Friday, April 16, 2010

A sign of the times

I guess this was inevitable - in many respects, it's surprising that it hadn't happened sooner - but it still makes me sad:
Gone are the days when you could stroll around the Capitol and casually walk in to see what your elected officials were or were not up to. Now it will be metal detectors.

Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, says the State Preservation Board has approved a plan for detectors and other security measures.

DPS director Steven McCraw says the measures won't hamper the ability of the public to "timely access the State Capitol building."
I remember back to the spring of 1998, when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas. That semester, I had a morning internship at the Downtown Austin Alliance. I did not own a car at the time, so after my internship duties were over and it was time to get to my afternoon classes, I had two options: either walk over to Congress Avenue and wait for the 'Dillo (Capital Metro's since-discontinued free downtown circulator) or walk. If it was a nice day, if I had enough time and/or if I didn't feel like waiting for the next bus, I'd do the latter.

It was a 15 or 20 minute walk, and the most direct path from downtown to my classroom took me up Congress Avenue, through the Capitol Building, across MLK and up Speedway to 22nd Street, which I would then take to get to Sutton Hall.

The Legislature was not in session that spring, so the Capitol was oftentimes empty. Sometimes the only thing I'd hear were my own footsteps echoing through the rotunda as I walked past its terrazzo mosaic. Occasionally, I'd pause to look up into the impressive rotunda or to examine the plaques, statues and portraits along the building's granite and wood-paneled walls; even though I walked through it on a regular basis, the building never ceased to impress me. Not to mention that I enjoyed the couple of minutes of shade and air conditioning that my walk through the Capitol provided during my trek.

Now, with these new security measures in place, I'm not sure that such a walk would be possible anymore. The extra time required for me and my backpack to go through scanners and detectors would probably eliminate the time savings of walking through the building rather than around it, and the fact that I was gaining entrance to the Capitol just to walk through it would likely raise the eyebrows of security staff; nobody, not even university students, are above suspicion anymore.

It's just a sign of the times.

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