Public humiliation the cost of airport security after 9-11

This Just In...

July 08, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

ANNEMARIE Parkinson wanted two things - a little common sense and a little privacy. She might have also wanted the security agent at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to be a little more considerate, a little more empathetic. But, people being peculiar and sometimes dense, that might have been asking too much. So Parkinson would have been happy with a small room - just a chair behind drapes, really - for her privacy.

Maybe such a place exists in the post 9-11 environment at BWI. But, if it does, it was not offered to Parkinson, a 44-year- old accountant who lives in Perry Hall, when she went to the airport early June 29. She was there to see her two sons off on a trip to summer camp. Parkinson would not board the flight, but had permission to accompany her sons to the departure gate.

Of course, that meant she would be passing through security checkpoints, including a metal detector.

She set off the detector when she went through it. No surprise there. That happens every time Parkinson steps through a scanner at an airport.

"I'm an amputee and I have artificial legs," Parkinson says she told the security agent on duty. "I was prepared to walk through the scanner and have it go off. I was prepared for the guy to say, `Step aside,' and to be asked to spread my arms and legs."

She wasn't prepared for what happened next.

A female security agent asked Parkinson to sit down in a chair.

"She said to me, `You'll have to take your shoes off,'" Parkinson says. "And I said, `I can't take my shoes off. I put them on very tight so they won't fall off, and it's very difficult to remove them, and I can't put them back on without a shoehorn.' I told her I'd have to take off the whole leg. And she said, `Take them both off then.'"

And this is where Annemarie Parkinson, who lost her legs six years ago after she was stricken with toxic shock syndrome, hoped for a little common sense, a little privacy and maybe the flicker of human kindness in the security agent. It was the only time since she had been fitted with prostheses that Parkinson felt publicly humiliated.

"I just wanted to get through it, not make a scene, so I removed my legs and [the security agent] ran them through the X-ray machine and brought them back to me. She wasn't nasty or anything. It wasn't like she was taking glee in making me do this. But ... "

But some privacy would have been nice?

I think that's what Annemarie Parkinson wanted. Can we just say that? Do we have to write a memo?

Please note: It wasn't Parkinson who contacted me about this experience at BWI. It was her aunt, Margaret Dougherty, who thought the experience was degrading for her niece. Her niece had been forced to sit and remove her artificial legs in the large public space of the airport, and someone should have at least given her a small private space in which to preserve her dignity. We all understand the realities of the post-9-11 world; security agents have a large and difficult job to do in a short period of time. But I think I agree with Aunt Margaret - it's not asking too much for a little consideration for people with special needs.

"I was stunned," Parkinson said. "But in a way it didn't surprise me. ... It's that I went through the whole process of being sick and ... "

Her voice started to quiver and fade, and in those two or three seconds of a telephone conversation with a nosy newspaper guy, Annemarie Parkinson conveyed all the pain of her personal ordeal, from the time of her sudden and severe illness 6 1/2 years ago to her five minutes of humiliation at BWI. I didn't keep her on the phone much longer. She'd made her point: Better safe than sorry in the post-9-11 world, but let's have some common sense, some common decency, or at least a chair with some drapes.

End of memo.

Fireworks on the go

Discovered a new way to watch Fourth of July fireworks: Drive through the streets of North Linthicum between 9:15 p.m. and 9:25 p.m. and catch the locals' Roman candles. Then, from Nursery Road, get on the Beltway toward Towson. Get good music cranking in your car. As you're cruising the Inner Loop, your passengers will see, within 10 minutes, fireworks above the trees to the west in at least two spots between Catonsville and Woodlawn. A few minutes later, you'll catch fireworks near the interchange with Interstate 83, then even more fireworks in the Towson and Parkville areas. By 10 o'clock, it's over. I know: It's not as romantic as watching from a deck in Federal Hill. But you don't have to worry about parking.

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