Total bag bans are stupid, lazy, greedy and everywhere
Sunday night I went to a concert with one of my best friends. It was a chance to finally live out my childhood dream and see New Kids On The Block live. Of course, the “kids” were older. I was older. Many of us in the crowd were older. But you don’t forget your first love or, above all, your first boy band. NKOTB’s first album came out in 1986, but they exploded, then huge, then gigantic internationally, in the very late 80s and early 90s, just when I was about to to begin my preteen years. In my little corner of the world, every girl knew every word of every song and every choreography in her music videos. We each had a favorite (which in today’s fandom parlance would be bias). Mine was Joey.
Decades later, with no prompts and no backing track, I can still easily get into a New Kids track without having to search for a single word. I find it hard to remember the exact date I got married but somehow the lyrics of every NKOTB hit are implanted in one of the deepest lobes of my brain – probably right next to the notes on how to breathe and sleep – and will stay there until I leave this dead winding. “Step by step”? I understood. “Hangin’ Tough”? Instant classic. “Please don’t go, my daughter”? I will not and I will never unlearn these songs.
So I didn’t prepare much for this concert. What was there to know? I’m a regular at concerts and I know all the lyrics to all the songs. (The billing also included Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue, and Rick Astley, all acts from that special time in my life when apparently I had plenty of time to learn song lyrics I’d remember forever.) gig was in Portland, so I threw a token clear plastic bag in my suitcase with some clothes, comfy shoes, and the usual sundries, and then forgot about the prep. That is, until the day of the concert, when my friend and I looked at the Portland arena’s bag policy and realized it wasn’t a clear bag situation, or even a “no big deal” situation. bags” – it was “a no bags allowed at all“situation. As in, no purses. Period. Full stop.
Here’s what I’ve learned about these no-bag policies: They’re real. They are intransigent. And they are spreading. They started during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, while it’s unclear how not having a purse prevents transmission of the new coronavirus, these restrictions are being put in place under the auspices of making arenas safer.
Portland was not the first arena to implement this. I don’t know where it started, but the first place I noticed it was here in LA, where the downtown arena tried to advertise a similar policy in April 2021, stating that you could only bring into the stadium what you could fit in your pockets. Like Portland, the LA policy was announced as part of an overall policy shift amid the pandemic; in this case it was the fifth tweet in a thread on COVID-19 protocols. The rule was widely and quickly ridiculed, and arena management quickly pivoted to a change: diaper bags and medical bags would be allowed, but they would be checked. Later they would add that a small clutch (specifically, 5 inches by 9 inches by 1 inch) would also be allowed.
But the laughter from the Los Angeles arena did not stop these policies. They have appeared all over the country. So far, I’ve found similar bag policies at arenas in Anaheim, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh, as well as baseball stadiums in Boston and Atlanta, and an NFL stadium in Tampa. Like in Los Angeles, they were mostly announced in early to mid-2021 as part of new policies put in place to welcome fans back during the pandemic.
All of these announcements used more or less the same language. When the Trail Blazers began allowing a limited number of fans to see games in May 2021, Portland announced its no-bag policy in a press release. The press release said, “The Rose Quarter has implemented a no bag policy to create a frictionless and contactless guest experience.” You see, if we just don’t have those damn bags, everything will go faster! And no one will have to touch you!
Except that leaves out why people bring bags. There is the long and depressing history of European women’s clothing without functional pockets, which recurs in most of our clothing today and means that, without going into other reasons, around 50% of the population needs ‘a bag. People also use bags to bring the medical supplies they need to stay alive, or baby supplies they need to feed their children, or maxi pads for their period because we all know those in the wards Arena baths are rubbish, if provided at all. Sure, these new policies allow medical bags and children’s supplies, but they omit what I saw in Portland at the concert – you have to go through a specific line to have your bag checked, and this line was looooooooong.
When the LA rules were announced, people rightly denounced them for being sexist and ableist. They always are! And yet, this backlash hasn’t stopped other places from adopting the same policies. Every press release I read said it was to make entry “frictionless” or “contactless”, but that doesn’t make sense. No one should touch me to search my bag. You don’t even have to touch my bag; just ask me to open it up and show you the contents, which I’ve done countless times, or run it through an x-ray machine. I hate clear bags, but I have some several now, so let me use them! And I don’t see how the ban on bags speeds up passage through stadium security. All you have to do is hire a few extra staff to help with bag check-in or buy a few extra x-ray machines to scan the bags, and the line should be working fine.
Except, uh, yeah. It would cost money.
Instead, these locations decided to make a profit of our handbags by charging a fee for checked baggage. In Portland, the arena management company does not say on its website how much it costs to check bags; this KGW8 article stated that the price would “vary depending on the event.” In fact, none of the stadiums and grounds I found with bag bans provided information on the prices of checking bags into their online bag policies, which is horribly inconvenient for the consumer who has to decide if they want to bring a bag, but it’s great for the venue, which can offset any price.
This is where the whole claim to safety falls apart. If checked baggage is about security, and only about security, then why is its cost passed on to the consumer – who has already paid for a ticket (plus fees), and for public transport or parking, and will pay even more money for food (because management has banned bringing food) and for freaking water (because management has banned bottled water)? Ideally, for management, a bag ban forces the consumer to buy everything they will need inside the establishment, at a ridiculous markup. It’s not a security issue. It’s about turning every second of your experience into profit, probably for a company owned by a billionaire.
There is hope. Bag bans can be stopped. The Denver Arena has announced a no-bag policy in March last year but, when I checked their website this week, it said bags were allowed. In Philadelphia, the Phillies removed much of their sack ban after a South Philly resident called them out for it in The Philadelphia Investigator. Maybe public humiliation works once in a while.
So what did we do at the Portland show? Look, I don’t want to leave too much evidence on the page about how my friend and I chose to interpret, say, a rule or two. But what I saw in Portland did nothing to convince me that bag bans accomplish anything. A lot of people online didn’t know about it and whatever time this ban was ‘saved’ was easily lost in the time spent telling people who didn’t know about the bag ban of the ban bags, then explain to them where the x-ray lines were and how the bag check worked. If these rules are intended to save people time and facilitate entry, they do not.
What mattered most was that we walked in without incident, sat down and had a great, dare I say amazing time. You’re never too old to live out your little girl dream and shout out to your favorite band member in person, even if they’re older than you and you’re definitely married.
But as my friend and I left the arena, hurrying through the raindrops to her car, I saw all the fans around us clutching their concert T-shirts that they had been holding on to all night, the fabric getting wetter and wetter in the Portland night – because hardly anyone had a bag to keep them dry.