On 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. Sure, the “kids” were older. I was older. A lot of us in the crowd were older. But you don’t forget your first love or, especially, your first boy band. NKOTB’s first album came out in 1986 but they broke big—then huge, then internationally ginormous—in the very late ’80s and early ’90s, right when I was about to start my preteen years. In my tiny corner of the world, every girl knew every word to every one of their songs and all the choreography to their music videos. We each had a favorite (which, in the parlance of today’s fandom, would be a bias). Mine was Joey.
Decades later, unprompted, and with no backing track, I can still easily burst into a New Kids track without having to look up a single word. I struggle to remember the exact date on which I got married but, somehow, the lyrics to 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 how to sleep—and will stay there until I leave this mortal coil. “Step by Step”? Got it. “Hangin’ Tough”? Instant classic. “Please Don’t Go Girl”? I won’t go and I will never unlearn those songs.
So I didn’t prepare much for this concert. What was there to know? I’m a seasoned concert-goer and I know all the words to all the songs. (The billing also included Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue, and Rick Astley, all acts from that special period in my life when apparently I had plenty of time to learn song lyrics that I would remember forever.) The concert was in Portland, so I threw a token clear plastic bag in my suitcase along with clothes, comfortable shoes, and the usual sundries, then I didn’t give preparation another thought. That is, until the day of the concert, when my friend and I looked up the Portland arena’s bag policy and realized this wasn’t a clear bag situation, nor even a “no large bags” situation—this was “a no bags are allowed at all” situation. As in, no purses. Period. Full stop.
Here’s what I’ve been able to suss out about these no-bag policies: They are real. They are uncompromising. And they are spreading. They started during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, though it’s unclear how not having a purse prevents the transmission of the novel coronavirus, these restrictions are being put into place under the auspices of making arenas safer.
Portland wasn’t the first arena to implement this. I don’t know where it started, but the first place that I noticed it was here in Los Angeles, where the downtown arena tried announcing a similar policy in April of 2021, stating you could only bring into the stadium what you could fit in your pockets. Like in Portland, the L.A. 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 swiftly ridiculed, and arena management quickly pivoted to a modification: Diaper bags and medical bags would be permitted, but they would be screened. Later, they would add that a small clutch (specifically, 5 inches by 9 inches by 1 inch) would be allowed too.
But the laughing at the L.A. arena didn’t stop these policies. They’ve been popping up all over the country. So far, I have found similar bag policies at arenas in Anaheim, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and Pittsburgh, plus baseball stadiums in Boston and Atlanta, and a NFL stadium in Tampa. Like in L.A., they mostly were announced in early to mid-2021 amid new policies put in place to welcome back fans during the pandemic.
All these announcements used more or less the same language. When the Trail Blazers began allowing a limited number of fans in to see games in May of 2021, Portland announced its no-bag policy in a press release. The press released stated: “The Rose Quarter has implemented a no-bag policy to create a frictionless and contactless customer experience.” See, if we just don’t have those pesky bags everything will move faster! And nobody will have to touch you!
Except this leaves out why people bring bags. There’s the long, depressing history of European women’s clothing not including functional pockets, which is replicated in much of our clothing today and means that, without getting into any other reasons, approximately 50 percent of the population needs a bag. People also use bags to bring medical supplies they need to stay alive, or baby supplies they need to keep their kids fed, or maxi pads for their periods because we all know the ones in the arena bathrooms are garbage, if they’re provided at all. Sure, these new policies allow for bags for medical purposes and children’s supplies, but they leave out what I saw in Portland at the concert—you have to go through a specific line so that your bag can be screened, and that line was loooooooong.
When the L.A. rules were announced, people rightly called them out for being sexist and ableist. They still are! And yet that backlash has not prevented other places from adopting the same policies. Every press release that I read said it was to make entering “frictionless” or “contactless” but that doesn’t make any sense. Nobody has to touch me to search my bag. You don’t even need to touch my bag; just ask me to open it up and show you the contents, which I have done countless times, or run it through an x-ray machine. I hate the clear bags, but I have several now, so just let me use those! And I don’t see how banning bags makes coming and going through stadium security any faster. All you need to do is hire a few more staffers to help with bag check, or buy a few more x-ray machines to scan bags, and the line should move just fine.
Except, ah, yes. That would cost money.
Instead, these locations have decided to turn a profit off of our purses by charging fees for bag check. In Portland, the arena’s management company doesn’t say on its website how much bag check costs; this article by KGW8 said it the price would be “varying by event.” In fact, none of the stadiums and fields that I found with bag bans provided any price information about bag check in their bag policies online, which is horribly inconvenient for the consumer who has to decide if they want to bring a bag, but is great for the venue, which can make up any ol’ price it feels like.
This is where the entire safety claim falls apart. If bag check is about safety, and only about safety, then why is its cost getting passed down to the consumer—who already has shelled out for a ticket (plus fees), and for transit or parking, and will pay even more money for food (because management banned bringing in food), and for freaking water (because management banned water bottles)? Conveniently, for management, a bag ban forces the consumer to buy everything they’ll need inside the facility—at a ridiculous mark-up. This isn’t about safety. It’s about turning every second of your experience into profit, mostly likely for a company owned by a billionaire.
There is hope. Bag bans can be stopped. The Denver arena announced a no-bag policy in March of last year but, when I checked its website this week, it said bags were allowed. In Philadelphia, the Phillies did away with much of their bag ban after a South Philly resident called them out for it in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Perhaps public humiliation does work every now and then.
So what did we do at the Portland show? Look, I don’t want to leave too much evidence on the page in regards to 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. Lots of people in line didn’t know about it and whatever time this ban “saved” was easily lost in the time spent telling people who didn’t know about the bag ban about the bag ban, and and then explaining to them where the x-ray lines were and how bag check worked. If these rules are about saving people time and making entry easier, they do not do that.
What mattered most is we got in, without incident, got to our seats and had a great time, dare I say an amazing time. You are never too old to live your girlhood dream and scream in person at your favorite band member, even if he’s older and you’re older and you’re both definitely married.
But as my friend and I left the arena, dashing through raindrops to her car, I saw all the fans around us clutching their concert T-shirts that they had been holding all night, the fabric getting wetter and wetter in the Portland night—because almost no one had a bag to keep them dry.