In the winter of 1975-1976, I took my first international flight. Jamaica. I was six months old. There’s a picture of me fat on the beach with my mother and Aunt Joan. There’s another of me sitting on my grandfather’s arm as he stands in front of my great-grandmother’s house. At least, I think that’s where we were. That’s what I remember being told.

My first passport is somewhere around, either with me or my mother. I got it when I was 8 or 9, I think, so I could travel to Jamaica and Grenada. For the picture, I wore big plastic 1980s glasses, and my hair was parted down the middle and pulled into a ponytail. I smiled. The passport picture after that, when I was 13 or so, is one of my favorites: my hair looked pretty good in soft relaxed curls around face and my skinny, fawn-like neck poked out of a yellow cable knit rayon sweater.

This current passport picture is ok. I look happy. My congressman had it expedited1 so I could study abroad in London. Summer 2007.

That was the year that Americans and Canadians could no longer use drivers licenses, but had to get passports to cross our shared border. Last year in Canada, a ‘special’ passport with microchip information (much like the current American passport) was introduced at a cost of 165.00 CND for a ten-year booklet rather than 87.00CND for the previously standard five-year passport. The price works out just about the same – unless you’re a family of four making an unexpected once-in-a-lifetime trip abroad to bury a family member.

In my years of travel before September 11, 2001, I only remember being held up occasionally for a detailed search at customs. In the two or three years right after 9/11, however, my sister and I were routinely pulled from the boarding lines of flights into or out of DC where we lived at the time. Everything in our carefully packed bags was searched and stuffed back in. ‘Bolah’ is a pretty foreign-sounding (Muslim?) last name. I suppose Amanda and I look East African or Indian enough on a bad day (or a good day, depending on the strain of your racist tendencies) to warrant extra scrutiny.

But I’m beginning to wonder: are the high-tech passports, full body scan machines, pat-downs (or ‘opt-outs’ as they’re known when I ask for them [and I ‘opt-out’ every time), TSA Pre✓™ lanes, and broken luggage locks that afford me the ‘privilege‘ of traveling really about safety?

My (conspiracy) theory is that these procedures are meant to accomplish two things. The first is to gather information (that passengers pay the government to take) and restrict population mobility. There’s now a ‘special’ drivers license that allows Canadian snowbirds to move between the US and Canada with 1985’s ease. People who haven’t traveled extensively don’t know that what is being presented as the new normal is really an increasingly policed (militarized) process that rounds up information and deters our will (and ability) to go anywhere.

I think that the second goal of this process, one that sells the ‘old’ normal back to us with a ‘better’ passport here or a ‘faster’ line there, is the same as the airlines’ own $25.00-a-checked-bag fee.

Tyler sold this soap to department stores at $20.00 a bar. God knows what they charged. “This is the best soap.” “Why, thank you, Susan.” It was beautiful; we were selling rich women their own fat asses back to them.

  1.  Sounds fancy, eh? But it’s one of the things congresspeople are supposed to do, like, officially. ↩︎