre-scheduled tour of the Capitol Building, located at the far end of The National Mall. This would kick off a full day of walking through the Mall and visiting many museums and monuments. The heat was definitely going to be a problem. In recent days, the temperature had been in triple digits, and more of the same was expected. So, like a good Boy Scout, I would be prepared and fill my camel pack (a small backpack that only holds water). Then I filled plastic bottles inside my wife’s and kids’ backpacks. Since we’d be on the go all day and into the evening, I also threw in a fistful of snacks consisting of granola, crackers, and trail mix.

I thought I was smart. But my wife said otherwise.

She mentioned something about restrictions and security checkpoints at the Capitol Building. I blew it off. I mean, c’mon – it was going to be a hundred degrees! We only had water and snacks. Open the packs, take a look, and let us through. There was no doubt in my mind that that would be the extent of it. It’s not like we live in Russia (my mind sometimes sticks to the 1980s).

“Subway?” My wife suggested.

“Let’s hoof it. It doesn’t look so bad,” I said, glancing at a map. –Another mistake!

I definitely underestimated the time it would take, something I am not known to do.

“Look, kids, White House,” snap-snap, and we had our pic to show we were there. Then we were gone.

Once at The Mall, we ran in spurts to meet our time slot for our scheduled tour. The length of the Mall was grossly underestimated.

“Damn map maker,” I muddled.

My wife didn’t let it slide. I was to blame.

Little did she know, I was just warming up.

We joined the line, which was snaking outside far outside the doors, and waited. It was early, and it was already getting hot.

The kids asked for water, and I said, “No, we need to conserve it.”

You know, kids, no foresight. They would deplete our water supply by the time we got inside and then complain that they needed a bathroom. That was my thinking, anyway.

Now and then, as tourists entered the building, we noticed they were sent back outside to dispose of things not approved for entry.

“We should dump out our water,” my wife said.

I looked at her like she was crazy, “Are you kidding me – it’s going to be a hundred today. It’s water!”

When we finally entered the building, there were scanners and commotion everywhere. People were funneled into many different aisles for inspection. We had to remove bags, belts, shoes, and you-name-it for inspection.

“This can’t go in,” said security.

I was directed to take my camel pack outside to pour it out and return. A guard at the door would let me out and back in. But I wasn’t permitted to dump water just outside the door. I had to go into the grass to the side of the long line of people waiting to get inside. They looked at me like I looked at others coming back out earlier. As I poured, I saw some couples exchange words, resulting in either water being dumped or a shake of a head no.

When I got back inside, my wife was smiling, and security was frowning.

“This has to go, too,” security said, handing me a baggie of snacks.

I made a basket out of the front of my shirt, dumped in what I considered lunch to save a few bucks, and headed back outside. This time, I was directed to the other side of the line where dumpsters were. I felt self-conscious on this walk of shame.

Back inside, my wife and security guard were both frowning. Now I had to dump the water bottles. I could have kicked myself for not thinking to dump them when I dumped the camel pack. As I poured away hydration in the greenest grass I had ever seen in July, I couldn’t even bear to look at the crowd of people who certainly recognized me by now.

A guard at the door smiled out of familiarity when I re-entered.

My wife and son were standing in the clear on the other side of the metal detectors. It struck me a little off that my daughter was still on my side, so I nudged her forward, anxious to put this freak show behind us.

“Hold up!” came a voice I was growing to despise.

“Gotta take it out,” I was told.

“Really?” I gave a look of c’mon!

I didn’t mind the three shame walks because it was my fault for trying to get over on them. They got me on all my goods. Yes, I was an idiot for thinking I was sensible. What could possibly be the hold-up this time, I wondered. Security pulled out sunscreen from the bottom of my daughter’s backpack.

“The dumpster is just over there, outside the doors,” I directed my teenage daughter.

She looked startled. I had rattled her from her comfort zone. I was sacrificing my flesh and blood to avoid a fourth strut down shame alley. Reluctantly, she complied. The doors and wall were glass, so I could watch her the entire way.

Meanwhile, my wife and son were shooed off to keep the throngs of people flowing.

Commands echoed, directing us and others, “Clear the area, keep it moving.”

“We’ll catch up inside,” I called out to my wife as she and our son disappeared.

“You too, sir,” said security, putting a hand on me, pushing but not shoving.

I stood pat and explained, “I have to wait for my daughter; she’ll be right back. She had to dump something outside.”

“Doesn’t matter; you have to move on,” he said, pushing against me again.

I understood the rules and why water and crackers had to be thrown out to keep large crowds from being bogged down by deeper inspection of such items. This way was easier and more efficient, especially considering it was the Capitol Building. But there was no way I was leaving my daughter to fend for herself in that crowd.

“She’ll be here in a second, sir,” I said with a pleading smile.

As he started to repeat himself, my look changed. Something about it made the guard step to the side as if I had complied and wasn’t there anymore.

I felt terrible for wimping out on a fourth trip outside, but I was so familiar with the surroundings by then that I had convinced myself that my daughter would be fine. Standing there was the most shame I felt. Although each second seemed like a minute, my daughter was by my side again, and we entered the U.S. Capitol Building, safe and sound.

The Supreme Court may ponder whether they are an equal branch of government because, by the time we entered that building, we had replenished our water supply, compliments of a drinking fountain. Security looked at everything we had and let us through without having to dump anything.

By the end of the scorching hot day, having walked who knows how many miles, we took a break on a curb before walking back to the hotel. Our last water fill-up was at the FDR Memorial hours ago. We were parched and exhausted. Then there it was, a frozen lemonade food truck. It was cash only, so we scraped what little change we could muster from everyone’s pockets. Added together, it bought ONE serving. We sat right there on the curb and took turns enjoying the cold, sliding down our raw throats with tasty pleasure. It ranks up there as one of the most satisfying things we ever tasted. Everyone agreed. And nobody was taking this from us!

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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