Wednesday, November 29, 2023

MBTA security looked at me for the first time yesterday. Unpleasant.

I’d assumed I would be searched at some point this past week, even while assuring people Massachusetts was too poor to sustain random baggage searches or a big T police presence much beyond the Democratic National Convention. It was intended to comfort me as well as I faced the inevitable hassle of refusing to be searched, being turned away from my commute to work and possibly worse.

But the threat was exaggerated, at least in Cambridge, which spent the week touting itself as “the Unconventional city.” My week with heightened security at the Porter Square T station, so far, has been anticlimactic.

Monday: Several serious-looking men stand at attention inside, watching closely as Cambridge rabble infiltrate the station. They are in black, heavily armed. All business. No chitchat. Their T-shirts say “MBTA POLICE” on the back in white, all-capital letters. The men exude solidity and resolve. I feel safer already, if I ignore the fact that this is a startlingly concrete sign of the erosion of civil liberties that threatens to turn my home into a police state.

Tuesday: Two guards in earth tones — looking very much like large boy scouts — lounge on the turnstiles, chatting. We travelers pass by unnoticed.

Wednesday: A combination of black-clad jackbooted thugs and overgrown boy scouts stand talking in a loose circle outside one entrance to the station. There is little change in atmosphere from yesterday, just an indication more personnel were needed to do the same amount of not looking out for terrorists. There are no police inside.

Thursday: There are two guards in the station, again leaning on the turnstiles. They aren’t chatting, though. They’re looking — at me. I’m so rattled by them looking directly at me that I don’t absorb whether they are SWATtish or Scouting-For-Boys-style. Scouts, I’d bet, but I’m still surprised when I get to the escalators without being stopped for a search. They would have found my copy of the Times and my Macintosh laptop. Which means I could have been busted on suspicion.

Soon I will head off to the T for my Friday experience, heavily armed with towel, sunscreen and a leisurely attitude. I’ve no idea what to expect in security, as the staffing at Porter has so far followed no discernible pattern. It’s been so dull that I’ve feared security forces would fall into the usual trap: They’re heavily armed, purposefully riled up to expect the worst — and insanely bored. This is a recipe for violence anywhere, and I suspect its absence means simply that we’re getting off lucky.