Illustration by Bob AulI was returning from a long day of Libertarian Party activism at the Shadow Convention, Pershing Square, the Staples Center and the Four Days of Unity outdoor rave on the MTA Red Line train when it happened.
Hungry and tired and sitting in an empty train, I looked into my bag and, to my delight, found a fat-free, low-sodium, fruit-filled granola bar made by a company called Laguna. I believe it was Laguna's mixed berry —but it could have been apple. I opened the wrapper and began to eat the delicious fruity cookie, enjoying its granola-ish goodness (it's sort of like a long Fig Newton, but with strawberry filling—or maybe blueberry).
I didn't even think about it, but right in front of me—indeed, in many easily visible locations—was a picture of a hamburger and a beverage with a red line slashing through it.
I was committing the crime of eating on a train.
I wasn't eating a hamburger or drinking a beverage. It seems the sign specifically outlawed the consumption of Happy Meals—not my scrumptious, cherry-filled (or maybe raspberry), Fig Newton-like snack cake.
I left the Red Line to board the Blue Line for my return trip to Long Beach, where my car had been parked in the street since 11 a.m. I walked up the stairs, about to eat the last bite of my raspberry-filled granola treat, when an LA Sheriff's Department officer told me there was no eating allowed on the trains or in the station.
With one bite left, I had to make a decision.
Before I go on, understand that the officer did not pull out a gun and yell, "Freeze! Drop that cranberry-filled snack item now!" It seemed the situation was amicable, friendly even, not at all hostile. He said, "No eating in the station" like someone says, "Keep your voice down in the library." So I stopped, nodded and tried to smile through a mouthful of pineapple filling—indicating through this kind of sign language that I understood I had made a mistake—and then I ate the last bite.
Apparently, this was the wrong choice.
The officer angrily walked toward me and said, "I told you there's no eating in the station!" He mistook my consumption of the delicious grape-filled, cookie-like granola product as an act of civil disobedience, which is really kind of cool since I hadn't been civilly disobedient during the whole four days of the Democratic convention. If I had known how this was going to go down, I would have loudly proclaimed, "I defy you as a protest of the treatment of sick and dying medical-marijuana patients everywhere!" This might have seemed a bit pompous: besides three other cops who looked vaguely embarrassed by their co-worker, there was no one else in the station.
Now I ask you, what should I have done? At the moment, I considered that I might have: (a) continued walking while holding the fine bar of food; (b) put the fig-filled Newton bar in my pocket; (c) offered him the last bite; (d) spit out the mouthful I was currently chewing. But any of these options may have been perceived as equally defiant.
The officer asked if he could search my bag. Being a good libertarian and understanding my rights under the Fourth Amendment to live free from unreasonable searches and seizures, I said that he could not search my property.
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This, apparently, was unacceptable. He told me to turn around and put my hands together. Not wanting to waste any more time and further my chances of a $250 ticket —the high price of enjoying a cran-raspberry-filled soft-and-chewy granola bar in a transportation station—I complied. He grabbed two of my digits in a sort of Chinese finger hold behind my back. He began to look for my ID, which I volunteered was in my fanny pack. I asked him if I was suspected of a crime. He said yes. He asked me if I had any weed on me. I suppose wearing my Orange County Hemp Council T-shirt and being be-buttoned by buttons reading, "Question Authority" and, "Legalize Freedom" didn't help. I told him I had no weed.
After asking me questions about my name and address and then entering the information in some database for future reference, he let me go. But he gave me a stern warning about tickets, challenging authority, and eating in train stations. He never did search my bag.
I was grateful I got away without a ticket, but I will never again eat another watermelon-filled, Fig Newton-like granola-type bar on a train. And I wonder if Tic Tacs are okay.
Doug Scribner is vice chairman of the Libertarian Party of Orange County and director of the American Medical Marijuana Association.