Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Years ago, when I was trying to make a living as a musician, I spent a lot of time on the road. In my car, often late at night. Early in the morning might be a better way to say it.

One night I was falling asleep behind the wheel so I pulled over into a hotel parking lot to get some shuteye. I had a car full of stuff-my tux bag, trombone, mute bag, a small suitcase, a bicycle, various other items and probably some McDonalds waste as well.
At 4:10 in the morning (I had a little digital clock on my dash) I was wakened by the sound of rapping on my driver’s side window. Squinting through my bleary eyes I made out the shape of a cop, shining his flashlight through the window into my eyes. He had his right hand on his holster.
As I rolled down the window, I noticed another officer behind him, also shining a flashlight at me. I said, “what’s up?”
“Who are you? What are you doing here? Is this your car? I need to see your license and registration and proof of insurance. Why are you here? Where are you going? What’s all that stuff in your car?” etc. etc. etc.
I’m beginning to grasp my position by now-I’ve noticed another officer outside the passenger’s side door, also with a flashlight, and a fourth man behind the car with his flashlight as well. I’m surrounded.
“Let me see your hands. What are you doing here? Who are you?’” The questioning continues.
I start to explain, “Well, see, I play the trombone. And I had a gig with KENNY PAULSEN (the previous county sheriff, who runs a dance band), and I’m driving home after the show, and I got sleepy, and I thought I would just pull over here for a while and rest, so that I wouldn’t fall asleep behind the wheel and CRASH MY CAR AND KILL EVERYONE.”
“Oh,” says cop number one.
“Here’s all the documentation you asked for.” As I hand him the things he had asked for (all current and proper).
“Well, we’ve had some thefts reported tonight here in the parking lot. Somebody has been going around breaking into cars.”
They thought they had their man, I guess. He stepped aside to his cruiser to call in the report and check my creds, after which he gave some sort of “all safe” signal to his buddies, who were visibly relieved-the flashlights went down, holsters were snapped back closed, and they all turned away to other concerns.
“You’d better get out of here,” he said, “and drive safely.”
And I left.

Another time, I’m driving down the main East-West road in north Burlington at 3:00 in the morning, almost home, and in the middle of the road I see a Possum. A big, hairy, no, make that HUGE, almost BALD, honking bull possum.
I’m not going to hit that animal if I can help it-it’s going to do some serious damage to my little 240Z, and memories of a deer hit some years previous come to mind. So I hit the brakes pretty hard, and start to veer right. As I’m passing the animal, I see that it has already been hit, and is bleeding and staggering and it looks to me like suffering.
What am I going to do about this? Ignore it, go home and get to bed? Find a big rock and smash it’s brains out? What about a big stick? I cant’ just let it die there in the middle of the road...even if I can forget about the suffering, that guy is big enough to cause some serious damage to someone's car. What if someone hits it and crashes?
So I went home. Got my BB gun. A BB pistol, actually. Went back to the scene, parked in the middle of the 4-lane road, installed a fresh CO2 cartridge, chambered a ball, and shot the possum right between the eyes. He collapsed in a heap immediately. Then I repeated the procedure.
Then I heard the engine. rrrrmmmmMMMMM, from behind. I stood up, turned around, and two blocks away, coming right at me, a mass of lights-white, flashing, red, and blue...flashing.
Oh, shit. Three in the morning. Middle of the road. Pistol. Large dead thing. Hmmm.
I put the gun down on the hood of my car, turned toward the police car, and put my hands in the air.
The cruiser pulled up to about twenty feet away, lights all shining right on me, the driver’s door opened and the officer assumed his defensive posture. One hand on his radio, the other hand on his revolver, no doubt.
After a minute or so of wondering how this was all going to turn out, I heard another car coming at me from the opposite direction. I turned my head around to look, and there were the lights-white, red, blue, all flashing.
When the second car arrived and its driver had assumed his “defensive posture,” the first officer came out and approached me.
“What’s going on here,” he wanted to know.
“Well, see, I play the trombone. And I was on a gig with KENNY PAULSON, and I’m driving home, and I see this animal here, and I, uh, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, but, uh, it didn’t look like a good place for a big animal to die, so I went on home and got my BB gun and came back to finish it and move it off the roadway.”
“Oh,” says the cop.
And I just stood there, and enjoyed watching my story sink in.
“You’re a trombone player?” he asked.
“And that’s a BB gun?”
Long pause.
“Well, we’ll take care of this. You can go home now.”
Which I did.
A cop’s job is full of danger, violence, and tragedy. It takes a special person-when there’s trouble, who do you call? When there’s danger, who is the first to step in? The night shift is the worst-all the rats come out of their holes and darkness hides what isn’t presentable in the daytime.
The police didn’t ID me, didn’t check my registration or insurance (actually, I don’t doubt that he radioed-in my license plate number), didn’t look at the pistol. In retrospect, he may have regretted not inspecting things a little more closely, but I suppose he was just shocked at the novelty of the situation, relieved that it wasn’t at all what it first appeared to be, and surely he was looking forward to telling the story back at the station.

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