Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Union Station Update

I went to Union Station here in Washington DC to update the beautiful architectural photograh from the last blog. I knew in advance that I would be disappointed with the current Station, but I was stunned to find out just how disappointed I could be.

Let's get right to it: in the course of photographing down there, I was reported to the DC police, detained, sniffed by a dog, told to hand over my driver's license, and made to tell my story (what story?) to three different cops.

When it turned out I was whom I claimed to be they let me go. They were clearly disappointed.

Let's get the updated pic out of the way:

Skylight blocked, second floor and boutique shops added. At least part of the ceiling is still the same. © 2011 Breton Littlehales

Now, here's what happened: after I shot the pic, I went to the shops near to the gates to the tracks. I walked down the corridor to a hallway with a huge glass window, and I could see a couple of freight trains through the window. I walked into the hallway, which led to a bunch of nearby office buildings, including Kaiser Permanente, and fished out my little Canon Gll. At this point a young man came up to me and asked if I were an employee of the SCC. I said, no, and that I didn't know what the SCC was.

He said I wasn't allowed to photograph there. I said, OK and then he asked what I had been shooting. I said, the freight trains. He reiterated his warning (at this point I was walking away) and of course, rather than just letting it go, I said, "So I can't photograph the trains?" And he said, "No," and I went off to find a men's room.

As I walked down the corridor I noticed him pacing me, which I thought odd. As I approached the public men's room, a policeman with a dog stopped me. "Sir," he said, "this gentleman says you were photographing here by the trains." I said nothing.

He said, reasonably enough, "There is no photography allowed on this side of the station. In fact," he said, "you can't be here without a ticket. Are you a tourist or a sightseer?"

Another policeman arrived and glared at me.

 I said I was sightseeing. He asked if I were a train buff. I said nothing. At this point I knew I was fucked. It was only a matter of how fucked.

He said, "May I see your license?" I gave it to him. Then a policewoman joined us. Now I was surrounded, literally, by the young gentleman from the train station, the policeman with the dog, the policeman without the dog and the policewoman.

As the dog policeman called in my name and address, the second cop began to question me. "What were you doing?" he asked.

"I was taking pictures."

"For who?"

"I have a photo blog." I kept thinking, they don't care, this is just boring.

"Why are you taking pictures here? Did you photograph the trains? Take your hand out of your pocket."

"No. I have a picture of the station from 1910. I wanted to show what it looked like now."

Meanwhile, we're all still waiting to find out if I'm from Silver Spring or here spying.

"No need to worry, sir- this is just routine," dog- cop said.

"I'm not worried." And I wasn't.

"No need for concern," he said.

"I'm not concerned."

"So, where were you taking the pictures?" asked the second cop. I thought of him as the bad cop. The dog cop was the good cop, the second was the bad cop and the third was there for the ride, I guess.

I said I had been down by the Kaiser Permanente entrance. I was going to photograph  through the window.I was going to photograph a freight train.

The bad cop said, "Where's the Kaiser Permanente entrance?"

This question seemed to me to raise the fuck level. "What do you mean?" I asked.

Then he actually said, "I'll ask the questions." Wow... cool! I thought.

So he did. "Where's the Kaiser Permanente entrance?" And then the third cop said, "You know, it's--" at which point I cut her off.

""It's OK- he's testing me. He knows you know where it is."  I turned from her and said, "It's down past the shoe shine stand... do you see that sign? It's past that sign..." Blah, blah, blah, etc, etc.

Then he asked me where I lived. I told him. Then he said, "Didn't you say you weren't photographing trains?"

Actually, no, I thought, but this guy really thinks he's onto something. I just said, "You got me."

At this point, the employee had gotten embarrassed by the whole thing. "I asked him to stop and he did. I'm sorry I said anything," he said. He left.

Meanwhile, dog cop was still waiting to confirm whether I'm really your faithful scribe Bret Littlehales or not.

Of course, it turned out that I am, which, gentle reader, we knew all along.

So they let me go. They were disappointed, yes, especially the bad cop, but hey- it's still the US and I live here so they had to let me go. The bad cop had a parting word for me though.

"I hope you learned your lesson," he said.

Well, maybe. If the lesson is that those new buses are a way better deal to NYC than Amtrak, then yes, lesson learned. If the lesson is I can still piss off authority as much as I could in the '60's and '70's, and therefore might not be as old as I feared, then, yes- lesson learned.

Was there something else? I guess not.


Anonymous said...

These guys all clearly need something better to do with their time. Here are your tax dollars at work, DC residents. For Christ's sake.

Also, I hate it when people say "No need to worry" when you're clearly not worried. My old boss used to say that to me all the time when she'd done something wrong but was trying to accuse me of being responsible for it. "Well, you don't need to worry about it" she'd say. "I know. I'm not worried" I'd respond.

DT Kelly said...

This trumps my run-ins with police at WDW and coming back from WDW. Mine were both quick and ridiculous with a comfortable 1/1 cop-to-innocent person ratio. The first dealt with a rope I wasn't allowed under and interestingly enough, a pole I was allowed to go around. The second was a speeding ticket and near accident, both caused by the sudden appearance of a police cruiser.

Anonymous said...

Made my blood pressure rise reading that,some summers ago I was swimming at a nude beach when a cop came to harrass us initially for having dogs in the water(which in Minnesota is illegal on public beaches) but then he saw we were nude There was a heated exchange with one of the bathers in which one of the nude men said" everyone is naked under their clothes" to which the cop replied "well, I'm not!" even today I picture a tatoo'd suit. At the end of the exchange we all got dog tickets and that lovely phrase you heard: I hope you learned your lesson.

zebeckras said...

Honestly, it sounds to me like the guy who learned the lesson is the one who reported you in the first place. I don't know, I may have read it wrong (not having been there) but it seems as if when you say he said he was sorry he brought it up the unspoken addition was "and I'll never do THAT again."

I wonder what he expected, honestly. A ticket, a fine, or did he just think he'd enjoy seeing you dressed down and was surprised when he didn't? I don't understnad why you'd report someone to the police and then be surprised to see them get harrassed. Duh.

paul said...

I hope a lot of people -- the entire galaxy, in principle -- read this amazing account. It is revealing and upsetting. (Brought to mind the scene in "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" when the saucer comes in through the window ... of Union Station.) I'm also feeling glad you weren't shirtless.

Bret Littlehales said...

Paul, well said- especially the "Earth vs the Flying Saucers" part.

As for shirtless, well... hair shirtless, maybe.

Zebeckras- that's my observation, too. He went out of his way to find a policeman with a dog just to report me me for... I guess I'll never know. Not taking pictures? Stopping when he asked me to stop? Looking for a men's room?

You just never know.

Jon said...

the lesson is that there are chickenshit worthless cops all over the place and I'm sorry you had to deal with that unprofessional twat.