Update 7/24: Mall manager says sorry and that security misunderstood the policy. See details.
It's 1:21 AM and my brand new Harry Potter book is sitting next to me unopened. I need to tell this story before I move to that one.
There was a little gap between my paid wifi expiring as I wrapped up the liveblog, and the time when my number in line was called. So rather than lug my laptop around I took it out to my car.
On the way out I spotted a wonderful picture. Someone couldn't wait to get home, or perhaps they were waiting for a ride, but in any case they'd sat down to read under a dim parking lot light. A nice ending to the story.
The photo didn't turn out but I'm posting it anyway, in light of the tale that follows.
"Sir! Excuse me!"
I turned around and two mall security guards were coming up behind me.
"Sir, you're not allowed to take photographs, mall policy."
I told the two, um, gentlemen that I was unaware of the policy and I quite politely asked to see it in writing. They said they couldn't do so but the Coralville Police Department would be glad to, and he could certainly call them.
At that point the ridiculousness of the situation and the weight of my laptop were too much, so I said I'd rather buy my book, and I proceeded to drop the laptop off in my car.
However, the issue still, well, concerned me, so I resumed the conversation on the way back in. I noted that I was, in fact a Professional Journalist -- I'm certain that was a very credible statement, what with me dressed as Middle Aged Harry Potter -- and I got the usual rap. Private Property, Mall Policy, Just Doing Our Jobs, etc. I'm afraid that in response to Just Doing Our Jobs I may have violated Godwin's Law. I made note of the First Amendment and asked:
"You mean that's why you're here at one o'clock in the morning -- to keep me from taking a picture of someone reading a book?"
"Yes sir, that's part of our job sir."
They again repeated that the Coralville Police would be glad to further explain General Growth and Development's policy. I again asked to see it in writing. They said they could have it mailed to me. I agreed as the absurdity was getting to me -- here I was, standing in the parking lot of the mall at 1 AM wearing a Harry Potter costume arguing with two fenceposts about the relative merits of the First Amendment vs. private property rights. So they asked me for my license. They said it was to get my address, but they took it away from me and went in the car. I don't know if fake mall cops can run licenses or not, but they took their sweet time. I wonder if they even took my address down. Looking forward to that letter, guys.
Maybe the release of a children's book isn't the most important thing in the world, but it's still a pretty big story. And maybe I'm just one nerd in a Harry Potter costume, but there's larger issues at stake here. This is one small moment in a big problem in 21st century America. As public squares dwindle and more and more of our time is spent on turf that functions as public space but is under private ownership, routine citizen activities like news gathering, petitioning, and public speaking are getting harder and harder.
Plus it took some of the fun out of my night.
By the time all this was done, my place in line had come around. I plopped down my cash and left Barnes and Noble. The two fenceposts were gone. I had hoped to tell them the First Amendment still allowed me to read a book.
Which is what I'm going to do now.
Maybe this post will get me banned from the Coral Ridge Mall. No great loss -- I knew I should have gone to Prairie Lights.