The Trouble With Backpacks.

posted in: Rant 0
Backpack, rucksack, satchel, bomb. Photo: Ligar, 2001.
Backpack, rucksack, satchel, bomb. Photo: Ligar, 2001.

I touched on the subject of current events the other day; I am allergic to doing this usually (see: The Papergirl Pledge) but I keep seeing abandoned backpacks and this forces me to think of terrorism. I used to see backpacks left someplace and think of Grand Canyon hikers sick of carrying freeze-dried goji berries or students who got careless. Now I think of bombs. This makes me furious.

There was a satchel in a leaf-clogged corner outside of Union Station the other day. It was tattered, old, and looked empty as could be; a deflated balloon of a bag. No threat there, surely. But a bomb at Union Station would be a smart move for a terrorist. Abort transportation at a major hub and you abort infrastructure and flight. This morning there was an old duffel bag crumpled against the wall right where you turn in the corridor to Terminal A here at Washington Reagan Airport (I’m headed to Chicago for a do-over of my catastrophic trip a few weeks back.) It wasn’t a satchel, exactly, but it was an abandoned canvas thing and I immediately eyed it, suspicious.

The worst incident, however, occurred when my family and I were at the vodou exhibit at the Field Museum over Christmas. I didn’t mention it at the time, probably because I was too bitter about losing my Kindle.

We were milling about in the main gallery and suddenly, a museum guard said in a loud voice, “Does this belong to anyone? Excuse me! Does this backpack belong to anyone?” She held up high a very full backpack and the museumgoers turned to look.

The two girls who were standing next to me murmured, “Oh my god… That… Let’s get out of here,” and they slowly inched toward the door. I stepped toward my sisters and said, “Okay, that’s an abandoned backpack? That is not okay. Where are Mom and Mark?” We were instantly discomfited and looked for our parents and my blood pressure rose. Why the Sam Hill would someone leave a backpack in a corner of a public place? First of all, do you not care about your belongings? Second, and much more importantly, did Boston escape your attention? Do you have the context everyone else has for abandoned backpacks in crowded places?

I felt more fear as the guard shouted again, “Excuse me! Does this bag belong to anyo — ” and then it was claimed. A young man went to the guard and apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I set it down and forgot.” I looked at him with dagger eyes. I could’ve socked him in the gut. Look, I’ve misplaced things. That very day, I left my Kindle on the bus. But carrying a heavy backpack ought to take up a small space in one’s consciousness. If it was set down, one might wonder, “Moments ago I was a pack mule and now I feel light as a feather. What has changed in this situation?” and retrieve one’s backpack.

When I lived in New York City, I became neurotic the moment I got a mailing address. I feared things I never feared before: hurricanes, bed bugs, epidemics, terrorist attacks. Once out of the city, I returned to my baseline outlook: naive, optimistic, Iowan. But backpacks remain a source of fear and likely always will. Maybe more in the near future. I resent this a great deal.

As my ex-uncle-in-law used to say in his heavy Croatian accent, “Eyes open. Eyes open.”