Long lines of cars. BART stations lined up around the blocks.
People swearing at ATMs that wouldn't dispense their money because they'd had their accounts frozen for suspicious activity (that's the danger of wiring your checking account straight into your FasTrak and Fast Pass!).
I got home and made myself a sandwich and logged into the Xnet.
It had been a good day. People from all over town were crowing about their successes.
We'd brought the city of San Francisco to a standstill. The news-reports confirmed it — they were calling it the DHS gone haywire, blaming it all on the fake-ass "security" that was supposed to be protecting us from terrorism.
The Business section of the San Francisco Chronicle gave its whole front page to an estimate of the economic cost of the DHS security resulting from missed work hours, meetings and so on.
According to the Chronicle's economist, a week of this crap would cost the city more than the Bay Bridge bombing had.
The best part: Dad got home that night late. Very late.
Three hours late. Why? Because he'd been pulled over, searched, questioned.
Then it happened again. Twice.
This chapter is dedicated to Compass Books/Books Inc, the oldest independent bookstore in the western USA. They've got stores up and down California, in San Francisco, Burlingame, Mountain View and Palo Alto, but coolest of all is that they run a killer bookstore in the middle of Disneyland's Downtown Disney in Anaheim.
I'm a stone Disney park freak (see my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom if you don't believe it), and every time I've lived in California, I've bought myself an annual Disneyland pass, and on practically every visit, I drop by Compass Books in Downtown Disney.
They stock a brilliant selection of unauthorized (and even critical) books about Disney, as well as a great variety of kids books and science fiction, and the cafe next door makes a mean cappuccino.
Compass Books/Books Inc
He was so angry I thought he was going to pop. You know I said I'd only seen him lose his cool rarely? That night, he lost it more than he ever had.
"You wouldn't believe it. This cop, he was like eighteen years old and he kept saying, 'But sir, why were you in Berkeley yesterday if your client is in Mountain View?' I kept explaining to him that I teach at Berkeley and then he'd say, 'I thought you were a consultant,' and we'd start over again.
It was like some kind of sitcom where the cops have been taken over by the stupidity ray.
"What's worse was he kept insisting that I'd been in Berkeley today as well, and I kept saying no, I hadn't been, and he said I had been.
Then he showed me my FasTrak billing and it said I'd driven the San Mateo bridge three times that day!
"That's not all," he said, and drew in a breath that let me know he was really steamed.
"They had information about where I'd been, places that didn't have a toll plaza. They'd been polling my pass just on the street, at random.
And it was wrong! Holy crap, I mean, they're spying on us all and they're not even competent!"
I'd drifted down into the kitchen as he railed there, and now I was watching him from the doorway.
Mom met my eye and we both raised our eyebrows as if to say, Who's going to say 'I told you so' to him? I nodded at her. She could use her spousular powers to nullify his rage in a way that was out of my reach as a mere filial unit.
"Drew," she said, and grabbed him by the arm to make him stop stalking back and forth in the kitchen, waving his arms like a street-preacher.
"What?" he snapped.
"I think you owe Marcus an apology." She kept her voice even and level. Dad and I are the spazzes in the household — Mom's a total rock.
Dad looked at me. His eyes narrowed as he thought for a minute.
"All right," he said at last. "You're right.
I was talking about competent surveillance. These guys were total amateurs.
I'm sorry, son," he said. "You were right.
That was ridiculous." He stuck his hand out and shook my hand, then gave me a firm, unexpected hug.
"God, what are we doing to this country, Marcus? Your generation deserves to inherit something better than this." When he let me go, I could see the deep wrinkles in his face, lines I'd never noticed.
I went back up to my room and played some Xnet games. There was a good multiplayer thing, a clockwork pirate game where you had to quest every day or two to wind up your whole crew's mainsprings before you could go plundering and pillaging again.
It was the kind of game I hated but couldn't stop playing: lots of repetitive quests that weren't all that satisfying to complete, a little bit of player-versus-player combat (scrapping to see who would captain the ship) and not that many cool puzzles that you had to figure out.
Mostly, playing this kind of game made me homesick for Harajuku Fun Madness, which balanced out running around in the real world, figuring out online puzzles, and strategizing with your team.
But today it was just what I needed. Mindless entertainment.
My poor dad.
I'd done that to him.
He'd been happy before, confident that his tax dollars were being spent to keep him safe. I'd destroyed that confidence.
It was false confidence, of course, but it had kept him going. Seeing him now, miserable and broken, I wondered if it was better to be clear-eyed and hopeless or to live in a fool's paradise.
That shame — the shame I'd felt since I gave up my passwords, since they'd broken me — returned, leaving me listless and wanting to just get away from myself.
My character was a swabbie on the pirate ship Zombie Charger, and he'd wound down while I'd been offline. I had to IM all the other players on my ship until I found one willing to wind me up.
That kept me occupied. I liked it, actually.
There was something magic about a total stranger doing you a favor. And since it was the Xnet, I knew that all the strangers were friends, in some sense.
> Where u located?
The character who wound me up was called Lizanator, and it was female, though that didn't mean that it was a girl. Guys had some weird affinity for playing female characters.
> San Francisco
> No stupe, where you located in San Fran?
> Why, you a pervert?
That usually shut down that line of conversation.
Of course every gamespace was full of pedos and pervs, and cops pretending to be pedo- and perv-bait (though I sure hoped there weren't any cops on the Xnet!). An accusation like that was enough to change the subject nine out of ten times.