Posted on August 25, 2015 by Blake Leath

It occurs to me that, at least on some level, the terrorists have made inroads.

On some level....

I have traveled, almost monthly and without fail, since 1992.  And while it was never fun, it was a change of pace, and I have always relished the anonymity of travel.  Here you are, some stranger; a weary traveler, with earbuds, book and reading glasses in hand, always seated in the quiet corners of restaurants to read and tune-out.  No one to recognize, no one to say hello, just...peace and quiet.

I enjoy visiting with people, of course; perhaps many of us do.  But I have also always enjoyed the silence of the road; the momentary quiet and isolation that allows me to detach, ruminate, and reflect, particularly at the end of an exhausting and/or fulfilling day.  The sort of day that allows me to feel I made a difference here. 

In the last 2-3 years, however, I have noticed something.  Something rather trivial, of course, and not representative of real issues with which others deal, but it has come up in conversation with fellow travelers, many of whom are beginning to notice the same weird phenomenon.

It seems this stranger (the one hostesses always seated in the quiet corners) now gets a second look.  The same happens at movie theaters, which I frequent almost nightly, usually after dinner, to further detach and still my mind.  And I also get "that look" at malls, grocery stores, hotels, elevators, seemingly everywhere, whether on the road or at home.  The only common denominators: I'm alone and dressed for work.

It has heightened my empathy, to be sure.  I am all the more attuned to "the conversation" that is happening as recently as now with regard to race relations in this country, and with diversity, and with preferences, and with discrimination, and with prejudice, and with intolerance, and with bias, and with profiling, and with inequality, and with segregation through economic means; with the sort of things Bryan Stevenson and Ta-Nehisi Coates and even David Simon are so fervently describing every time anyone will read their work or listen to them speak. 

And I admit, on the lighter side, one miscalculation may be that when I travel I'm always wearing that dang sportcoat or any sort of jacket with pockets (I mean, where else am I to put two sets of eye-glasses, a wallet, my phone, chapstick, change, receipts, hotel valet stubs, room-key-cards, and that huge jangly cabled key-ring that usually accompanies a rental car?), but I've worn jackets for yearsand they were never a problem before!

No, I attribute it to a more fragile world, a world rife with theatrical TSA security checks ("If you see something, say something."), crazy gunmen and radicals on airplanes and in airports, trains and museums, at newspaper offices, churches, cinemas, campuses, courthouses, political gatherings, along roadsides and city streets as recalled nightly on the news, and in our public schools.  It seems that everywhere, anywhere, there is a wacko about to whip-out a pistol and start shooting innocents for reasons as old as religion, race or a sense of marginalization. 

And the media is no help, sensationalizing everything and putting it in our daily feed.  All the world's miseries brought to bear on a 2x2" screen, reaching out from the great beyond and grabbing us by the throat with terror levels and threat warnings and hysteria.  I often wonder whether things are worse, or have simply worsened due to information glut and the power of the internet, social media, and how they can bring heinous acts right into the cells in our pockets.  Is there any virtuous news anymore, or is it all hate, evil, death, perversion?

There are few things in this world more profane or sacrilegious than hate-driven holy wars, but here we stand, surrounded by them and slights thousands of years in the making.  Every night on the news, we see decapitations and holy places desecrated or altogether blown to bits, and men shot in the back as they run for cover.  Even policethe good guyshave become suspects.  It would seem that everyone is under attack and we are living the X-Files: "Trust No One."

But back to my teensy glimpse into the coal mine, to my one sugar packet that has washed up on the shores back home.

This past week, I attended a movie in Destin, FL.  8pm.  Me in my sportcoat, and a dozen others in flip-flops and t-shirts at the end of a clearly wonderful and hot vacationy day.  A policeman was monitoring the front door, and boy did I get a look-over.  After the movie began, a manager entered and stood at the end of my aisle, as if to say, "I am here, and we see you, Crazy."

But I get that look quite a bit these days, and I never did before.  Certainly not pre-9/11, and ever so rarely before, say, 2012 or 2013.

I appreciate the vigilance, and demonstrate it myself.  "Situational Awareness" is key for each of us.

That said, I rue what appears to be coming, and hope the day never arrives when we find our restaurants, theaters, schools, parks, or public places locked down with metal detectors, security, or militaristic paranoia writ large.  Martial law.

With the best intentions in mind, the freedom and innocence of yesteryear have been eroded bit by bit.  Long gone are the days we, as kids, hopped on our clangy bikes and pedaled up the street to adventure and unfettered joy.  Today, it appears we're nearing a cultural tipping point.  Pervs on every corner, including in the schools and churches, a state of security at the drive-in theater.

Three steps forward, two steps back.  For everyone.  Fear, the great equalizer.

With the day coming when we each fear our neighbor, our child's teacher, or suspect anyone and everyone, from young boys in hoodies doing their best to get out and beyond and men with bushy black beards to men on social media and businessmen on travel in sportcoats, well then, yes, I suppose the baddies of every sort and stripe have made inroads.  Their wickedness poisoning our every well; everyone a suspect or, worse, guilty until proven innocent.

So keep your wits about you, but don't allow others to rob your sense of joy, of potential, of love, of relationship, of trust, of hope.  And have some fun out there.  Make eye contact, say hello, give firm handshakes, and encourage your children to stay in groups and hold hands if they have to.  Live life on your terms, working from the supposition that there is more good than bad, and that a smile and kind word are great ways to engage the world while also getting a quick read on the person in front of you.


"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Benjamin Franklin, November 11, 1755

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