In the afterglow of Donald Trump’s inauguration at Rebar, the second-floor cocktail lounge inside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a sturdy white-haired man in a dark suit made a sudden beeline to the table where I was sitting, staring into my iPhone. It was clear, from the the coiled wire running from his ear into his shirt collar and his businesslike manner, that he was the bar’s bouncer.
“You’re with the Chicago Reader, right?”
I hesitated. My work badge was not visible. It was buried beneath the navy sport jacket I’d worn to blend in with the revelers in MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN caps who were sipping $20 cocktails at Rebar’s official inauguration watch party. A few minutes beforehand, a middle-aged man sitting at a table in the center of the lounge held a glass of champagne and shouted a toast: “Let’s bring back colonialism!” There were eight people at his table, and no one batted an eyelash.
“I noticed you’re not saying much,” the guard said, his eyes darting to my laptop. “You’re the one taking pictures here, right?”
I’d posted two photos to Twitter that showed partygoers celebrating as the man whose name is on the front of the building was sworn into the highest office in the land.
“I’m here doing social media for work,” I replied.
The guard said something quietly into a hidden microphone. In a matter of seconds, a second security person arrived. This one looked more menacing and had a gun holstered at his waist. They exchanged words I couldn’t hear.
“We gotta shut this down,” the white-haired man said. “We can’t be having reporters in here. You gotta get permission from the VP.”
My first thought: Was the VP I was supposed to talk to Mike Pence? And how did the security guard know the name of my media outlet? Had Trump’s team already infiltrated the NSA? Was Trump Tower using technology Edward Snowden had warned us about to ferret out reporters in their midst? Or were the guards simply monitoring location-based social posts?
Paranoid thoughts and conspiracy theories are not becoming of a journalist. And yet Donald Trump is president of the United States today, and suddenly anything seems possible.