Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Inspections gone wild

To take the utility bridge to Ellis Island, you've gotta go through security. That means bringing your car to a complete halt, raising the hood and trunk lid for vehicle cavity inspection by US Park Police, and showing identification to the guard at the booth, to be matched against a list of expected visitors. If you're driving a delivery truck, they'll bring out the K-9 officer and his partner so the dog can make an olfactory inspection of the cargo area.

It's all part of the effort to safeguard Ellis and, more importantly, the Statue of Liberty. The two islands are close enough that something bad on Ellis could definitely hurt the Statue. There's even one of those tough metal plate drawbridges at the base of the bridge -- a barrier that can be raised to further prevent a possible assault by a loaded truck or car.

The Park Police pretty much recognize me and my car by this point, so the inspection is usually pretty quick, though last week one actually chided me for still having this summer's beach towels in the trunk. (Not a chargeable offense, it turns out.) Once in a while they ask for my ID, or there's a SWAT team cop there who's a bit more thorough. But more often than not, I pass through rapidly, sometimes even when they've detained someone else for further investigation.

Getting off the island is nearly always effortless. Sometimes the barrier is in the raised position, but the guard will drop it when he sees me coming.

Today's exit was a little different. From a distance, I saw that a white school bus was stopped at the guard shack at the entry point, and the barrier was up. Even as I neared, the barrier stayed up. Hmm. This should be interesting.

I stopped behind another vehicle which had gotten to the barrier just before me, and waited for the barrier to drop. Then I saw that people were leaving the white bus. All in the dress uniforms of U.S. Marines, and one or two with impressive clusters of service medals on their chests. They stood quietly while a cop and his search dog jumped onto the bus.

Now that's impressive. You don't trust the Marines to come to the Statue of Liberty with a clean vehicle? It had U.S. government license plates, to boot.

I've no idea why the Marines coming to Ellis by the back entrance, but they also appeared to have rifles with them, so maybe there was some sort of ceremony happening there. I am a little disappointed though -- I never thought a simple barrier would prevent Marines from going anywhere. The distance from shore to the island is only about a quarter mile. Surely they could have swum it if they weren't so worried about the dress uniforms.

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