My square job requires driving. Lots of driving; 10-12,000 miles each and every month. That much time on the road makes encountering a cop all but certain. I have spent my fair share of time under the scrutiny of law-enforcement people—sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, ordinary police officers, state troopers, border patrol agents, park police, tribal officers, a town constable, and two Texas rangers.
Generally speaking, my encounters with the law-dogs have been rather dull and predictable, because I learned long ago to enter into all such get-togethers operating under a single, simple, assumption. It is this:
When a cop pulls me over, I assume he is Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, and he is likely to either shoot me, or cum on my car. Neither option seems fraught with potential gaiety.
So, I smile. I speak calmly and respectfully. My hands stay at 10 and 2 on the wheel. I do not make a move, whether it’s going after my wallet or scratching my nose, without first asking permission, and then my movements are almost neurasthenically cautious and deliberate. Adhering to this basic strategy has gotten me out of many ticketable violations. And, even better, I have yet to be perforated or spunked upon.
Unfortunately, when I got pulled over in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, my routine failed to work with its usual efficacy.
Before going on, allow me to first state that I was in the wrong, and that the highway patrolman who did the pulling over was right to have done so. Just, as it happened, not for the reason he thought.
It was in the neighborhood of 2:00 in the morning, at the very end of a seventeen-hour day. And while I was most definitely exhausted, I was also (according to the readout on my GPS) only 1.9 miles from my hotel, my room, and a bed. This is when the glaring, strobing, cop lights came to life in my rearview mirror.
I pulled to the shoulder, punched the emergency flashers, rolled down the window, and positioned my hands on the steering wheel in the manner previously described. I watched the side mirror the officer’s approaching silhouette, but there was no sign of the thing. Instead, there came a violent smacking on the passenger window—the cop whacking it with his flashlight. I poked the button and, when his face appeared, said:
“You scared m—”
But that’s all I got out before the cop started bellowing.
“First of all,” he bellowed, “you need to be aware that this conversation is being recorded. Do you understand?”
“Uh huh,” I answered, staring quizzically at him.
“I asked you: do you understand? Say it!”
“Yes,” I blurted, with lots more volume. “I understand.”
“Do you know why I stopped you?”
“I followed you for three-quarters of a mile and your left-side tires touched or crossed the white line on two occasions.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, and immediately felt stupid. “I’m sorry. I’m really tired. I’ve—”
“Sure,” he said, shining his light around the inside of my car. “How much have you had to drink tonight?”
“Nothing. Not a drop. I’m worki—”
“Right. How many beers have you had?”
“Not one, like I sa—”
“Then what’s that I smell?”
I was beginning to grow testy. The cop was behaving entirely too coppy for my mood.
“I don’t know what you smell,” I said, “but it’s not beer. How about this: you wanna search my car? You have my permission.”
“Oh, we’re gonna search your car, big man, you can count on that. But first, we’re gonna do some sobriety tests. What do you think about that?”
“It’s fine by me,” I said. “Where do you want me?”
“Front of the car,” he barked.
Outside on my feet, I noticed that my cop wasn’t alone. Nope. There were three—count ‘em, three—more patrol cars lined up behind his, their occupants standing in a little cop-knot off to one side.
I waved at them.
They did not wave back.
I concentrated on maintaining a tight grip on my mouth as I joined the cop in front of the headlights. He was a damn little man. I mean, I’m 6’5”, so lots of people seem little to me, but this cop was truly little—like maybe 5’4” or so. On top of that, he had the smooth, unwrinkled face of a recent high-school graduate, complete with some lingering baby fat in his cheeks. He stood with his chest puffed out, his hands on his Super-Cop Utility Belt, and with a knowing, superior smirk on his face that was really obnoxious. Officer Junior was gonna nab himself a bona fide DUI Menace, and was already rehearsing his post-nab swagger.
“Right here?” I asked, indicating my position on the asphalt.
“Fine,” he said. “First of all, I need to know if you have any medical conditions that might interfere with your ability to walk a line heel-to-toe, or to perform any other sobriety test?”
“Actually, I have some diabetic neuropathy in my feet that can sometimes get in the way of…” I almost said ‘precision walking’ but changed my mind, and just sort of let the remainder of the sentence drift off.
“Fine,” he said, giving no indication of having heard me. “You can save us both a lot of time if you just tell me how much you’ve had to drink tonight.”
“Wish I could,” I said. “But I haven’t had anything except water and some Gatorade.”
“Oooooookay,” he replied, drawing the word waaaay out, letting me know that he had tried to go easy, but if I was too stubborn, or befuddled by drink, to take advantage of his munificence, then that was my own lookout.
“Put your feet together,” he barked. “Hands straight down at your sides.”
I did as instructed. He fetched a penlight from his breast pocket and flicked the beam on and off to make sure it worked. He then shone the light on my face and told me to watch his finger without turning my head.
He moved his finger up and down, side to side, and diagonally across my field of vision. I watched his finger. I watched it with only my eyes. My head did not move. This went on for what seemed like a fortnight. At one point he had to lower his arm for a sec and give it a loosening jiggle before returning to the task. When his arm got tired a second time, he stopped. His arrogant smirk had devolved into a sort of grim, lopsided frown.
“Now we are going to walk a line. How do you feel about that?”
“Look,” I said. “Can you just give me a breathalyzer so we can get this shit over with?”
The frown left Officer Junior’s face like it was late for a handjob, and was replaced by a look of pure satisfaction.
“Oh ho!” he hooted. “Big maaaaaaan wants a breathalyzer!” He called to the officers in the cop-knot behind me. “You guys hear that? Big maaaaaaan says he wants a breathalyzer!”
If his colleagues responded, I didn’t hear them.
Squaring himself before me, Officer Junior yanked his breathalyzer from the breathalyzer holster on his Super-Cop Utility Belt, and held it up so I could get a good look at what he obviously felt was the instrument of my destruction.
“Remember,” he said. “You asked for this.”
“I sure did,” I answered.
“You close your mouth around the tube, take a deep breath through your nose, and blow. Hard. Got it?”
I nodded. I smooched the stiff rubber tube. I inhaled deeply. And I blew, man. I blew like Dizzy chasing a high C. I blew like I was auditioning for a job punishing birthday cakes.
My breath went down the tube. And about a quart of my spit went all over Officer Junior’s hand and sleeve. He grabbed the breathalyzer with his other hand, and gave the be-spittled one a couple of sideways flicks. Then he looked down at the readout.
And his entire face…fell.
It just kind of collapsed in on itself. His shoulders actually slumped.
“It’s totally clear, isn’t it,” I said, not really asking a question.
“Yes,” he said. “Hundred percent.”
I smiled and nodded. “So? Now what?”
Officer Junior glared at me. “Now you get back in your car, drive to your motel, and go to sleep!”
“You got it,” I said, then added, rather insolently, “Have a good night.”
Turning back to my car I saw the cop-knot coming apart, its constituents making for their own vehicles. I climbed into mine, started it up, and drove out of there.
Like I said earlier, Officer Junior had every right to pull me over. I was tired and have no doubt that my tires had violated other lanes, however slightly.
But I have to say, when all was said and done, watching the cop’s post-bust, cop-shop strut disintegrate like that…well…I was a happy motorist the whole next day. And, despite the fact that the Harvey Keitel method didn’t really work, I remained free of both lead and unfamiliar sperm.