Never Get Out of the Car

We started with the routine.

“Do you know how fast you were going?”

Highway 93 runs south out of Idaho on into Nevada, and then to Brazil for all I cared.

“No… no, I don’t know,” I replied.

Between 85 west and Nevada there is nothing, especially in that darkness.

My response only seemed to drive more blood and heat into his eyeballs.

“You Don’t Know,” he spat back. “So I could write this ticket for however much I want, huh!”

If there was any landscape it must have been desert.

Cops feed off fear. They capitalize on every hesitation.

“Don’t give in,” I pepped myself silently. I could only pray the whole irate thing was an act.

93 is a two lane road used mainly by truckers.

“I suppose,” rolled off my lips.

From the driver seat of a Volkswagen Jetta oncoming semi headlights are intoxicating, two moons in the night.

Although I thought better of bringing it up at that moment, I am sure it would have been illegal to increase my speed on the ticket…

I hoped we both knew that inside.

After 10 hours of driving and judgement from above, those headlights had the same effect they would on a redneck with alcohol for blood.

He changed tactics on me:

“Do you have any idea what the speed limit is in town?”

Realization crept through me. The realization that we were never going to get to the motel.

“Well…” I had no idea. Four minutes earlier I was asking Summer if she knew. It was only after he turned on his lights that a 45 MPH sign appeared. It is safe to assume I was going faster than 45. In a sincere and humble tone I told him: “I was slowing down when we saw this sign, but… we did not see anything before.”

Depression feeds depression, and it’s worse in the dark.

“‘Did not… see… anything…… Have you been Drinking!” he said through clenched teeth and huffing exhales.

We were in the desert; a magical and beautiful place, but also a terrible hell for the lost. It can go either way in the dark. With nothing to see, a bed occupied my mind and night closed in around the car. Magic and beauty are lost on the weary in darkness.

He said it as a statement; like a probe used by a psychiatrist more interested in the response than the answer. Then my eyes were blinded by a light. Eyes bleary and blood shot from hours of head lights and lane changes. He shone the light in my eyes and made some mental notes as I answered, pushing for all my confidence, “No, I haven’t had anything to drink.”

Around another corner, up a hill and suddenly, violently we sailed into a little speck of the sun itself blazing up into the Western sky. Signs, advertisements, razzle, neon, dazzle, halogen, flash, and the works. I was terrified.

Not missing a beat, he sniffed the air.

I asked my co-pilot if we had passed anything telling us “Welcome to Nevada”.

“Smells… funny in there,” he suggested. “Are you hungry?”

She hadn’t either.

Another stock question; perhaps?

The brain takes time to catch up with the senses sometimes.

I stared.

Yes we must be in Nevada,” I thought, “where else… Whoever gave birth to this town in the middle of the desert, at the end of a long dark road, knew exactly where to stick the place.”

And then he went for it.

“Do you want some Cheetos; or Funyuns? Maybe some Doritos; or a brownie… Do you want a brownie?”

This was the town of “Jackpot” Nevada and there were no less than 10 slots in any building.

And all I could hear ringing in my head was, “F U C K”

A refuge for those down on their luck, a few men who still entertained cowboy delusions, and family men and women who didn’t realize in time they were not the parental type; a real eddie for the American Dream.

The conversation was taking a turn for the worse. Trying not to stutter, I stared at him for a moment and returned “… No..”

Like a hound after a fox he jumped on:

“Do you have any idea how much I can write you a ticket for?”

Jackpot sucked the degenerates from all of Southern Idaho and North Central Nevada.

I hadn’t a clue, but it wasn’t really important. He had barely finished when he said, “Hand over your license and registration.”

Mothers, Brothers, Sons, Sisters, Daughters and Fathers, came here to drown the last flicker of childhood.

“Where are you headed?”

Consume was written in various translations on every light-drunk surface in town.

Oh good, small talk.

Jackpot is just like every other town in Nevada.

The officer did not exactly grow less antagonistic when he found my license to be from Washington, my car from New Jersey, and, as he was already aware, my direction South, into his state.

There will be no casino hold ups, bank or train robberies, glove slaps, or ransoms in Jackpot; as it is, the concentration of law enforcement is directly proportional to the concentration of wealth.

