This column appeared in The Herald-Sun in April 2014:
Back in the 1980s, I didn’t think twice about stashing my blue Jansport book bag under a bench outside the public library while I wandered around downtown Orlando.
Today, though, it’s a different world.
So I can only imagine the horror that a man from Akron, waiting on a Megabus to take him away from the Bull City, must’ve felt on Monday when he came back to see what a seemingly innocuous act had wrought.
He had stashed a suitcase full of clothes and a laptop computer under the steps outside the N.C. Mutual Life building on Chapel Hill Street – between the Durham Police Department and the Durham Area Transit Authority terminal.
No malice intended, police say. He was just a regular guy, waiting on a bus, wanting to leave his stuff somewhere safe while he killed time walking around.
By the time he came back, though, a few city blocks were cordoned off, workers in the building had been evacuated, a bomb-sniffing robot whirred around, a Durham County Sheriff’s deputy walked up Duke Street dressed like he was in “The Hurt Locker” and television news helicopters buzzed overhead.
Imagine how that must’ve looked. Just think what ran through his mind as it dawned on him what was going on and why.
I suspect it was similar to what I felt as a kid when I flashed my Dad’s Magic Kingdom security badge to stop a train full of tourists from leaving Frontierland so I could get aboard with my friends.
I almost immediately realized that my father’s compatriots in security didn’t find this act nearly as amusing as I did. He didn’t find it funny, either.
Now that I have a son, I’m pretty sure my father can’t wait to see what mischief John Michael can get into using my press pass so he can claim payback.
The traveler in Durham meant no harm, but the man’s actions shut down a small chunk of the city for about three hours. Durham Police weren’t able to tell me if he ultimately made it to his bus on time, only that they wouldn’t press charges against him.
I feel a little sorry for him, but I think it should surprise no one — after 9/11, after the Boston Marathon bombing — that we’re going to react this way to reports of packages left where they don’t belong.
It’s unfortunate that the incident inconvenienced drivers and wrecked productivity for workers Monday afternoon. But I think we can all breathe a little easier knowing that it wasn’t an act of terrorism in our back yard and that law enforcement calmly and efficiently managed the brief crisis.
Maybe it ended up being nothing more than clothes and a computer, but I have to agree with the woman from the Veterans Affairs office who told me: “Better safe than sorry.”
Wes Platt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.