“I’ve watched you since you got off the interstate Mam,” the highway patrol officer said. His head was shaved and his cheek had a bulge from whatever form of nicotine he was enjoying. “You seem confused,” he added.
I had pulled the little Chevrolet I’d borrowed to the side of the road. Just as I turned off the engine the blue lights came on.
“I was looking for a place to use a restroom,” I responded, which was true, although I was actually looking for a place to find my favorite tree. That’s what we called it when my son was a cub scout. “I didn’t think I’d make it to the one in the grocery store and I saw this road. It looks like an okay place.” It actually looked perfect.
“You acted like you didn’t know where you were,” the officer said. “You took a different exit out of the parking lot than the one you came in on. That is suspicious behavior Mam and that’s really why I’ve followed you since you came off the exit ramp.”
I didn’t have such a good feeling.
“I saw this road and that sign says I can get back on the highway from either exit,” I told him, which would be the last logical sentence spoken during what ended up being nearly a three-hour long interrogation.
“Yes, the sign does say that,” he responded, “but most people know that the way you chose is the long way.”
“I’m not from here Sir,” I said. “I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, you don’t see many signs like that,” he added as he spit on the ground. “The arrows are pointing in opposite directions that goes to the same place.”
Exactly I thought!
“You drove around in the parking lot before you decided which exit to take.”
I thought we had cleared up the, “confused,” part already with his confirmation that the sign was a strange one. I was wrong.
“I need to see your license Mam,” he said. “You didn’t have your seat-belt on.”
I had a feeling it was the seat-belt, but I would soon learn it was much more than that. My bladder was too full to have walked inside of the Food Lion to the back of the store where I assumed the restrooms were. Wendy’s drive-through window was open but they said no when I stopped and asked if I could use their facilities.
I saw a side road behind the Food Lion, along with a patch of thick trees. Perfect spot, I thought. The parking lot exit was only about ten or so feet from the narrow darkened road. I thought about my seat-belt, which I had taken off, but in my tired state of mind with a full bladder, I only wanted to find a tree and thought I’d be safe in that short of a distance. I was wrong, again.
As he walked away with my license I leaned my head out of the window a bit. “Sir, may I get out and go over there,” I pointed to the patch of tress. “
“No Mam,” he said firmly. “You stay right where you are.”
So I did. I waited as the lights flashed. I was exhausted. My life was crazy. My son was not well.
The time was around 1:30am. The place was a rural North Carolina town that was half-way between my hometown and where I was living in the mountains of the western part of our state. My travels to visit family often included stopping there for a break from driving. Once in a while we would eat or shop in the historic downtown district.
I was driving a car that belonged to my mechanic, so of course, there were a few things wrong with it. Some mechanics neglect their own cars. My mechanic and dear friend, Sonny, always kept his cars running, but that didn’t necessarily mean keeping up with things like the inspection and license plate.
“Have you been drinking?” he asked when he returned. “I thought I smelled alcohol.”
I’m like Jim Carey was in that movie where he couldn’t lie when I get nervous, and this officer was making me nervous.
“I had less than a third of a beer in Chapel Hill, but that was with dinner around six or six-thirty,” I told him quickly. I’ll take a breathalyzer now if you want me to. I’m not intoxicated.” I was happy to do it thinking I’d get away from him, possibly with a ticket, but then I could go somewhere to pee!
The officer was more than glad to give me the test. “Come with me,” he said. “I have to administer it to you in my vehicle.”
So I did.
I was wearing a short jumpsuit dress and flip-flops. I sat in his car acutely aware of the length of my dress, which I noticed had not entirely missed his observations. He prepared the test. I’d never seen one before nor had I ever sat in a patrol car. I kept trying to make sure my dress stayed put as I sat there getting more and more nervous.
He spit in a jar that he had a place for in his car. I took the test and passed, without any trace of alcohol.
“There,” I said. “I told you I’m not intoxicated. I’m tired and I need to pee.”
“These things don’t always work. Sometimes you get a false report,” he said.
I don’t know what I thought but being nervous triggered my essential tremor, which is a neurological disorder that makes you shake. My entire body began to shake on the inside and I knew, within minutes, I’d be shaking all over. It started in my legs.
“How about I give you another test,” the officer said.
I knew the test he meant. I assumed I would fail because of the tremor. He wanted me to walk straight lines with my arms out and touch my nose, etc… Something I’d only seen on television. I told him about the tremor and how it also affects coordination. He ignored me.
I took the test. It was difficult and I felt like I was completely failing due to the tremor. Standing on one leg with the other up in the air and my arms and hands doing weird things at the same time, well, it was insane! He said I passed with flying colors. I couldn’t believe it!
I thought I’d be leaving soon. I was wrong, again.
A female officer arrived about that time. Boy was I glad to see her! He told her it was a seat-belt violation and he could handle it.
“Sir, may I relieve my bladder while she is here?” She appeared okay with this looking to the officer, obviously to see if it was alright with him. I was hopeful. He said no. Plain and simple. “I’ll take it from here,” he had told her and she left.
“Let’s go back in my car and talk,” he said.
He told her to leave. I don’t know why I didn’t ask that she stay. My full bladder and essential tremor took over my ability to think clearly.
Back in his car, we talked and talked and talked! I explained why I was making the trip and why I was so tired.
“Have you used any other substances today Mam?”
He asked me this question about fifty times or more. Over and over he kept asking. I kept answering with the same answer, which was no.
“Your speech is off,” he said.
“Yes Sir,” I responded. “The tremor makes my voice shake, especially when I’m tired.”
“It’s against the law to drive when you’re this tired,” he said. “You should have stopped before now. You could have checked into a motel.”