“Nowhere in particular,” I managed. “We are just on a road trip. Going to Washington eventually.”

We had no intention of stopping in that place.

Also not what he wanted to hear. Police like concise answers, especially ones that smell of just enough fear. Well… we could only hope at that point

We kept up the desert pace on through. By the time the speed limit picked back up to 45mph at the edge of town the officer was on me, lights ablaze. With the terror of Highway 93 South still fresh the fear consumed me with no effort.

I pulled over immediately.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked with growing displeasure.

The road was merging into a single lane off into the night where we stopped.

“New York, originally,” I said. Never want to give up more than you need. Something bad is always happening somewhere and maybe its perpetrator just happens to be driving a metallic silver Jetta too. At least our story gave credit to our license plate

We finally had a moment to rest in Jackpot, to admire the light escaping into the night sky from a collection of neon, incandescent, LED and halogen billboards. But we didn’t. Our total focus was on the approaching violence.

Never pull over right away. It is an admission of guilt. There is a fine balance of fear and respect expected. We are fearful when we know we did something wrong. I violated the balance. They are watching.

With my papers in hand he stalked off to check the information.

My partner and I had made every mistake. We watched him in the side view mirrors. The rear view was nearly blocked by boxes, furniture, and clothes.

We took a breath.

Summer had remained silent; and I had not glanced over at her during my interrogation. She was concerned. A little…paranoid. I tried calming her, thinking it might calm me. “When he comes back,” I said, “I am going to have to get out of the car.” Only a miracle would stop him at this point.

“When I get out, lock the doors and keep them closed. If he knocks open a window slightly. He can’t search our stuff, let’s not give him the opening.”

Glancing at my side view mirror showed his overlarge hat turned toward a lit screen.

“Did you see any speed signs?” I asked her.

She shook her head, “no.”

“Yeah. I have no clue. Shit. We must have been going at least 60…….. Shit, I just hope he doesn’t put me in jail.

Silence. Maybe that was a bit much.

“If he pulls my license at least you can drive.”

She didn’t smile.

“Everything is going to be fine,” I forced myself to say; “Here he comes. Remember, keep the doors closed.”

We watched in reverse as the pinstripes swished toward us. He approached the driver’s-side door. *Tap Tap Rap, his hand sounded against my window. I pushed a button and the window lowered a bit, enough.

“So you still claim you saw ‘no sign’?” he said, giving me another chance.

“Nope, no speed limit, no state sign, just lights. All the lights from the signs. We have been driving for hours on a dark highway; in fact, we have been driving all day, we are exhausted and the only way I had any idea where we were was the lights, the fucking lights everywhere. I even asked her,” motioning to Summer, but his light did not waver, “if she knew what the speed limit was. Well, she didn’t either!” It all came rolling out.

“Those lights are a bit disorienting,” I added defensively, but with as much neutrality as I could manage.

“And you have no idea how fast you were going through town?”

“Truthfully, no. We saw this sign and were slowing down to 45 like I said, so…. I don’t know… maybe 50…..

“Sixty Five!” he blurted at my face. “I clocked you at 60 and 65 through town.”

“Ooh. Hmmmmmmm… what is the speed limit?”

“Thirty Five.”

“Aaahhhh…”

“Yeah… starting to get the picture..?..” He said mockingly. “Step out of the car.”

“Really?”

“Get out!”

I got out.

Turning to face him I sized up my predator.

He was about 6’1” with a nice starchy hat, tchotchkes adorned his uniform and the whole get-up seemed designed to draw the eyes to the silly black metal thug at the hip.

I shivered; it was a cold desert night.

His hand came out.

Mine deflected it while the other shut the door snugly.

“She will be fine in there; besides, it is pretty cold,” I covered.

The doors locked.

Good girl Summer, I thought. Now keep your cool.

He started in on me again right away. Did not want to give me an inch. It was a battle and he needed me to crack. His hand went for the belt and produced a little black notebook, which he readied.

“How much have you had to drink today?”

“None, sir.” Grammar is sometimes very useful. The last place anyone wants to be is a Nevada State Jail.

