The flag caught my eye because it was behind glass. Framed and up on a brick wall seemed an odd way to display an American flag, at least one that wasn’t a faded and weathered-thin antique. It didn’t have a plaque, so I don’t know if it had a special story.
The idea that this flag was somehow in need of protection, was a thing apart and separate in this public space disturbed me. It was a bit sad, though not surprising. So I wanted to do what I always want to do when something catches my eye: photograph it. But I knew this might be a problem, because the flag was on a wall in the Airport subway stop.
No one is supposed to take pictures in the subway system, though no one can explain exactly why. As soon as I took my super-not-stealthy, twenty year-old polaroid camera out of my bag, a uniformed T employee rushed right over to tell me to put it away.
“I can’t take a picture of that flag?” I asked him, hoping he would recognize the absurdity of the situation — our flag is a widely publicized icon, is in no way sensitive information, and was on a wall that thousands of people walk past every day.
“Not since 9/11 you can’t,” he said. “Security.”
I asked him if he could tell me which regulation specified no photography in the station. He shook his head and told me, “probably they’ll charge you with treason.” Then he pointed out the T employees behind glass, in a room with several computer monitors, told me to “go over there and ask them.”
T employee #2 clearly believed people like me were Not Her Job. “For security,” she said when I asked her to direct me to where I could find the policy banning photography on the T in writing. I told her I understood that it was For Security, but I wanted to know where I could find the rule about photographing on the T. I was polite; I didn’t act like the rule didn’t exist; I didn’t expect her to produce a copy. I just wanted her to point me in the right direction. Instead, she pointed me to T employee #3.
His answer to my question was, “10 Park Plaza.” Apparently that is the T’s office downtown — he didn’t know the department name, but he told me I could go there and apply for a permit to photograph on the T. (So photography is allowed, the T just wants to keep track of who is taking pictures.) You could tell employee #3 thinks the whole no photography except when you ask nice thing was sort of silly — he told me he knows people do it, and he personally doesn’t have a problem with it. “Unless you’ve got someone, you know, taking a photo here, then walking down the platform and taking another photo there — that’s suspicious.”
I decided not arguing the point was the better part of getting the picture, so clunky polaroid still in hand, I asked him if he would mind if I took one picture of the flag on the wall. I’d go to 10 Park Plaza and get the permit if I wanted to keep photographing, but… So he granted me permission.
Permission, to take a photograph of an American flag, in plain view, in public. On property my tax dollars help clean, as they T is always reminding me. Yet another example of paying attention to the wrong thing. I’m sure I’ll reflect further on this ridiculous state of affairs next week, when I will leave my polaroid camera at home because asking for a hand inspection of a box of film at the airport security checkpoint will probably just get my film x-rayed and ruined. I mean, checking my sealed packet of film with human eyes might divert otherwise riveted attention from the streaming scan of everyone’s quart-sized plastic baggies stuffed with three ounce-sized toiletries. What a shame.