Pulled Over in Memphis on Acid
I faced a long drive back to Atlanta after three weeks on the road doing comedy in Colorado Springs and Albuquerque. I was worn out before even starting because I partied the entire trip − particularly on a final night bender in New Mexico. On the return journey I stopped in Oklahoma to stay with a couple I’d met playing golf in Albuquerque. It was smart to break up the long drive on the cheap, but then I foolishly played golf with my host the next sweltering August day, starting at 9 a.m. This was basically the middle of the night for a traveling comic, and I ended up drained.
I originally planned to drive all twelve hours to home, but thought twice due to fatigue. Alas, I couldn’t afford a hotel halfway through the drive and didn’t know anyone I could crash with along the way. I did, however, possess a couple hits of LSD to serve as extra-strength NoDoz. And in addition to staying sprightly, this acid trip could be put to professional use. My deluxe voice recorder would save my “profound” psychedelic ramblings. Perhaps I’d figure out the meaning of life − or at least a good comedy bit − for future use.
I decided to drop the acid and drive through the night.
Not to recommend driving on LSD, but I drive perfectly well on it. Driving is like walking to me, and I did so professionally for over a decade, as a courier in Atlanta. I’ve also tripped more than one hundred times over twenty years, so I know my limitations under the influence. Contrary to popular belief acid hallucinations don’t involve, say, a unicorn suddenly materializing in the road. Objects may morph oddly when stared at, but not nearly enough to disrupt driving on a freeway with oncoming traffic a non-factor.
A couple hours into the drive I ingested enough LSD to be stimulated, but not so much to completely distort reality. To me it was like a strong, really amusing cup of coffee. Soon, my psychedelic reverie made the ride vivid and exciting.
I drove through Arkansas, cruising away from a colorful sunset over the farmlands of the Mississippi Delta. The Talking Heads and Blind Melon on the stereo transported me further. I marveled at the heap of metal I rode inside, careening along at seventy-five miles an hour while basking in air conditioning. I was fascinated by all the tech gadgets and their wires next to me: camera, phone, mini disc recorder, iPod, chargers. Traffic was light, and so was I.
The driving was fun and stress-free, but navigating before the advent of GPS proved a challenge. In the midst of loving life and recording my babblings I shot right by my exit, US 78 towards Tupelo. I eventually stopped to consult my road atlas, the pages of which were now more vivid than any GPS screen I will ever see. I hit the road with fresh direction, only to soon encounter more pressing matters.
I came upon a dizzying amount of freeway construction, which temporarily threw me off. It was like a sinister video game in real life. Shifting lanes and uneven pavement. Bright orange barrels and concrete barricades inches away. Bullying tractor trailers. Older motorists panicking at forty miles per hour. My recorded running commentary during this interval was hardly profound and philosophical; I was cussing like a tattoo artist, annoyed at the inconvenience. “What the fuuuuuck!!!”
Thankfully, though, I soon surrendered to the flow and enjoy myself again. The video game became fun as I efficiently navigated the construction zone, recording a play-by-play of my driving maneuvers. . . .
“A typical driver would be flipping out, but I’m possibly the best driver in the world. I am completely unfazed,” I boasted. A bit later I exclaimed: “Whoa, blue lights! . . . Just kidding, they’re in front of me.”
About thirty seconds later different blue lights were directly behind me. The concept of construction zone speed limits had slipped my mind. The next noticeable sounds besides traffic noise were roadside rumble strips moaning as I pulled over. The recorder kept rolling.
I remained cool, like Dock Ellis throwing an acid-fueled no-hitter. I scrambled to dig my license out of my golf shorts in the back seat and prepared to casually present it to the cop. “I got this,” I said to myself. The weed sitting on the passenger seat said otherwise.
Yes, amid the aforementioned mass of wires and gadgets next to me sat less than a gram of shitty marijuana, in a cut off corner of a baggie. A fan in New Mexico gave it to me when I was soused, but I’d forgotten. Had it been of decent quality I would’ve stashed it appropriately. The weed was buried alive, in purgatory: not good enough to fuss over, but not dirt enough to throw away. Either way, in 2005 Tennessee it was illegal.
I had my license and proof of insurance in hand as a cop approached on either side. At the last second I spotted the herb on the seat and haphazardly threw a towel in its area, luckily not covering the recorder mic in the process. I presented my ID to a strapping young cop built like a basketball power forward. . . .
Lead Cop (LC): “Sir, we’ve stopped you for speeding in a construction zone.”
“Where are you coming from, sir?”
“You’re in Memphis,” he said through a chuckle.
“I mean, Albuquerque . . . I’m a stand-up comic.”
“A comic? Do you have a CD or anything?”
“No, but here’s a CD of a chick I worked with this week.”
I handed him a CD case. The cover photo featured comic Jessie Campbell shooting pool with a cigarette in her mouth. A great character witness. The officer appeared amused again and asked me to step to the rear of my car.