“I can’t really afford a room ,” I told him. “I actually did stop two exits back but the motel was closed.”
“Yes I know the one,” he said. He named the owners mentioning that they would definitely be asleep. Thank God I thought. He believes me so I’ll be on my way soon. Well, I was wrong again.
We continued to sit there along the dark road, alone. He continued with the same question, “What other substances (besides the small amount of beer I’d had seven hours earlier) have you used today Mam?”
“None,” I answered him, again.
There was a strange scent and I knew it was coming from my clothes. I began to assume that if I could smell it, then likely so could he.
Perhaps he thought I was not a tired mother in a crisis at all and instead a good actress whose crimes would get him a promotion or something.
My friend, whom I’d had dinner with in Chapel Hill, along with his elderly mother-in-law, whom I’d drank the bit of beer with, had smoked some strong-smelling Ganja during our visit. My clothes were dank with the scent. I had not joined in, but I would have if I hadn’t had to drive home. My friend’s mother-in-law smokes the best in the land and I must say she sure seems to be healthy and happy. Now in her nineties, she’s still kickin’ and still puffin’, although I think she has taken to drinking tea instead.
I think my bladder frozen. I began to forget that I ever had to pee.
The interrogation continued. Finally he said, “Can you say your ABC’s backwards?”
“No,” I answered, “I don’t think I could do that.” I had never tried but I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it. That isn’t how my brain works. I don’t think I could do it in the best of my hours.
“Okay then, I’ll have you say them in order,” the officer responded.
I thought this was funny. Easy breezy I thought. I was wrong again!.
“Well,” I asked, “How did I do?”
“Not good,” he said. “You failed. You made three mistakes.”
“You didn’t even end with a Z,” he said.
He held out a paper. “Here, I’ll show you,” and he showed me where he had written my mistakes.
“Well I haven’t had to say them since my son was in elementary school and that’s been a long time,” I said. I tried joking when I said, ” I could sing them because that’s the only way I’ve ever really said them out loud.”
He responded with, “What other substances have you used today Mam?”
“I haven’t used any other substances Sir”
We sat there. He talked a lot about keeping the public safe, which included protecting them from people like me who were driving while tired. It was his job he kept repeating, in between his questioning me and spitting into his jar, to keep citizens on the highways safe.
“It isn’t only the other people on the road,” he said. “It’s also my job to keep you safe.”
“If I could use a restroom and then have a cup of coffee, I’m sure I can make it home. I only have an hour and a half to go,” I told him, but I didn’t get any response.
I stood my ground. I wasn’t about to tell the officer that my friend had smoked some herb. He most certainly would not believe that I had not partaken, which I had not. Would you believe it?!
I drove into the parking lot of the Waffle House near my apartment around 4:30am. Finally, I got to pee. I ordered breakfast. My adventures were not over yet.
Two men with guns came in while I was there. “We’re here to rob this place,” one of the men sheepishly announced. The only employees working at the Waffle House were female. The two men were obviously intoxicated. One went to use the restroom!
“The police are on their way,” one of the female cooks told the men. They waited a few minutes. No officers showed up. “Their coming,” she said a few minutes later. She continued to cook and serve the customers, while the men stood there looking around the place, which was another oddity. The customers were all women around the same age, most likely in their forties. I wondered what were we all doing at the Waffle house eating alone at a time such as 4:30 AM?
The cook said something like, “They’ll be in any minute now,” which sounded like a mother threatening a child with a father’s discovery of some wrong doing on the child’s part. The men turned around and walked out the door. One of them slurred out a few obscenities directed at the women, but not until he was outside.
“Why aren’t the police here?” I asked my waitress.
“Oh, we didn’t really dialed 911,” she said. “We get all kinds in here.”
As I walked into the courthouse thirty days later, my tickets and cash in hand, there were four sheriffs standing there to search my handbag.
“Could you please dump the contents of your bag here Mam,” one of them requested. They all looked the same, which was exactly like the officer who had interrogated me. They were all chewing on something too.
I was traveling light. My tickets, billfold and keys were all I had in my bag, I thought, until more than a dozen rainbow-colored condoms covered the table when I emptied it. The sheriffs looked at one another.
“I give those to homeless people and teenagers in the town I live in,” I told them. They all grinned at each other.
The health department where I lived always had a huge garbage can full of free condoms. There were lots of hippies, wayward teenagers and homeless people who roamed or lived there. I had gone for a doctor’s visit the day before court and filled my purse with the condoms on my way out.
Walking away from the Sheriffs on my way into the courtroom, they snickered and one said, “Have fun in there Mam.”
The interrogating patrol officer had finally decided to let me go with a couple of tickets, including driving without a seat belt, an expired inspection and expired tags.
Sonny! He was so nice to let me borrow his car. He filled the gas tank, checked the tires and oil and knowing Sonny, probably gave me twenty dollars for an emergency. He didn’t think about inspections or tags. Sonny, who passed away recently, could have probably driven anything he wanted to in this town. He was a well-liked man. Most of the county sheriffs knew him and I do believe they would have been hard pressed to have given him a ticket. He had probably fixed their cars or their parents’ cars in the past or loaned somebody they knew money during a hard time. Sonny was an awesome man and I sure do miss him.
Fortunately because it was a borrowed car, the judge dismissed the expired tags and inspection and I paid the fine for the seat belt violation.
“Have a nice day Mam,” the officers, who had apparently enjoyed the colorful contents of my handbag said to me as I was leaving. They were still grinning — and spitting.
I visited the elderly woman later but we hung out at her pool that time. And that time, I’m not saying if I did or did not partake. I didn’t drive.
This is a story from 2003 and it belongs to me, Dogkisses.