Thursday, July 21, 2016

Security Clearance Part I

Get a personal view of the Kennedy Space Center in this essay, which was originally published in Burrows Press ( They used a very cool photo from the olden days of space history. It will be re-published here in four installments.

Security Clearance
“Wait here. I have to put my knives in the car to get through Security,” my brother Ric says.
I have just met up with my brother at the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center. I never like to wait, and I told him earlier we’d have to go through Security. We are here for “the ultimate journey,” as the website says, “where the sky isn’t the limit—it’s just the beginning.” And if that weren’t enough, we also have reservations for the special bus tour offered by the Center—“Cape Canaveral Then and Now.” But before we can blast off, I have to wait for Ric to drop off his knives.
My little brother, age fifty-six, has a slow, hobbling walk. Maybe it’s from decades of carrying seventy pounds of welding equipment a half mile to ships in drydock. Or maybe it’s from walking the streets of Jacksonville during his junkie days, or a deal gone bad. And he’s carrying knives—plural?
I can see I’ll have a bit of a wait. He and I have parked our respective cars at the far end of the lot. His is the black Lexus, the one he got used “for a very good interest rate,” he tells me, at one of those “no credit, bad credit, no problem” places. Mine is the bland rental. I’m here because I’ve undertaken a research trip to the Florida coast, coming down from my home in Maine to try to re-construct a childhood of wandering the palmettos and watching rockets. Despite return visits to family most years, I haven’t before connected the actual childhood geography with the present one.
“Space Coast” Florida in the 1960s is, or was, my homeplace, and I’m trying to remember it as it was to write about it.  A confluence of Florida geography, the space race against the Soviets, and the go-go era of the larger culture launched me in ways I am still learning about.  When I left home as a hippie chick in 1969, I “couldn’t have cared less” about the space industry, to use a favorite expression of my father’s.
My re-entry, on the eve of the launch of the final Space Shuttle in 2011, widely considered the end of an era at the Cape, is a conscious return to the landmarks of those early days in which I grew up. I’ve spent the past week visiting my few remaining relatives—stepfather and wife he married after my mother died six years ago, my late father’s second wife who I haven’t seen in twenty-four years, and Ric from Jacksonville. I’ve heard stories or the lack of stories about the old days. With Ric, I’ve visited the East Coast Surf Museum and Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, where he could tell me stories about the locally famous surfers in the photos. We later cruised the docks of Port Canaveral like teenagers sharing a joint with friends. 
Our father was an engineer at the Cape in the early days of the industry, the Fifties and Sixties, and I want to see where it was he actually worked, an area that was only open to employees with government Security Clearance like my father.  At least, that’s why I’m here, and I’ve invited Ric to come to with me.  I know Ric has a much better memory of the past than I do, and I need his commentary. Ric and I haven’t spent this much time together over the decades since we were kids and he was “Ricky.”
As I follow the cement walkway to the famous Center, bland marigolds bloom in evenly spaced rows, and the mild air and warm sun conspire to make it a real Florida tourist “attraction.” The swells of welcoming recorded “space” music unfold forever as if I were actually moving into and through the black and starry great beyond rather than to the ticket booth.  By the time Ric returns, I am more than ready to get in line at the ticket kiosk and a little edgy from the music.
 “Oh shit,” Ric says, patting the front pockets of his jeans as we get to the entrance door. “I forgot about the Mace. I have to go back to the car.”
“No way!” I say. “Just discretely toss it into that garbage can.”
“It costs eight bucks.”
“I’ll stash it in the bushes over there,” he points to a cement flower planter attached to the side of the building.
I look around hoping no one notices what he is doing. What a hassle it would be to get busted in front of a federal building hiding a can of Mace in the bushes, especially with a two-time felon. I can see how he’s made some less than smart choices over the years. I can’t believe he’s not extra careful to avoid doing even the tiniest thing that could land him back in jail. I know I would be.
We’re now ready to push our tickets into the machines and walk through the Security Clearance turnstyles. “One at a time,” the guard says. I imagine this is something my brother has heard before in other situations involving guards. To be continued.
         Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster

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