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You can't take a vacation from Paranoia..

by Hunter Addams (writer), Queens, New York, March 20, 2007

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Something struck me as very odd when I was on my recent vacation. I went with my girlfriend to Universal Studios in Orlando. We had gotten the 7-day pass so we could take our time seeing everything and going on all the rides. Looking forward to a fun week of silly pictures and overpriced meals, we weren’t expecting to experience what we had.

Airport security is a nightmare, and damn near everyone knows that already. Between the numerous scans and searches, the countless times you have to flash your ID and plane ticket, you cant figure out if you’re getting on a plane or testing to buy life insurance. So we will just skip that part of the trip, and move directly onto the vacation portion.

The Universal Studios ticket has what any multi-day pass has on it. You write your name on it, then sign below that. It says underneath: “Guest counter-signature required for each visit. Ticket may be confiscated if signature does not match holder. Photo ID required.” Okay, nothing odd about that. Just a measure they take to ensure that people don’t give their multi-day pass to their friends.

The back of the ticket has more of the same type of restrictions, stating it is non-refundable, not for resale, etc. It repeats “Valid photo ID and ticket required.” There’s also a bar code. I assume they scan the barcode and it tells them when the ticket expires, how many uses it’s had and things of the sort, maybe even the name attached to it, nothing too out of the ordinary.

First, to get to Universal, you have to walk through City Walk, which is basically a big Y-shaped shopping/dining/social area, leading to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. To enter City Walk, you go through a bag check. It seemed very nonchalant, you opened your bag, and the guard took a quick peek inside. Didn’t seem like they were checking too thoroughly, probably under the assumption if you are willing to let them look in your bag, you don’t have anything to hide.

We get on the line, and it’s moving relatively slowly, luckily we got there early, so we only had a few people in front of us. I present my ticket to the woman at the turnstile; she scans the bar code on the back of the ticket. I reach for my wallet to get my ID, and she tells me “put your right index finger on the scanner.” I respond with a “Huh..?” “Put your right index finger on the scanner.”

As the thought of that sent a chill down my spine, some strange inner part of me, without much hesitation, reached forward and put my finger onto the scanner. It scanned my fingerprint and matched it to the bar code on the ticket. My very first officially personalized bar code! The little machine played a Tinkerbelle-magic kind of sound, the turnstile clicked, and I walked in. No signature, no ID checking, just fingerprinting. It made me feel very uncomfortable knowing that somewhere in that park there was a computer which now has our fingerprints on file; 100% irrefutable proof that we were there. Of course, there's also the hundreds of security cameras all over the park, cleverly hidden inside pieces of the themed street lamps and amusement ride signs.

Later in the day, we got to a couple of the rides which said you couldn’t bring any loose bags onto the ride with you. No purses, backpacks or anything. So you have to rent a locker. The lockers are free for the first hour; charging someone to check their bag, then forcing them to pay for it, you may end up with a lot of disgruntled patrons or, god forbid, the popularity of the ride drops. Instead, there’s more fingerprinting.

Your fingerprint is now matched to the locker the machine assigns you. You select your options, put your thumb print onto the scanner (now they have two of your fingers on file), and a locker door pops open. If you go over the free hour, you pay the difference when you return. What most people may not take into account is that the line for most of these rides pushes to the better part of an hour.

We did this for Spiderman and The Mummy rides, both of which we got back for our bags with no more than 7 minutes to spare. Had we actually bought something (because, the exit of the ride feeds into the store with the merchandise for that ride), the line to pay for our new souvenirs would have definitely pushed us past that spare 7 minutes. So, we would have had to pay $2 to get our bag back. In that case, why not just get on another ride and get the full $2 of the next hours’ worth? Then that perpetuates the cycle of using up another hour, pushing it to $4, and starting all over again.

Later in the week, we head over to the Kennedy Space Center. On the way to the front gate, we see the sign which says: NO GPS ALLOWED. So, anyone who decided they didn’t want to leave their GPS system on the dashboard of their car, from fear of possibly having it stolen, now has to walk back to the parking lot and leave it in the car; which, I might add, is a bit of a walk away.

We buy our tickets, go inside, and again they're scanning the barcodes on them. No fingerprinting, but it did make me nervous seeing more scanners. You walk in, and there are more lines, this time for the metal detectors and x-ray machines. Sneakers, belts, hats, metallic jewelry, cameras, cell phones and bags must all be removed and put into a tray and through the x-ray. You walk through the metal detector, hope it doesn’t go off on you, then retrieve your belongings after the guard has sifted through them and approved every item. Not to mention, when the guard finds a camera or cell phone, you must turn them on in front of him, and let him see they are working. You also you have to dial a few numbers on your cell phone and show it to them. Now step aside, get all your stuff back on, and pray there’s no rectal examination to go with it.

They have a bus tour around the space center, which they say is usually about 2½ - 3 hours. It takes you near the launch pad (about 3 miles away), the assembly stations and a few other interesting things to see of our space program. But wait, there’s a bit more. You stand on another line waiting for the bus tour, and you see there are people taking pictures at the head of the line.

