Don’t Tread on Me

Ever have something seemingly minor drive you utterly bonkers? Well, that happened to me last month. But in retrospect, it was building up for a while.

My five-year-old daughter and I were flying from Albany, NY to Charlotte, NC on Friday, June 12. I was pretty sure I couldn’t bring the six-ounce juices my wife packed – I looked up the 311 rule and she stayed near enough to the security gate that the TSA employee could hand the drinks back to her. Then we did the shoes-off thing. They determined that my daughter and I did not meet the profile of terrorists. In any case, as a society, we have tacitly agreed to allow the process. Still, I fly infrequently enough for the process to be disconcerting anew.

Monday, my mother, two sisters and I go to my niece’s high school graduation. It is held at the Bojangles Coliseum, formerly the Charlotte Coliseum; the naming rights are from the food chain. We’ve received instructions on what not to bring into the venue, which included balloons (understandable – could obstruct the view of others) and noisemakers (likewise a reasonable decision). The sheet also said, vaguely, “no gifts”. So we go through security. Something about these quasi-official folks doing stuff similar to the TSA screeners, including us going through both the metal detector AND being wanded, was mildly unsettling.

Then I was told that my daughter could not bring in her stuffed kitty cat. Why not? Because it’s a gift. It’s not a “gift”; it’s my child’s toy. Doesn’t matter. Thus, I had to schlep back to the car – and having gotten there early, it was some distance away – to return the forbidden feline.

Monday, after the graduation, we go to this – I guess you’d call it an outdoor mall in downtown Charlotte that had a variety of stores, restaurants and activities, including a movie theater.

My sisters, mother, niece, niece’s boyfriend and niece’s friend all went to this burger joint. But the daughter and I couldn’t go there; the food is cooked in peanut oil and the daughter is allergic to peanuts. (The first tip-off that this venue would be a problem: the barrel of peanuts in the entryway.) So she and I ordered from a nearby competitor then sat down at the table outside, soon joined by my sisters, with food from the peanut oil place.

Some young woman comes out of the place where I had ordered my food – not the person with whom I placed the order – and announces, “I’m sorry but I cannot allow you to sit there.” One sister asks why, and she’s told that it’s a space for their customers only. But my brother IS a customer, and he’s waiting on my food from YOUR establishment, and he’s waiting with my family to do so, one sister explains. Confused, the young woman went back into the establishment, never to return.

Actually, I was mildly sympathetic to the employee’s position. I’m sure the establishment pays rent for the tables in front of the place; this was not a common food court setup. And subsequent to that interaction, ANOTHER woman from the peanut oil place sat in front of the place – one could tell by the distinctive red and white cups. However, there was NO signage either on the tables or in the windows of the establishment, so it’s their failing, I say.

After eating, we wandered around, seemingly aimlessly, waiting for niece and friend to drop off the boyfriend. They ultimately return and I come across a little shop that is selling, among other things, snacks I could take on the plne the next day. A bag of Cheetos – $1.29 plus nine cents tax.

We come upon a bowling alley, and people decide to go in. I have the daughter in one hand, my drink from supper – actually just ice at that point (it was hot and humid) in the other; one of my sisters is holding the Cheetos. Apparently, though there’s no sign outside and I didn’t see one inside, there’s no “outside food” allowed. So my sister hands over the Cheetos. I walk over to the person at the desk, snatch the Cheetos back, and say, “I don’t agree to this,” and walked out with the daughter.

When the rest come out of the bowling alley, my sister asks why was I making such a big deal about a bag of junk food. I couldn’t really articulate it, and I just snapped, “Because I just don’t like it.”

In retrospect, it’s quite obvious what the issue was: control, or lack thereof.

[Musical interlude]

My sister had inadvertently ceded to a dubious authority what little power I had in the situation.

And not only in the circumstances already alluded to, either. Dinner at 8:30 pm when my daughter should have been in bed the first night. I forgot my daughter’s glasses at the house on Sunday, but after two church services and after-church receptions, instead of going to the house to get glasses, we’re at Wal-Mart (Allah help me) for 3.5 hours. Now part of that was waiting for a photo shoot that, because the photograph never even acknowledges us 45 minutes after the appointment time, we never have taken. And there was other stuff. As I was losing control of my circumstances, and more importantly, my daughter’s circumstances, I was losing control of my temper as well.

[When I explain the scenario to people face-to-face, they seem to understand. Wonder if I seem like a crazy person as I put it in the written form.]

I try to make a point not to go to places that have signage that makes you leave your bags at the door. Their message: we want your patronage, but we don’t trust you. I especially hate the stores that check your store bags on the way out. Their message: we HAVE your patronage, but we STILL don’t trust you.

I haven’t been to Crossgates Mall, near Albany, in years. Last time I was up there, there was a sign at the movie theater entrance: no backpacks allowed. I thought this was fine; they don’t want people sneaking food in. And since I almost always have my backpack, I just won’t attend movies at your theater. Everybody’s happy. I have control of the situation.

Thus ends my report, My Summer Vacation. At least Part 1.

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