Meanwhile, the Second Cop (SC) grabbed the poorly-concealed weed through the passenger window, and handed it to the one asking the questions. They returned to their vehicle to run my plates and strategize. I succumbed to psychedelic reverie, too amused to really worry. The cops reemerged ten minutes later. Or fifty. Oh the warped time of psychedelic trips.
LC dangled the paltry package of pot in front of me. “Now, I’m not going to arrest you for this, but you need to tell me right now if you have anything else in this car.”
“I got nothing to hide, search it if you want,” I said. It was true: Since I’d eaten my acid I didn’t even possess an empty beer can of shady cargo.
“No guns, drugs, anything like that?” asked SC, suspiciously.
“No officer, go ahead and check.”
I must’ve looked like I harbored additional drugs, and possibly a lot. I was driving a twelve year-old Lexus GS 300 with blacked-out windows and out-of-state tags. I had shakily presented my license, and I didn’t seem to know what city I was in. I must have appeared sketchy as hell.
They escorted me to the back of a K-9 equipped 4-by-4 SUV. Clad in a golf shirt, sandals, and funky light blue swim trunks, I was hardly dressed for a treacherous Memphis jail should that be my destination. As they placed me in the vehicle I asked the cops if they wanted my keys, but neither heard me. The following exchange was recorded for posterity as they commenced probing my car.
LC: “Did you get his keys?”
“Uh, no. Don’t have the keys.”
“Get the keys from that motherfucker.”
After he did so, I was left alone to absorb a strange new world. I noticed how hard I was tripping, three hours after ingesting a relatively small dose of five year old LSD. Although I fully recognized reality, the visuals were delightfully vivid, enhanced by flashing blue lights in the dusk. Just behind me loomed a cage containing a sizable drug-sniffing dog, not dispatched on my car for some reason. I turned and offered a little puppy talk and received two ear splitting barks and a viscous snarl for my trouble. But for the thin bars of the doggie cage, my aorta would’ve been torn out. Tough crowd.
I don’t advocate animal abuse, but I admit I heckled the canine cop in return for it being a dick. “Bet you wish you could bite me, don’t you, pig?” After all, what was he going to do, arrest me?
I watched the cops dismantle my car interior and rummage through my belongings. They looked under my trunk liner and behind door panels. “They are literally airing my dirty laundry!” I said to the dog. . Not having access to my recorder killed me, because I was on fire with my play-by-play. LC had sent off good vibes, so I wasn’t particularly terrified. He didn’t appear to know I was tripping, and I was confident my wits would keep me in the clear.
The pair of police trudged back to me and their vehicle twenty minutes later. Or an hour.
They spoke among themselves for a minute, and then LC asked: “OK sir, are you a famous comic?”
“No, but after this story I might be,” I admitted. I then described my recording mission and how they pulled me over moments after I declared how great a driver I was. They found this amusing.
“Where did you get this pot?” LC asked.
“A girl I met in Albuquerque gave it to me. I was probably going to throw it anyway, because it sucks.”
“Yeah, this looks like Mexican pressed weed,” LC professed. ”I guess you call it dank?”
I quickly corrected him: “No sir, that’s schwag; the good stuff is dank.” I quickly realized I shared industry lingo with the enemy, and blurted: “Shit, I just compromised my fellow pot smokers.”
“Yeah, I think you did. Show me the handshake too!”
Chuckles abounded and clearly no arrest was coming, so I turned really talkative. I told the cops how my schwag source was a hot chick that got me high in her car in Albuquerque after a show. I expected to hook-up with her, but some random guy warned me that she fucked every army guy in town. And she turned me down anyway.
Following more small talk (LC) Officer Brady Valentine, West Tennessee Judicial Violent Crime & Drug Task Force Special Agent, released me from my temporary cell on wheels. We moved in front of the vehicle, and he waved my weed as he spoke.
“Now I’m going to dump this out right here. Just do me a favor and tell your friends not all cops are dicks.”
He produced his card and added: “And give us a call next time you have a show in town.”
“Oh, wow!” I blurted. “Thank you officer, and have a great night!”
“You’re welcome. And slow it down.”
His final remark reminded me why I was pulled over in the first place, seemingly a day earlier. I didn’t even get a speeding ticket. Life was good.
Danger now dodged, a practical matter emerged: I had to piss worse than ever. It’s typical to forget to urinate while on a psychedelic trip anyway, and my dramatic run-in made this oversight even easier to overlook. Each slight bump in the road poked my groin like an ice pick.
As fate had it, the next freeway exit delivered me at three enormous backlit crucifixes, close to a huge church. If ever there was a time to find religion, this was it. I passed, but I did thank Jesus profusely once my doubled-over pain was relieved at a convenience store urinal. He granted salvation to my bladder as I peed for an eternity.
I never did return to Memphis to do stand-up and hang out with the benevolent Officer Valentine. My recording of his pull-over, however, opened the door to an on-air position on a top Atlanta morning radio show, The Regular Guys. Valentine moved on to other ventures too. Specifically, he got prison time for participating in a steroid distribution ring, which probably operated as he was designated as Tennessee Narcotics Officer of the Year in 2007. I hope his replacement on the police force isn’t a dick.