In all of these amusement parks, there are people stationed with cameras. They take your picture at some ideal photo location, or with some person dressed as one of the cartoon characters, then you can retrieve the picture later on in the day, for approx $25 each. Although, this time it was slightly different.

Disguised as a family photo opportunity, I saw something entirely different. You have to take this picture before getting on the bus tour. They stand you in front of a scenic blue sky with some clouds, which to me is just a blue screen with some white clouds above it. They use high-resolution digital cameras for the photo, and will re-take the picture until everyone is looking at the camera. This, as anyone who has kids knows, could take a few tries before getting them to look straight ahead at the same time. One family in front of us must have taken the picture at least 5 times before the photographer let them go. Did I mention they also forced my girlfriend and I to remove our sunglasses for the photo?

Over the course of the week, we learned there is apparently no income tax in Florida, but there are toll booths for every few miles of highway; $1 here, .75 cents there. You have to get the right electronic pass also. Using our EZ-Pass in their toll booths will get you fined. Before you know it, a daily trip to and from the theme parks could cost you upwards of $10 a day, ignoring the ridiculous price of gas, which we saw up to $2.97 per gallon at one place. So that might just make you want to take the shuttle bus provided by the hotel you're staying at. They will give you a ticket for the bus, with another bar code on it, and you know the hotel has all of your credit card and identification information. So, following in line, the bus ticket probably has all of that too.

So to recap, on our ideal vacation, we were bag searched at least 10 times, pocket searched maybe 6 times, ID’d approximately 5 times, fingerprinted 6 times, tolled, videotaped, photographed in front of a blue screen, and possibly were subjected to a retinal scan. We probably could have protested the fingerprinting, and probably started an argument with the cameraman about not wanting our picture taken, but out of courtesy for the people behind us, they were on vacation as well. No one likes it when the person ahead of you makes the line take longer than it has to.

Although, on the same note, maybe they are counting on you not wanting to cause a scene on the line. Maybe they are fully aware that you won’t argue if you have others behind you waiting as well. But, then again, it could be our natural observance of the rules, and our unwillingness to have others point and scowl at us that we’d rather be subjected to multiple searches and identification techniques, than to speak out. That could be the very reason we have been subjected to it in the first place. Simply because no one spoke out; no one argued the “new policy.”

It may be fully legal to search someone upon them entering your private property, should we still be subjected to the search if we are paying to gain access in the first place? If it’s our admission price that keeps the place open and running, wouldn’t that make it partially yours for the time you’re there? Well of course not, because you’re technically paying admission to the rides. But, at the same time, if there were no rides or attractions, would you go at all? Of course not, but if admission were free, would the rides be there?

Near the end of the bus tour, with all of these thoughts running through my mind, I picked my head up and looked out of the window. I saw the American Flag blowing in the wind. There were a lot of clouds in the sky, and it made everything seem very gray and dark. Though we had seen an abundance of birds the whole day (K.S.C. is located inside of a natural wildlife preserve), there were none around. Hundreds of other people were there that day, but I couldn't see any of them. The tour buses were going by every minute or two with another group of people. But, none of this could be seen. Just a dark and gray view of the only thing that was moving: The American Flag.

Maybe it's just my own personal view of things, or perhaps my naturally artistically-emotional sense, but it symbolized to me the view I had about this country at that moment. You can fly the flag all you want, you can be as patriotic as you like, but we are all just walking in the dark shadows of big brother, who is always watching. So I did what any person who has recently been witness to the wonderful benefits of electronic security would do.
I took a picture of the flag with my camera phone.


About the Writer

Hunter Addams is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on You can't take a vacation from Paranoia..

Log In To Vote   Score: 2
By Hunter Addams on April 06, 2007 at 04:23 pm
Post-Publishing Editorial: One of the ads which is popping up to the right of this article lately, is for biometric fingerprint door locks, proclaiming "THE FUTURE IS HERE." The scanner on the door lock is exactly what they look like at Universal. Here is a screen shot of it: I also spoke to a friend of mine who has worked gov't security jobs, and he says that the Universal Studios system also cross-checks criminal records with the fingerprinting. So, they really do know exactly who you are.
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By Hunter Addams on April 06, 2007 at 04:25 pm
The image didn't work, so heres the URL: http://www.shareimages.com/images/pics/0/0/0/3315-qpeWoJWZlqWilp.X-screenshot.jpg
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By EmergencyMonkey on May 13, 2007 at 07:36 pm
Great article. Just visited Universal for the first time in many years last week and was really surprised about the fingerprint scan. I refused and showed them my ID and it wasn't a problem to get through. One attendant said 'but you must do this' and I said 'they told me I could just show my id.' Then she said 'but if you lose your ticket you will not be able to get another' then I said 'That's OK with me' and went ahead. Later at the Islands of Adventure park I simply said 'Im not doing that' and the lady just smiled back at me. Somehow I have made it into my 30s without getting into the fingerprint databse, but I doubt future generations will be able to say the same thing.
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