Call me suspicious, but when I ride the PATH train system between New Jersey and New York and I see Port Authority workers handing out free trinkets again — I begin to wonder if these “Stay Alert!” free gifts are really a new terror threat warning system in disguise.  Last week was a trinkets bounty.

The image below is a PATH SmartLink cardholder that was given to us. Instead of saying, “We appreciate your business!” — the vinyl is inscribed with bold warnings not to sleep on the train and to say something if you see something curious and militaristic:  “Stay Alert.  Be Aware.  Speak Up.” on one side and “Don’t hesitate to report suspicious activity.” on the other.

Here’s a second trinket we were given by the Port Authority. It’s a keychain — with the brightest LED I’ve ever seen — but, it too, comes with a jingoistic mantra:  “Report Anything Suspicious.”

Hmm… I’m seeing a pattern of scaring the public here, but under the ruse of giving you something for free in exchange for what feels like a silent ignition of a subliminal terror meme.

Finally, here is a 12-month credit-card sized calendar we were gifted. There’s the Port Authority police patch along with the message of the day:  “Stay Alert.  Be Aware.  Speak Up.”

I don’t believe anyone ever gives something to someone for free.  There are always strings attached to any gift or favor.

Why is the Port Authority plying us with all these trinkets?

What do they know that they aren’t telling us and then asking us to report?

I’m certain most people toss these freebies in the trash right after receiving them, but these trinkets serve a more immediate, higher purpose, because they raise a terror alert without being obvious.  I don’t know why anyone would prefer a subtle terror alert over an overt one, but I’m not an expert in terrorism prevention.

The Port Authority must be thinking something like this in their gifting bonanza:  “Yes, we’re here.  In force.  With guns.  And eyes.  And cameras.  Oh, and have a calendar and a cardholder and a mini-light.  On us.  For free.  Earn your freedom.”

The Port Authority draws us into their policing scheme by poking us awake out of our commuting misery with gifts so that we might become their eyes and ears on the trains.  They can’t be everywhere like us.

These trinkets are a rare event — and when I see Port Authority workers handing out these freebies, my stomach turns a bit as I wonder if I should turn around and head back home and if I really need to ride the PATH that day or if I could wait a day or two until things simmer down — because these giveaways make it obvious, to even the everyday observer, that something scary is on the immediate horizon, and that the Port Authority are on full alert, and that we all must be ultra aware of the terror lurking below us in the tunnels.


  1. Creepy gifts, David. When I got a Long Island RailRoad Monthly card holder, it was only because they were trying to get people to sign up for a monthly pass. “Earn your freedom” is right, David — though all that vigilance on public transit makes for a less fun ride.

    1. It’s definitely a strange sensation, Gordon. There’s an eerie feeling getting these “threat-filled” trinkets and trying to figure out the real meaning behind it all. They need to be more specific, or give us more innocuous gifts!

  2. They must know that giving away stuff wakes people up or they wouldn’t bother, right? I wonder how they test if these things work or not.

    1. There must be a quantified rationale behind their gifting, Anne. I’m sure there are lots of threats against the system every day and figuring out which ones are real — or not — must be tiring.

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