“Don’t some Dorritos sound good right now? You must be hungry. A cupcake, maybe?

This routine was wearisome to me, but I knew I had to play along.

“How about that Brownie. Do you want a brownie?”

It was my turn.

The key was to strike the character of someone truly innocent, but not ostentatiously so. He was waiting for an answer. I needed an out. Something to distract him from the goal and me from the Mushrooms and Marijuana stowed throughout my car. Something simple and yet ridiculous enough that it might be true. What could I say? What did he need to hear…. His brow was ruffling.

Again I shot him a confused side glance.

His eyes were waiting for something to snap. I figured he was picturing my license popping between his hands. The film in his head was stuck on the polished steel clicking into place on my wrists. I took a dive.

“Naw man,” I laughed “I am a health food nut, I don’t eat that stuff.”

It was his turn to be taken aback…

“No… “ He said, annoyed. “I am talking about the munchies…….”

I stared with a slightly dumb expression stuck on my face; timing is everything.

“…You know….. Pot, Marijuana.”

“Ohhhhh,” I embellished.

“Yeah.. Are we on the same page now?”

I chuckled, “Yeah man; I don’t smoke, anything. I’m a vegetarian. You know, health food and exercise kind-a guy.” Did he notice how my mood had changed? I could only hope he hadn’t.

He stared. I waited.

His pen pressed against the pad, but was motionless. Something was happening. His body waited with his pen. I watched him, his every movement, as closely as he watched me. A crow foot twitched near his left eye and his hat accentuated his head lowering to the notebook.

He broke the silence, “Hey, I’m a vegetarian too.”

I reeled from this. “Is he trying to play me?”, I thought. This could be another program courtesy of Catch Dumb Stoner Kids; A Handbook. What are the odds of running into the one cop in Nevada who doesn’t eat baby back ribs…. I had to weigh my options.

“That’s fantastic,” I replied. “I’m surprised…. We are not very ubiquitous around here I imagine.

He let that hang in the air while jotting some notes.

I ventured on, “Have you been watching some of the food documentaries that aired recently; Future of Food, Food Inc, Food Beware?”

His hand was reaching back behind his body. Searching, finding, coming toward me, he clicked on a flash light.

“Yes, a few of them.” He said absently. The light went and held my right eye in its eye. “Where are you headed?” He said returning to handbook. Apparently, despite my magnificent eating habits, my future was still uncertain.

I explained as little as possible while answering his question. His amiability was still under extreme suspicion.

“The Redwood Forest.”

His eye brow raised slightly in tandem with a glance. A mental note judging me by some criteria that has landed not a few glaucomish grandmas behind bars. The light grabbed my other eye in its. Stock questions fell on me for a while, while I was paraded around before the jury. The spectacle was not too dissimilar to a dog show.

In an attempt to switch gears and throw me off he asked, “So, how do you feel about meat eaters?”

As my left fore finger was making its way toward my nose, I told the cop: “Well.. it is their life and,” right finger began its journey in, “their choice, so I suppose I am ambiguous mostly… But it is just not my thing,” right pointer connected successfully with nose.

The cop set me up to walk the line.

It was my first drunk driving test and was not anything like I had expected it would be; if I had expected anything….

“Tell me again about what happened when you drove into Jackpot.”

So he wants to see if I can keep my story straight while I am too distracted to think about it. He was searching me for signs of mental intoxication.

This was one sharp cop.

“I was just overwhelmed by the signs for casinos. You know, after driving in the dark for so long and suddenly coming upon those bright lights; it was disorienting. I didn’t see a state sign or a speed sign and I wasn’t even looking at my speedometer. I was just dazed by the lights.

Do the dance, ride the ride, left right left go my feet and so prove I can see the ground in front of me.

“Touch your nose while walking.”

This successfully distracted me and sent my mind off thinking about how this guy was trying hard to find something wrong with me. He knew I was lying, but maybe he was not sure about what yet. Get enough truths and spot a lie… was he this smart…. no way to know yet.

He sang, I danced. It was quite the desert romance. If a cop says “take your pants off” do you obey? Would refusal be grounds to search you?

I said “superfluous.” He stopped. Pen and notebook poised. His eyes peering over in that kind of glance older people do over their spectacles. A glance that speaks of secret knowledge and judgement.

“You need to watch your mouth. Saying words like ‘ubiquitous’ and ‘superfluous’ around here is a good way to wake up in the hospital,” he cautioned.

“Come off it,” I said, while believing every word of what he said.

“There are plenty of Hicks around here that might beat you up just for saying those things. Seething rage is always just below the surface in this place. Anything threatening will do.”

“Well… I just can’t help it. I am an English major and have grown so accustomed to my speech at this point…” Did he really just say ‘seething rage’, I thought.

Of all the cops in Nevada there is no way I get this one. Any casino would buy the odds against this guy pulling me over.

He chuckled, “….so am I.”

Was he playing games with me? Another trick from the Handbook? Paranoia pushed on the backs of my eyeballs. Paranoia can make one blind, deaf and dumb all at once for milliseconds or even minutes. I don’t know how long I was lost.

Any hope of fitting this guy into reality was gone. How is it that I get pulled over going 65 in a 35, with temporary NJ plates, going South in Nevada, headed to Washington, packing toadstools and grass, by the one vegetarian in all of Nevada whose read Paradise Lost… If he was playing me there was nothing left.

I started, dumbstruck for a moment. “Holy shit… no way, that’s.. awesome,” I managed. “Where did you go to school?”

My body was shaking as he continued to discuss Gulliver’s Travels. In my chest the organs were beginning to fail and my senses were shutting down while all alone paranoia bloomed in my head. The thoughts came at lighting speed, too fast to register:

How much of it is real?! Cops might make up anything to catch a kid in a lie, a snag in their story. Am I going to Jail! Does he have me already? A book thumping vegetarian is just the kind of thing to soften me. What do I say? He must be toying with me. Its so cold. How do I end this?

Nevada is not known for leniency and they don’t slap your wrist and call you naughty for the secrets I was hiding.

The hand-eye coordination games went on unimpeded by our conversation. Eventually I was going to lose.

“… and when he is on the ladies breast…”

“Ha, yeah. A fantastic metaphor.” I played along, feigning comfort, I hoped. He began to talk in circles, lost me once in a repetition while I was trying to perform some ridiculous feat of coordination. I was losing my train of thought. The cold, the questions, the pavement were all blurring together. The dance was becoming obscene; It had to stop. He was closing in for the kill. I knew it was time for action.

“Has it been difficult being a vegetarian here, you know… here, and being on the police force too?”

“Sometimes I get shit for it, but they tire of their games eventually,” he said and without batting an eye was right back on me, “Where did you say you are headed?”

“Elko tonight; I hope. I am not going to jail am I?”

“Get back in your car. Wait there.”

I returned, vibrating like a tuning fork. In the car I found a panicked Summer, quiet, confused and sporting a questioning look. So I took her through the story while we waited. She listened, quietly rapt and wide eyed the entire time.

He approached the car on the driver-side. I rolled the window down, a little further this time.

“Okay,” he began. “I clocked you at 65 in town.” He paused letting that hang a moment. “55 at this sign in front of you.” Another silence. “And…. am writing you up for 40, which ends up being 5 over. You were slowing down when I turned my lights on so… I guess we can go easy.”

Astounded, I stammered, “…Thank you sir.”

Then he hit one last time, “Are you sure there are no drugs in here?” He said.

This was the last play. True or false, he had given me the ultimate good cop routine. We were practically inviting each other over for the holidays.

“Positive.” I said evenly.

We were not out of it yet. He was trying to bait me. The little bastard. He played us. It all came down to this and whether he would search us. We sat suspended again.

“I could swear I smell pot in here….” He left it open.

In my head I laughed: “Fuck you man, you loose.”

But then he turned to Summer.

“How about it? hmm… anything in here that you don’t want some other officer to find?” He said as he locked her eyes in his.

I jumped in,“Well… This is a new car. Maybe it is the new car smell. Ooo, or you know what? People have told me that my armpits smell like that stuff and well… I haven’t exactly showered today. I think you smell my armpits….”

As he was walking back toward his car he turned and offered me one last piece of advice, “Get out of Nevada.”